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The morning after Mexico: Big questions include Bradley, Klinsmann, RB

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At least in US Soccer terms, the end is not nigh.

Yeah, the USMNT fell to Mexico in a home World Cup qualifier for the first time since 1974*, but it was both the first game of 10 in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and possibly the third-trickiest (Away Mexico, Away Costa Rica).

*There was a 16-year gap in home qualifiers from 1982-1998.

[ USMNT-MEXICO: Recap | Ratings | 3 things ]

And yes, another in that trio of matches is headed its way Tuesday in Costa Rica, where the United States is yet to win a WCQ while conceding two or more goal in the last 7 losses.

But an American result in Costa Rica is far from a long shot, even with a hostile crowd ready to remember the Snow Clasico in Denver.

So let’s chat about a number of significant issues from Friday, and moving forward to Tuesday in Saprissa.

1) Coach, captain need to get on the same page — Whether Jurgen Klinsmann or Michael Bradley is correct in their assessment of what went wrong with the 3-4-3 formation — Bradley said it was direction and comprehension, Klinsmann pointed to Bradley and Jermaine Jones — there’s a reason we rarely see that sort of intra-team finger pointing in sports.

The truth is that Bradley and Jones had poor games in a questionable at best system chosen by Klinsmann. Move on, guys.

2) Yeah, the formation change worked, but also… please don’t forget that while the United States was undoubtedly more comfortable once switching from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2, that switch also happened when arguably the best player on the field had to lave the game through injury. PSV Eindhoven’s Andres Guardado subbed off hurt in the 28th minute and the USMNT started to run the midfield.

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3) That right side of the defense needs better — Klinsmann pointed to Timmy Chandler’s fine form for Eintracht Frankfurt and DeAndre Yedlin‘s last few camps and status in England’s second tier as the reason for using Chandler at right back.

That maybe so, but Chandler struggled in the first 30 minutes if not longer. That’s not an outlier when he suits up for the United States, but also consider how Eintracht Frankfurt regularly trots out Chandler for their top half Bundesliga side.

[ MORE: Panama, Costa Rica strike first ]

Chandler has a lot of freedom on the right of a five-man back line, where he can take chances without crippling the defense. That wasn’t the case in a 3-4-3, and Geoff Cameron‘s absence means the support around the center backs has to be almost pristene and certainly not risky.

So if Klinsmann’s thinking “No” on Yedlin, then it has to be a four-man back line with Chandler… or something even more safe.

4) Brooks’ partner — John Brooks made a big mistake on the set piece goal that gave Mexico the 2-1 win, but otherwise was perhaps the most important part of the Americans escaping the first half down by just one. Omar Gonzalez was not a nightmare next to him once the four-man back line emerged, but is he the answer for Tuesday? Could Matt Besler move inside with Fabian Johnson dropping to left back? Is Steve Birnbaum the right call?

5) Jones and Bradley must improve — Bradley is undoubtedly a USMNT legend, but the captain hasn’t had a star performance for country since before the Copa America Centenario — probably the blowout of Guatemala — and what the heck was he doing in not laying off to Bobby Wood on that second half 2v1?!?

Jones’ aggression is what it is and he can certainly put it to good use, but he missed the boat on Friday. That’s not too much of a surprise given his long absence for Colorado, but Klinsmann indicated that Jones would be fit to go on Tuesday and wouldn’t even say he expects his longtime midfielder to go less than 90 minutes.

So they better step their games up against Costa Rica’s gritty, cantankerous midfield in Saprissa.

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 11: Bobby Wood #7 of the United States celebrates with teammate Fabian Johnson #23 after scoring a second half goal against Mexico during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier at MAPFRE Stadium on November 11, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Where’s Herc is a way easier game than Where’s Waldo. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

6) Stick with the attack plans, or get aggressive? — Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore were sensational in the second half, with the latter setting the former up for several chances including the goal. And Christian Pulisic improved dramatically after some early stumbles.

[ MORE: The evolution of Pulisic ]

So is it 4-4-2 with Pulisic atop a midfield diamond or on one of the wings? Is it the “front three that really isn’t a traditional front three” where Pulisic, Wood, and Altidore are basically lining up wherever the play takes them? Does Sacha Kljestan work as the third midfielder in this situation, or is it Alejandro Bedoya?

