United States draws with Mexico in World Cup qualifier

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A week ago the United States national team found itself injury depleted, dealing with some internal turmoil and not so far from a full-blown crisis.

These things do change quickly, though, and tonight finds the United States with four big points from a pair of matches over five nights, striding away from a memorable few days, comfortably positioned in final round World Cup qualifying.

The Americans were hardly overwhelming in a 0-0 draw with Mexico, but Jurgen Klinsmann and his patchwork back line will be far more pleased with Tuesday’s result than the hapless Mexicans, who have (Shockingly!) zero wins after three matches in the final stage of CONCACAF regional qualifying.

The United States never put a shot on goal Tuesday. But neither did they allow much bother for goalkeeper Brad Guzan as quality center back play and a first-half defensive adjustment reduced Mexico and high-scoring Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez – who remains on the hunt for his first goal against the United States – to a series of half-chances and a couple of unlucky, close-in ricochets.

Guzan handled a few routine balls and needed to make one late, quality save. But Tim Howard’s replacement was hardly tested otherwise by a rather stale and uncreative Mexican attack. Including last August’s 1-0 win for the United States, El Tri has not scored on the Americans at Azteca Stadium in more than 180 minutes.

(MORE: United States Man of the Match, Omar Gonzalez)

The United States is tied for second with Costa Rica and Honduras in the six-team group (from which three teams automatically qualify for Brazil 2014). But with the toughest match (away to Mexico) behind them, and with four of seven remaining matches on home soil, the Americans have reason to like their positioning tonight.

“I think when many people doubted us, when many people said it couldn’t be done, that it was over, we came together as a group,” Herculez Gomez told ESPN after the match. “We showed tremendous attitude, tremendous willingness to sacrifice for one another … I’ve got to applaud my teammates. It’s a great group of guys, and we couldn’t have asked for any better.”

This was just the second time the United States earned a point in 15 World Cup qualifiers in Mexico; the U.S. record there now is 0-13-2.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann made just two changes form the team that stamped “mission accomplished” across last Friday’s snowy proceedings outside Denver. Maurice Edu was in for the injured Jermaine Jones at the holding midfield spot. And Matt Besler got his first World Cup qualifier start for Clarence Goodson, who picked up a minor injury in Friday’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

Mexico’s plan was clear – and it was causing some U.S. defensive headaches early. El Tri looked for Gio Dos Santos or Javier Aquino on the right or Andrés Guardado on the left with diagonal balls, repeatedly catching the U.S. fullbacks a little too far forward.

(MORE: Mexico left to deal with their own crisis)

DaMarcus Beasley looked particularly bothered, reinforcing the worry that the veteran midfielder, pulling emergency left back duty, would be stretched in a match that demanded more defending. Indeed, Mexico at Azteca is a wholly different beast than what Beasley saw Friday at home against Costa Rica.

Two U.S. men had yellow cards in the first 20 minutes. In fact, Beasley needed just eight minutes to get his booking for an unwise push in the back on Aquino.

Those weren’t the only defensive issues early. Jesus Zavala was allowed a wide open header off a free kick, as Geoff Cameron appeared to lose his man. And the United States’ midfield was allowing too much service from 35-40 yards out, begging for trouble with a goal-scorer of supreme instinct like Hernandez is around.

But a defensive tweak helped as what looked like a 4-2-3-1 to begin Tuesday’s contest evolved necessarily into more of a 4-4-2. When Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez moved their starting positions along the flanks about 10-15 yards back, providing more assistance to their fullbacks, the Mexicans looked slightly less dangerous.

(MORE:  A big point in Mexico City took a bit of  luck, too)

Mexico, running out of ideas, became predictable. They remained dangerous on the flanks, but Besler and especially Omar Gonzalez remained faithfully in the center, refusing to be drawn out, and were so dominant in there. Cameron also did solid work in his second consecutive start at right back.

