Dos a Cero No Mas: Mexico Defeats USMNT in Hex Opener

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Joe Hojnacki

The narrative of dos a cero is no more. Rafa Marquez’s 89th minute header gave Mexico a 2-1 victory to start of the Hex in the worst possible way for the United States Men’s National Team. Shaky tactics, another questionable Jurgen Klinsmann lineup, and two stellar Mexican goals hand the USA their first home defeat in a World Cup Qualifier since 2001. It was Mexico’s first ever win, and first ever goals scored, in Columbus, Ohio.

Dos a Cero No Mas: Mexico Defeats USMNT in Hex Opener

Mexico came out attacking hard against the USA’s three man back line. They could have taken the lead in the 16th minute when Hector Herrera blasted a shot off the post. Miguel Layun¬†would open the scoring in the 20th minute after Giovani dos Santos fought off an awkward challenge by Michael Bradley to set up Layun’s shot. Another post five minutes later was the only thing keeping Mexico from extending their lead.

Things got worse for the USA when starting keeper Tim Howard had to depart after straining his groin on a goal kick. This took away what could have been a valuable late game sub for the Americans and forced them to use Brad Guzan, who hadn’t seen game action since the end of August.

After half time mercifully arrived for the Americans, they came out with a new look tactically in the second half. Gone was the three man back line and here was a 4-4-2 that we are used to seeing from the side. They scored early on, too. Jozy Altidore battled through a challenge and played a perfect through pass for Bobby Wood, who also had to fight through some tough defending before slotting home.

The USA had all the momentum for much of the remainder of the match. Their best chance at a second came when Wood created a turnover in Mexico’s half, laid a pass to Bradley and set up a two on one break. Bradley never supplied Wood with a return pass and the chance was blown.

Mexico’s gut punch came in the 89th minute on their first corner of the game. Layun’s take was towards the near post where it found the head of Rafa Marquez for a flicked header to make it 2-1. They USA never threatened in the few minutes after that.

Klinsmann’s 3-5-2 Flopped

For the first time ever, Jurgen Klinsmann lined his troops up in a 3-5-2 formation and it was an instant failure. The midfield five were often over aggressive and Mexico was allowed far too much space between the midfield and back line to create attacks. As a result, the wings were ripe for the taking. Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler had to scramble backwards to cover the space they often left vacated, and it never worked.

The attack was also very disjointed. The five man midfield often looked like it was trampling over itself and was unable to link any passes with the front. Christian Pulisic was asked to play the number ten role in the attacking midfield and never looked comfortable. He mad a couple nice runs down the middle, but always failed to get the final pass in to Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood.

Wood and Altidore were mostly absent in the first half, but it was no fault of their own. The midfield was so out of sync that nothing could get through to them.

Adjustments Came Too Late

Klinsmann did get his head screwed on straight after the team went down 1-0. He adjusted back into a 4-4-2 with Johnson playing the role of attacking full back. Christian Pulisic was pushed out wide where he was much more useful. As a result, the middle of the pitch opened up and the forwards were allowed to play ball. Altidore became the set up man for Wood on a number of occasions, but none more effective than the goal. Altidore claimed the ball and burst through the back line to set up a streaking Wood in a play that would not have been possible in the first half tactics.

It wasn’t enough however. The poor play in the opening half hour was more than enough to put the USA in a sticky situation. If Klinsmann had stuck to what had worked in the past in every other successful match, this one would have been much different.

Instead, the USA came out looking confused and squandered the typical Columbus home field advantage.

This Isn’t the End of the World

A loss to open the Hex may look bad in any number of ways. It’s the first home loss to Mexico in a couple decades. It’s the first home loss to open the Hex in just as long. You never want to lose your home games in CONCACAF, but this isn’t a reason to question the USA’s chances of making it to Russia. There’s still nine matches left, including a chance to recover and steal a point at Estadio Azteca.

However, the clamors for Jurgen Klinsmann to lose his job will only get louder after this tactical disaster. He played an unfamiliar formation that turned out to be inefficient when he had the resources to stick with the plan that had worked so many timed before. This was the sort of gamble that makes him look like a genius when it works, which it so rarely does. This loss, and the one that very well could come at Costa Rica on Tuesday, won’t be the end of him, but it puts him in a very wobbly chair at the head of the USMNT setup.

The next match for the USA in World Cup Qualifying comes on Tuesday night at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. Kickoff is set for 9:05pm and you can catch it all on beIN Sports.