Recapping the Huge USA-Mexico Match: What Went Wrong?

A lot was on the line last weekend when the United States Men’s National Team met Mexico’s national squad in a Rose Bowl showdown. One of the two soccer teams would take CONCACAF’s final berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, considered to be a vital tune-up for the World Cup in the same location in 2018.

It was a huge game on home turf for the USMNT, but when the final whistle blew, it was Mexico that had the 3-2 victory. It was a tough loss for the United States, made worse by the fact that it came at the hands of their archrivals.

What Went Wrong at the USA-Mexico Match?

Mexico’s high press worked very well against the United States, and they were able to possess the ball 63% of the time. They took nine more shots that US team did, and they really controlled the action the majority of the time.

Obviously, Mexico’s skill was a big reason for the gap in possession – the Americans were, frankly, outclassed (more on that in a moment). But the United States’ defensive set-up was also partly to blame: the team used two defensive midfielders (Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman), and yet didn’t play well on defense. The Americans looked sluggish compared to the quick Mexican offense, and they gave up three goals, including two in extra time.

The midfield emphasis on defensive play failed to improve defense but still slowed the offense, hindering the United States counterattack and leaving its offense struggling.

Throughout the game, the U.S. looked pretty uncreative on offense. The major exception was a nice play that saw DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood combine for a score; other than that, the United States seemed incapable of penetrating the Mexican defense (the United States’ first goal was off of a set piece).

Deeper Issues

The loss to Mexico can be partially explained by the United States’ poor play on the field, but that’s not the whole story. The fact is, the USMNT probably should lose to teams like Mexico consistently, because they are simply not as good of a team.

It’s easy to forget this. A fter all, the USMNT under Klinsmann had actually never lost to Mexico in six prior meetings, and Mexico didn’t do that well in the 2014 World Cup. But Mexico has also been self-sabotaging for a few years – their management made poor use of their talent, and they’ve only recently righted the ship under interim coach Ricardo Ferretti.

The United States, meanwhile, does not have an organized enough system for generating talent. Jurgen Klinsmann would like to see more of his players ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues; Major League Soccer and many other players in the American soccer team would prefer to see the American stars play domestically. The result is a strange mix of MLS stars and replacement-level players from foreign leagues.

Maybe Klinsmann is right: after all, this team was largely built on MLS stars, and it was totally overmatched by Mexico. On the other hand, Klinsmann runs the entire USMNT system, and his future stars aren’t giving us a lot of reasons to believe in his system: his U-23 team (which he does not coach, but does oversee) just failed to qualify for the Olympics. There are some MLS players in there, too, though. So where to lay the blame remains a matter of debate: should we blame Klinsmann, or blame the American soccer players and institutions that refuse to follow his lead?

That isn’t clear, and may never be, but the dysfunction is a key part of what went wrong last weekend.

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