“‘The back line was outstanding,” Klinsmann said. “It’s really wonderful to see these guys take on these challenges. And it’s a huge challenge in front of 100,000 people, and it seemed like it didn’t bother them.”

Mexican fans will surely be upset about the most dangerous moment for their team, which has not scored at home so far in two final round qualifiers. El Tri was unlucky to be denied a 75th minute penalty appeal when Edu bundled into Aquino from behind 10 yards from goal.

MLS Snapshots: Opara scores a bike, SKC win; SJ thump RSL

Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): I’m going to start by quoting myself (re: Sporting Kansas City), via Twitter: “This team is better in June than it was in March, and will be better in October than it is in June. Just steadily progressing.” Saturday’s 2-1 victory away to LA Galaxy (just their second road win of the season, and the team’s fourth and fifth away goals in 10 games) is the latest sign of progress for Peter Vermes’ side, as they extend their lead on the rest of the Western Conference to five points. Roger Espinoza and Ike Opara scored the visitors’ goals — the latter coming in spectacular, most unexpected fashion — before the hosts pulled back to 2-1 through Dave Romney late in the second half. LA, meanwhile, sit sixth in the West, one point clear of the wrong side of the playoff cut line.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

22′ — Diop’s howler puts SKC up 1-0 — Sometimes — and this is one of those moments for Clement Diop — you just want the ground to open up and swallow you into the middle of the Earth.

35′ — Opara rides his bike to 2-0 — Ike Opara, a center back, scored a bicycle kick from a long ball played to him by Matt Besler, Sporting KC’s other center back. It’s a sequence of events you won’t see again for a long, long time.

59′ — Smith goes through Feilhaber, who is subbed off — Baldomero Toledo allowed Nathan Smith to stay on the field after this “tackle” on Benny Feilhaber.

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Man of the match: Ike Opara

Goalscorers: Espinoza (22′), Opara (35′)


San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 Real Salt Lake

Three Two moments that mattered

13′ — Hoesen blasts a loose ball past Rimando for 1-0 — If you fail to clear the ball anywhere inside 12 yards, you’re probably going to get scored on. Danny Hoesen got all of this one.

68′ — Hoesen sets up Ureña for 2-0 — Hoesen’s speculative through ball found its way into space, and Marco Ureñat took it from there, putting the game away and handing RSL their eighth loss in 11 games.

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Man of the match: Danny Hoesen

Goalscorers: Hoesen (13′), Ureña (68′), Hernandez (90+4′)

MLS Snapshots: Hat trick for Accam; MNUFC come back from 2-0

Photo credit: Chicago Fire / Twitter: @ChicagoFire
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The game in 100 words (or less): All hail King David Accam, the newest superstar of MLS — except, well, you know, he’s been doing this for a couple years now. It’s not his fault you hadn’t already taken notice. For too long, it was Accam and not much else for the Chicago Fire, who finished bottom of the league two straight seasons, in 2015 and 2016. Now, with the likes of Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger joining him in Bridgeview, Accam has ascended to his rightful throne as an MVP candidate. The 26-year-old Ghanaian international strengthened his case on Saturday, bagging three goals and an assist, playing a key part in all four goals, in Chicago’s 4-0 drubbing of Orlando City SC. Accam’s season stats now sit at 10 goals and six assists, for the Eastern Conference’s second-place team. If these kind of performances persist, don’t be surprised when Accam follows in Fabian Castillo’s footsteps, right off to Europe.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

8′ — Accam rounds Bendik for 2-0 — The long-ball distribution from Bastian Schweinsteiger is perfect, but Accam still has a ton to do from there. He corrals the ball with his first touch, quickly goes around Joe Bendik, gets his wits about him and fires through an opening to make it David Accam 2-0 Orlando City SC. This one came just six minutes after his brilliant backheel finish for the opening goal.