7) Regardless of Friday, and Tuesday, what’s the CM future? Jermaine Jones is 35, and the 29-year-old Bradley honestly hasn’t looked the same for country — at least on a consistent basis — since coming back to Major League Soccer.

The question is how much of that should be pinned on Klinsmann? If the answer is “a lot”, then some serious conversations have to be had about wasting one of the most talented, intelligent, and important players in United States history for the final half-decade (or so) of his time in the USMNT kit.

If the answer is that Bradley is no longer the same player, then we have questions beyond his implementation. Who is in the pipeline at center mid after him and Jones? Kyle Beckerman is nearly as old as Jones and Osvaldo Alonso — the near-perfect answer — is unlikely to get his release from Cuba.

Hearts captain Perry Kitchen will get a look for his defensive acumen, but neither him nor Reading man Danny Williams is even getting called into the team by Klinsmann right now. Kellyn Acosta is seemingly a left back for the United States right now, Dax McCarty isn’t being called in, and Wil Trapp, Emerson Hyndman, and Fatai Alashe are firmly on the periphery.

Mexico smothers Cuba 7-0 to start Gold Cup strong

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If Tata Martino envisioned a perfect start to the 2019 Gold Cup, his wildest dreams came true as Mexico dismantled Cuba 7-0 in their first group stage game of the competition. In a completely dominating 90 minutes, Mexico asserted itself as one of the premiere title contenders of the tournament.

21-year-old Uriel Antuna, on his third international cap, snagged a hat-trick while Raul Jimenez was spectacular in the attack, with a hand in each of the first four goals of the game.

The onslaught started just two minutes in via a clown show at the back for Cuba that saw three defenders completely whiff on a clearance, with the ball coming off the post as well before Antuna bundled it into the back of the net for his first of a memorable night.

Raul Jimenez came inches away from doubling the lead in the eighth minute as he put a diving header just wide right as the early slaughter continued. After the opening 15 minutes, Mexico seemed to take its foot off the gas pedal, cruising through to halftime with very little goal action but also hardly allowing Cuba to see a touch of the ball, holding 76% possession through the first half-hour.

On the 30-minute mark, however, the second goal that had been begging finally came and the storm continued. Right through the heart of the Cuba defense, Wolves star Raul Jiminez finished it off through the two center-backs and past goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez. The third came before halftime as Diego Reyes bagged his first international goal since March of 2017 as a corner swung in to Jimenez at the far post and he poked it on net. While Sanchez saved his weak effort that seemed more like a delivery, it was pushed right to Reyes on the doorstep for the poke.

Cuba couldn’t make it to halftime before conceding again, with Mexico breaking down the right via Jiminez who crossed to the middle for Roberto Alvarado. The Cuban defense tracked back to intercept the initial cross, but the rebound fell to Antuna who stepped in front of Andres Guardado and ripped his second of the game.

The second half was no different as Mexico continued to pour it on, with Jimenez adding his second past the hour mark and 21-year-old Alexis Vega bagged his first international goal with 16 minutes to go. On the 80th minute, Antuna got free down the right and finished from a tight angle for his hat-trick.

Canada hammers Martinique 4-0 to begin 2019 Gold Cup

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19-year-old Gent striker Jonathan David is your trivia answer of the summer, scoring the opening goals of the 2019 Gold Cup as Canada comfortably downed Martinique 4-0 behind the youngster’s brace.

[ MORE: Ellis and USWNT not ducking France ]

The youngster scored his fifth international goal in just his fifth cap, continuing a hot start to his Canadian career. The winning moment came off a mistake at the back as Martinique goalkeeper Loic Chauvet misfired a pass to defender Daniel Herelle and David pounced, producing a delicious finish that saw him keep his cool to get Chauvet on the ground before clipping into the back of the net.

Martinique did not go down without a fight, as Kevin Parsemain missed a trio of great chances all just before halftime. The first saw him take a Kevin Fortune cross and toe-poke just wide left with the goal gaping, and moments later Atiba Harris was caught in possession leading to a Parsemain breakaway, but Milan Borjan saved low on the shot. Lastly, in first-half stoppage time, Parsemain put Canadian defender Derek Cornelius on his rear but his shot again was saved by Borjan at the near post.

