U.S. vs. Mexico Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson

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After a memorable match like tonight where a number of players put in such tremendous shifts, selecting a Man of the Match can be a bit troublesome.

For example, how can someone argue that Tim Howard doesn’t deserve the recognition?

The U.S. goalkeeper proved his worth tonight in a big way. Entering the pitch with his typical chrome-dome and a beard that would make James Harden proud, Howard exuded confidence.

From the early corner-kicks, to Giovani Dos Santos’ menacing runs, to the long-range efforts of Christian ‘El Chaco’ Giménez, Howard had every angle covered. The Everton netminder’s save of the night came in the 43rd minute when Dos Santos slipped behind Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones and stabbed a vicious shot towards the top corner. With a cat-like leap, Howard sprung left and sucked in the shot with both gloves, preventing the rebound.

But as good as Howard was, who could deny Omar Gonzalez the MOTM award?

Tonight we witnessed the coming-of-age story that was Gonzalez morphing from a boy with talent into a center-back worthy of international recognition. From the opening whistle he bossed the U.S. defense with thoughtful organization and intelligent positioning.

Dos Santos may have been active but Gonzo had him in his back pocket. Utilizing his robust 6’5″ frame, the center-back forced Gio off the ball on numerous occasions leaving the diminutive playmaker with nothing to do but foul. Gonzo’s best sequence of the night came in the 18th minute where his sliding interception ruined Dos Santos’ through-ball to Javier Hernandez. The play continued, however, with Omar then popping up and blocking Gio’s shot before Giménez forced a fine save by Howard.

And yet, incredibly, other guys were equally as impressive as Howard and Gonzo.

Alejandro Bedoya was a nightmare for El Tri, especially Andres Guardado. Landon Donovan overcame what had to be one of the gnarliest forms of pink-eye ever seen to put in a shift that screamed one word: desire. Heck, one could even argue that Jurgen Klinsmann, for all the depth and belief he has provided the Stars & Stripes, deserved the recognition.

But for me, tonight was all about Eddie Johnson.

One of the biggest narratives going into the match was whether the U.S. had the depth to defeat Mexico, and more specifically, whether the U.S. attack could inflict danger without Jozy Altidore.

Eddie Johnson more than answered that question in the affirmative. He caused problems for Mexico’s defense right away, working his way into channels where the U.S. midfield could work off him. In the 22nd minute he found one of these pockets on top of Mexico’s box and provided a cheeky back heel that sprung Clint Dempsey free only for his shot to be blocked.

Nine minutes later, it was Johnson’s trump card – his athleticism – that frustrated El Tri as he skied over the defense and unleashed a thunderous header that was right at Jose de Jesus Corona. The effort was a sign of things to come, however, as Johnson sensed Mexico’s timidity in the air and latched on to Donovan’s 49th minute corner to pound home the opening goal.

Johnson’s goal celebration at the corner flag was emphatic and justifiably so – he was a man on a mission. And tonight, he arrived in a very big way.

Brazil, baby! Brazil!