52′ — Accam sets up Nikolic for 3-0 — The time and space afforded Accam is inexcusable from Orlando’s midfield remaining players in their defensive half of the field, but the through ball still required inch-perfect precision to find Nikolic.

63′ — Accam converts from the spot — No doubt about this one, as Accam slams home from the penalty spot to complete his much deserved hat trick.

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Man of the match: David Accam

Goalscorers: Accam (3′, 8′, 63′ – PK), Nikolic (52′)


Minnesota United 2-2 Vancouver Whitecaps

Three moments that mattered

45+2′ — Tchani heads a rocket past Shuttleworth — You’re not going to find many headers with more power behind them than this one from Tony Tchani, anywhere in the world, anytime.

50′ — Calvo heads down and past Ousted — Take, for example, Francisco Calvo’s goal five minutes into the second half… not quite as much behind it.

63′ — Thiesson hits it low, through traffic, for 2-0 — Jerome Thiesson’s equalizer needed eyes to make its way through a penalty area full of bodies.

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Man of the match: Kevin Molino

Goalscorers: Techera (17′ – PK), Tchani (45+2′), Calvo (50′), Thiesson (63′)

MLS Snapshots: Manneh inspires Crew SC; Philly, Atlanta win at home

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Columbus Crew SC 4-1 Montreal Impact

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Higuain’s free kick beats Bush — Aided by a slight deflection off the top of the wall, Higuain put a free kick past Evan Bush to give the home side an early lead.

70′ — Manneh makes an immediate impact — The initial ball from Higuain is what you came here for, but the elementary defending by three Montreal defenders is what’ll keep you glued until the very end.

72′ — Manneh sets up Kamara for 3-1 — Kekuta Manneh had been on the field for all of three minutes, and he put a goal and an assist to his name. Most importantly, three points to that of Crew SC.

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Man of the match: Federico Higuain

Goalscorers: Higuain (17′, 88′), Jackson-Hamel (19′), Manneh (70′), Kamara (72′)


 

Philadelphia Union 1-0 D.C. United

Three moments that mattered

28′ — Blake gets down to deny Harkes from distance — Ian Harkes had picked out a spot just inside the far post, but Andre Blake was well up to the task of denying DCU’s homegrown rookie.

31′ — Picault slams Bedoya’s cross — Alejandro Bedoya’s cross has some serious loft on it, which it makes it so tough to keep the ensuing shot low and to hit it with such power. Fantastic finish from Picault.

70′ — Blake stone-walls Neagle from the spot — It’s a pretty poor penalty from Lamar Neagle, but it’s a massive moment so badly needed by Andre Blake who’s been well off his own standard this season. Don’t be surprised if it’s a season-turning save for the talented Jamaican.

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Man of the match: Andre Blake

Goalscorers: Picault (31′)


 

Atlanta United 1-0 Colorado Rapids

Three One moment that mattered

67′ — Martinez turns and beats Howard for the game’s only goal — You can’t give Josef Martinez this kind of space, and this kind of time, around the six-yard box. He’s shown us seven times already this season (in just seven games) how deadly he is from there.

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Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Martinez (67′)

VIDEO: Accam’s slick backheel puts Chicago ahead

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For the last two years, David Accam has been, in my estimation, the best player in MLS that no one talked about.

[ MORE: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win NY derby 2-0 ]

Understandably so, of course, given the 26-year-old Ghanaian international and the Chicago Fire been rooted to the bottom of the league table for two years running. All of that has changed in 2017, though, as Accam finally has a forward (Nemanja Nikolic) who can not only put chances away, but create space and chances for his teammates, and a solid midfield base which allows him to cherry-pick counter-attacks just that little bit more.

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Entering Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC, Chicago sat second in the Eastern Conference, just four points back of Toronto FC, and Accam’s 7 goals and 5 assists (in 15 games) were a huge part of the why and the how. It didn’t take Accam long — two minutes, in fact, to put Chicago ahead of Orlando with a ridiculous backheel finish to Matt Polster’s cross.