The United States and Mexico fought to a thrilling 2-2 draw on Wednesday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Michael Bradley and Chris Wondolowski scored first-half goals for the Americans, who dominated the opening 45 minutes, but Mexico stormed back after halftime with goals from Rafa Marquez and Alan Pulido before a couple of controversial late decisions ended the friendly with the rivals all even.
Fox Sports' Kyle McCarthy summed up the match perfectly:
Useful (and thrilling) exercise for both Mexico and USA. Some good. Some indifferent. Some bad. Good prep for the World Cup. #usmnt— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) April 3, 2014
Unsurprisingly, the Americans got the scoring started on a set piece, where they are typically strong.
Graham Zusi whipped in a corner kick in the 15th minute, and Bradley completely lost his man, racing to the far post and finishing easily:
The Yanks continued to be razor-sharp, controlling possession in the midfield and looking dangerous on several occasions. Sure enough, they would strike again in the 28th minute.
Clint Dempsey did marvelously to play a ball down the right sideline for Tony Beltran, who swung a dangerous cross into box. Bradley headed it to the far post, where Wondolowski was there to put it home:
The one-sided play continued for the following 20 minutes, as the Americans looked relaxed and were able to do pretty much whatever they wanted.
Brian Sciaretta of The New York Times put it simply:
One of the best 45 minutes of soccer I've seen the #usmnt play in a long time— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 3, 2014
The second half would be a completely different story, however.
With Miguel Herrera going to a two-striker formation, El Tri blitzed the United States, becoming the aggressor and controlling the pace of play. A corner eventually led to their first goal, as Marquez found himself open in the box and headed one past Nick Rimando.
Jurgen Klinsmann subbed in Landon Donovan, Clarence Goodson and phenom Julian Green, but it made little difference as Mexico would continue to press on.
Donovan, in particular, was a surprise exclusion from the starting 11, but Klinsmann explained his decision after the match, via MLSsoccer.com's Franco Panizo and ESPN's Jeff Carlisle:
Klinsmann says Donovan is bothered by a left knee issue but also didn't train well yesterday, which led to his benching. "He had no tempo."— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) April 3, 2014
Let me rephrase, Klinsmann said LD understood why he didn't start. #usmnt— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) April 3, 2014
Paul Aguilar fired a shot off the post, and Pulido was there for the rebound. ESPN's Paul Carr gives a look at the goal:
Alan Pulido's equalizer for Mexico: http://t.co/J5rfdDHc7x— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) April 3, 2014
Omar Gonzalez was late on the deflection off the post, but Klinsmann, via LAGalaxy.com's Adam Serrano, wasn't about to throw his center-back under the bus:
Action was wide-open for the remaining 20 minutes as the ball moved from end to end. The Americans seemed to have the game won twice in the final minutes.
Eddie Johnson slotted a clinical finish after being put through by a lovely ball from former Seattle Sounders teammate Clint Dempsey, but the referees waved him offside, which, as SB Nation's Kevin McCauley showed, was a questionable call at best:
yeaaaah that's not offside pic.twitter.com/S2dU3tlpKh— Kevin McCauley (@kevinmccauley) April 3, 2014
Green looked to have drawn a foul at the edge of the penalty area just moments later, but there was no call, and the roller coaster of a game finished in a 2-2 draw.
Michael Bradley, USA: A
Is there really any question anymore that Bradley is Team USA's best (and most important) player?
The 26-year-old midfielder was simply on another level on Wednesday. He lost his man in the box for the opening goal. He had a beautiful late run and even better flick ahead for the assist on the second goal.
He won possession in the midfield, strung together passes, made long runs, started attacks and beat defenders with creativity.
Almost every time the ball found its way to Bradley's feet, good things happened for the Americans.
As Sports Illustrated's Liviu Bird and George Dohrmann noted, Kyle Beckerman, who was also stellar, deserves credit for helping open things up for Bradley:
“@liviubird: This is why Bradley's best game for U.S. was when Geoff Cameron played next to him. Beckerman might be better. 100% true— George Dohrmann (@georgedohrmann) April 3, 2014
Led by Bradley, the Red, White and Blue midfield was a joy to watch and at the center of every positive movement.
Luis Montes, Mexico: A
Luis Montes subbed in at halftime, and much like Bradley in the first half, he absolutely ran the game for much of the final 45 minutes.
He whipped around beautiful passes both long and short, showed a much-needed creativity on the ball, played balls out wide and controlled the midfield.
Although he didn't score, the 27-year-old was indirectly involved in both goals and served as the engine that opened up El Tri's attack. He was absolutely vital.
Chris Wondolowski, USA: B
With the World Cup just a couple of months away, Wondo is fighting hard for a spot on the final roster. Before the opening kick, SB Nation's Ryan Rosenblatt noted the importance of this friendly for the 31-year-old:
Full strength teams Chris Wondolowski has scored against: Belize, Cuba, Guatemala. You could say he needs a goal tonight.— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) April 3, 2014
Well, he scored goal, and he got it in typical Wondo fashion. Some might say it's not pretty, but his ability to read Bradley's header, beat his mark and get into the right spot is far more than just luck.
Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin argued just that:
You would say Wondo is lucky to be in those positions, but it happens every...single...game. Such an under-appreciated ability.— Clint Irwin (@ClintIrwin) April 3, 2014
Wondo showed once again that he is a true poacher, and you need players like that to come on as substitutes for 15- and 30-minute stretches when games are close. This is still a highly debated topic, but Wondolowski is making Klinsmann's final decision difficult.
The Americans' final group tune-ups before the World Cup start on May 27, when they host Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. El Tri will take on Ecuador four days later at AT&T Stadium.
If the United States are going to survive the "Group of Death" in June, they will have to replicate their first-half performance, while Mexico's second-half showing gives hope for them to deal with Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon.