Mexico at USMNT: Klinsmann stays the course / by Jared Young

By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

The USMNT avoided their trademark collapse on Wednesday and easily defeated their arch-rival Mexico by the classic score of dos a cero. The final score was about the only stat that changed however for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, as the USA continued the style of play that has characterized their post-World Cup friendlies. Klinsmann continued to experiment with new players and played a conservative style focused on getting good shots while limiting the opponents’ quality chances. He said that he was starting to hone in on the Gold Cup and so fans might have expected the US would come out of their shell. Perhaps the surprise of the match was that they stayed the course, in what could be Klinsmann’s preferred strategy for the next cycle.

Klinsmann went with a 4-4-2 diamond set up, while El Tri came out in a conservative 5-3-2 setup. Both teams offered very low defensive pressure to start the game before slowly opening up. Both teams combined for just 8 shots in the first half with only two being attempted inside the 18 yard box. There was just no space for either offense to operate.

In the second half as the teams opened up, it was brilliant play from Michael Bradley combined with a little luck and solid finishing that gave the US their only two goals of the game. Jordan Morris, a 20 year old, scored his first goal for the USMNT. Much will be made of Jordan being a college player but we need to remember that most of the best players in the world are not playing soccer in college. It’s simply not part of a good player’s development in any country but the US. Just over four years ago, the 2nd goal scorer of this match Juan Agudelo, scored a USMNT goal as a 17 year old. Did it matter that he was or was not in college? Heck, he wasn’t old enough to be in college. The media loves a good story but this country won’t show soccer maturity until we can bring that global perspective to the game. Celebrate a young player scoring and give that context, just please not that he’s choosing to play in college.

486 minutes from “newbies”: Klinsmann said his focus was turning to the Gold Cup, but he continued to experiment with new players. More than half of the minutes played were by players who did not play in the World Cup. This was the second highest minute total for the young guys in this series of friendlies, only exceeded by the Switzerland match.

72% pass completion percentage: Blame the poor field conditions but this pass completion percentage was the lowest from the US during this cycle. When a team is sitting deep, low completion percentages are expected, but at home this was perhaps too sloppy a number.

Four shots on target for USMNT to two for Mexico: Yet again, the USMNT gained the shot advantage despite giving up more shots. Mexico outshot the US 12-8 but eight of Mexico’s shots were hail Mary’s from outside the 18 yard box. The USMNT’s TSR (Total Shots Ratio) since the World Cup is 39%, but they make up for it by putting 44% of their shots on target and getting quality looks. That remained a key strength of the US team against Mexico.

Rough go for Garza. The only space in the attacking half that Mexico found in the first half was in Greg Garza’s area. Garza has been given a long look by Klinsmann in these friendlies. He’s earned the most caps of any non-World Cup player with seven. 

The circled passes above were attempted by Mexico in Garza’s area. There was clearly space to operate and Mexico was exploiting. Yes, it appears that El Tri was building more often down the right side, but the fact that they found so much space in that area is disturbing. Meanwhile DeAndre Yedlin was playing very aggressive defense and his area remained primarily clean. That is until the 2nd half.

Mexico, perhaps seeing that Yedlin was aggressively playing the ball, shifted their focus to his side. Luckily they didn't have enough success to score a goal. It should be noted that Brek Shea kept his area on Mexico’s right hand side clean in his second half shift.

A win over your arch-rival will always be good, and this team needed to finish off a match and get a good result. With difficult road friendlies at the Netherlands and Germany on the horizon, we should expect more of the same style from Klinsmann. His speeches about playing proactively with the rest of the world seem to have quieted, but he’s found a nice recipe over the last few friendlies. The US has allowed just four goals in the last four games, and just one in the first half. At the same time they’ve put 13 shots on target and limited their opponents to just 9. The US has converted seven of those 13 shots as well. Hard to complain where the US sits as they approach the Gold Cup in July.