Say this for the new away kit: It looked a lot better in action than it does on the promo material… And along with the new bomb-pop shirt, Jurgen trotted out a diamond midfield – something the EA Sports FIFA Soccer series tells us is always a good idea (offensively, at least). Recently heralded German-American, Julian Green – all of 18 years old – debuted and showed some flashes. And as good as the American midfield looked in the first half, the Mexicans adjusted and controlled the first portion of the second half.
So even though a brutally bad offisides call robbed Eddie Johnson of a clinical goal in the final ten minutes of the game, which would have given the U.S. the win, we’ll take a 2-2 tie. We’ll also take note of who’s ready and who’s not, because the naming of the World Cup preliminary roster is only a month away.
Five points in this USA-Mexico pentagram from Arizona…
- Michael Bradley. The General showed how good he can be in the first half, commanding the midfield, combining efficiently with the forwards and wide midfielders, and basically winning everything that came near him. His vision has always been great, and looks even better after his stint in Italy and return to form with Toronto FC. Bradley can play the 10 in that role – at least in phases – as he showed in Phoenix. The question for Jurgen now: how often to deploy Bradley as more of an attacker, and who do you place with him in the center?
- Centerbacks. Omar Gonzalez was good for most of the game (despite what you may read elsewhere), but he switched off twice, and Mexico scored on both occasions. Mat Besler looked much better. Clarence Goodson – not so much. We’ve continued to advocate for a veteran, like Jay DeMerit, but Jurgen’s not having it. So the biggest question leading into the summer – who’s your starting centerback pair, and can we get them in form and confident enough to advance?
- Width issues. In the dominant first half, the USA diamond midfield was often narrow, playing quick passing sequences out of pressure and freeing up the fullbacks moving forward. It was this kind of play that led to the second goal. But Mexico adjusted and got wider, finding tons of space between the midfield and backline – especially when the fullbacks got caught upfield. With just Kyle Beckerman staying home as D-mid, the USA faced a lot of pressure after half-time. Surely Jurgen would rather avoid giving that kind of space to guys like Schweinsteiger, Gyan, and friggin’ Ronaldo!
- Set pieces. In the days of Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley, you could usually count on the U.S. to win the set piece battles. Under Jurgen, not so much. Maybe we don’t work on them as much as we used to, maybe we don’t have enough guys with the right outlook… But after Bradley’s nice goal from a corner, and throughout the second half, the U.S. looked shaky on Mexico’s dead-ball chances. This in a game when the good guys clearly had a physical and size edge. If you think about how this could wreck a game in Brazil, well, note to Jurgen: carve out some time in the training schedule for set pieces.
- Making their cases. Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman made strong cases to join the 23-man squad at the World Cup. Wondo poached another goal and was good in combination play, while Beckerman showed his discipline and grit as the anchor of the diamond. Michael Parkhurst and Mo Edu also showed well. While neither of these latter two guys or Wondo were on our most recent 23 for Brazil, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them there. Did Julian Green show enough? Not really, but you like the idea of bringing one for the future if it doesn’t wreck the locker room… The coaching staff really has a task in front of them; picking those last 4-5 spots is going to be difficult.