The U.S. men's soccer team once again left Estadio Azteca without a win today. It marks the 24th straight time the Americans have faced Mexico's national team on their home pitch and failed to come away victorious. From the outside, a final score of 2-1 may seem a victory in itself considering the Gold Cup Final where Mexico annihilated the U.S. 5-0, but scores can be misleading.
The Gold Cup Final squad the Americans fielded consisted of mostly back-ups and injured starters attempting to get fit and back in football form. Two of those players who had been rehabbing in that last match-up, forward Brian Ching and defender Steve Cherundolo, were on the pitch. It wouldn't be far fetched to expect them to be somewhat rusty, but what excuse did the rest of the team have?
The only positive things that can be said about the U.S. teams effort today are that they scored first, it took Mexico's Miguel Sabah until the 82nd minute to score the go ahead goal, and the weather was nicer than expected in the usually blisteringly hot/smog covered Mexico City.
Otherwise, final score aside, this was a blowout. Mexico controlled the ball the majority of the time, basically setting up camp on the American side, passing and zipping through the zombie like U.S. defense.
Even U.S. star Landon Donovan was a non factor. He was consistently double teamed and had very little support. The only real threat was forward Charlie Davies who made two or three spectacular runs and was really only shut down on one of those sprints; he scored once and barely missed a header on a blazing cross from midfielder Stuart Holden.
Perhaps it was the formation or the style that coach Bob Bradley has impressed upon his squad, but the U.S. played the equivalent prevent defense in American football most of the game. They played as if they were hoping to just hold off the attacking and very quick Mexicans and possibly get lucky on a break away or a set piece.
Of course, in order to successfully accomplish what was essentially a holding pattern, one must complete passes and the Americans failed miserably in doing so. They turned the ball over consistently which unfairly put keeper Tim Howard in bad spots frequently throughout the game. Both goals scored against him were nearly undefendable especially man of the match, Israel Castro's equalizer from outside the box. The score could have and should have, been much, much worse if not for his efforts.
This lack of aggression and poor team play is a bad sign heading into next year's World Cup in South Africa. I have no doubt that the U.S. will secure a spot in qualifying. They have too much talent not to, but if they don't start playing again like they did in the Confederation Cup, then it'll be a repeat of 2006: a first round exit and plenty of lofty expectations crushed feebly.