Thursday, August 13, 2009

Heartbreak at Azteca

It didn't matter that the Americans scored first. Or that the Americans beat Spain. Or that Mexico isn't quite Mexico right now. At full-time, the Mexicans were once against victorious at Azteca.

For eight minutes, the Americans came out and attacked. They looked poised and confident. Their reward was an eighth-minute tally from Charlie Davies, courtesy of a beautiful through ball from Landon Donovan from midfield. But that was mostly the end of the attacking for the Americans, and nearly the end of the possession. Time and time, when the United States established possession, the backline gave possession away cheaply and allowed the Mexicans to go on the offensive again. Eventually they paid the price.

Getting toward the end of time, it looked as though the United States might be able to escape with a draw. But nearly as soon as he came on, late substitute Miguel Sabah found himself all alone ten yards from goal with a deflected ball at his feet. He rifled the ball past a helpless Tim Howard as a sense of relief spread throughout the nation to the south.

Bob Bradley will have a couple of questions to answer following this defeat. Did the United States pack it in too early? After the first goal they essentially stopped playing any offensive football at all. Worse was that, they failed to consistently close down space in midfield by applying pressure. The first goal was a direct result of this lack of pressure. Also puzzling was Brian Ching's appearance in the starting lineup, particularly after his medicore showing in the Gold Cup. Bradley evidently went with experience rather than the youth of Altidore, and surely also hoped Ching would help the United States hold possession in order to ease pressure from the Mexican attack. Instead Ching did the opposite, giving the ball away repeatedly. Raw as Altidore is, he's simply too talented not to have in the lineup, especially if he is held out in favor of Ching. Let's hope that doesn't happen any more. Altidore did finally come in in the 76th minute. The introduction Stuart Holden was also a surprise.

The next two matches in CONCACAF are now must win for the Americans. Gooch picked up a yellow and will miss the match with Trinidad and Tobago. Honduras' thrashing of Costa Rica has busted the race to not finish fourth wide open.

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