What we learned from the United States win over Mexico

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — From Landon Donovan to Mexico’s sorely lacking belief, a few take-aways from the United States’ 2-0 win Tuesday over Mexico:

The United States still needs Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan, like so many of the U.S. men, labored a bit in the muggy Ohio evening. But he made things happen in the moments that mattered most, with a goal and assist in yet another memorable performance (personally and for the team) against Mexico.

His set piece deliveries arrive in the intended places, and that’s so huge in World Cup soccer. His element of speed changes the way defenses react. Plus, the awareness that he’s around opens up just a little more space for guys like Clint Dempsey.

“We always said Landon is an important part of our team, and the things he went through were his decisions, and we were totally fine with that,” U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “But he also had to understand that he isn’t getting anything [for free]. He has to work his way back, to fight his way back, and that’s what he did.”

“He understands the message clearly, that nobody has a spot guaranteed. It’s all down to performance every game. … He understood that. He’s smart. He understands the moment.”

Teams bound for a World Cup need depth

When we talk about World Cup teams, too often it’s about the first 11. Then we tend to narrow the focus even more, concentrating on how the brightest stars might ride in heroically, in this case guys like Donovan, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, etc.

But World Cups, the “getting there” and the tournament itself, are about a bigger squad, and we sure saw that Tuesday. Clarence Goodson wasn’t even among the first 23 called in for these two qualifiers. And yet there he was at Crew Stadium, well-positioned, clearing everything that came near him and finding his passing feet after a couple of early, errant long balls.

Alejandro Bedoya did the hard work along the right, even if he wasn’t much of an attacking threat. Kyle Beckerman did his part on defense, making life hard on Gio Dos Santos and Mexican midfielders who wanted to take their preferred rout down the middle.

Jurgen Klinsmann is likely to use 19 or 20 guys at next year’s World Cup; it usually works out that way. He’ll need more than 11 sharpies in Brazil.

Mexico is a team seriously lacking in belief

The visitors had things in surprisingly in hand for about 20 minutes Tuesday. The United States, badly out-played in midfield, needed some strong goalkeeping from Tim Howard to keep the match level.

But when El Tri didn’t score, heads dropped. Believe drifted away like the odor from one of the smoke bombs set off in the American Outlaws section. Once they didn’t get the goal, the opportunities came at a drip. And once Eddie Johnson struck his goal, they didn’t come at all for Mexico.

The fact that the game was in Columbus, where Mexico never wins (and has yet to score) made it that much worse.

“You could see it in the body language of the Mexican players,” Kinsmann said, “Once they didn’t get a goal that they tried really hard for in the first 20-25 minutes, they got heavier and heavier. You could see that psychological load in their minds, that they started to doubt themselves. The first touch wasn’t there anymore from players who usually have a fantastic first touch.”