In the second half Canada appeared to come out defensive-minded, and they struck on a ball over the top that completely fleeced the Martinique back line. Davis flashed by the high defensive line and latched onto the long ball from Samuel Piette, firing cooly past Chauvet yet again to put Canada up 2-0.

The floodgates opened after the hour mark, with Junior Hoilett and Scott Arfield both finding the back of the net with the Martinique back line all over the place. The rest of the match featured David going for his hat-trick, dragging a late shot wide left from distance looking for the milestone. Canada secured a solid start to the tournament just hours after the country’s women played to victory over New Zealand out in France at the World Cup.

Colombia downs Argentina 2-0 after big Messi miss

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A miserable opening 45 minutes gave way to a more exciting second half, and Roger Martinez came off the bench to win the day with a 71st minute stunner to give Colombia all three points in Bahia, supported by a late cherry on top from Duvan Zapata.

The goal came just minutes after Lionel Messi missed a golden opportunity to give Argentina the lead during a spell of serious possessional domination midway through the second half. Once again, the Argentinian collection of star forwards came up empty, a drought that continues to plague the side in big matches.

The first half, largely, was a physical mess with very few real chances on net. The possession was nearly even between the two sides, neither team registered a shot on target, and there were just five shots overall in the first half, including just one for Argentina.

Early on, Lionel Messi was at the heart of Argentina’s best chance as he delivered a stunning long ball forward for Sergio Aguero, but with David Ospina coming acres out of his net to challenge with a flying karate kick, the offside flag went up to end the chance. Colombia was dealt an early blow as Luis Muriel was forced off with an early thigh injury, replaced by Martinez in a move that would eventually prove critical.

Argentina suffered a near-disaster when Nicolas Otamendi delivered a dangerous back-pass to goalkeeper Franco Armani who sent it right back to his defender with both under heavy pressure, but they escaped just conceding a corner and it came to nothing for Colombia.

After the break, the game opened up a bit but there were still few chances on net. Messi nearly weaved his way through the entire Colombian defense, nutmegging Davinson Sanchez before Wilmar Barrios came in to cut the ball off, but the referee made a controversial decision not to award an illegal back-pass as Barrios then touched back to Ospina who collected in his arms. Instead, he showed a yellow card to Leandro Paredes for dissent after the action arguing his case.

The two teams burst into a scuffle when Messi was hacked down by Juan Cuadrado past the hour mark as Argentina began to grab hold of the game. Cuadrado received a yellow of his own and was withdrawn shortly thereafter. On the hour mark, Messi had a golden opportunity to give Argentina the lead, but as Paredes saw his effort saved, the rebound came to Messi but he headed wide right from point-blank range despite the goal gaping.

Minutes later Colombia took the lead through a simple yet stunning move as Martinez burst down the left and cut inside just outside the top of the penalty area, unleashing a fabulous strike that left a diving Armani with no chance as it buried into the side netting inside the far post.

Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli somehow decided that 31-year-old Matias Suarez was the choice for a last throw of the dice off the bench, choosing the man with two prior international caps over the likes of Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martinez. Instead, Colombia went down the other end and eviscerated the Argentina defense with a vicious counter down the left as Roger Martinez combined with Jefferson Lerma. The latter crossed to the doorstep and Zapata – who came on just five minutes earlier for Radamel Falcao – somehow beat the napping center-back pairing of German Pezzella and Otamendi.

The win for Colombia gives them an early advantage in Group B, while Argentina can still rescue its situation with matches remaining against Paraguay and Qatar. The loss marks the third in Argentina’s last four competitive matches, with losses to France and Croatia in World Cup play prior to this defeat.

Follow Live: Gold Cup kicks off with Mexico and Canada in action

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The 2019 Gold Cup is here, and both Mexico and Canada are in play as the tournament kicks off at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

The games mark the first round of Group A play as Canada officially kicks things off against Martinique at 7:30 p.m. ET, while Mexico takes the field at 9:30 p.m. ET.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores ]

Canada made its way to its 11th straight Gold Cup by bulldozing the CONCACAF Nations League with a perfect 4-0-0 record and a +17 goal differential to finish atop the table along with Haiti. Martinique takes the field for its sixth Gold Cup having also recorded a 4-0-0 record in the Nations League.

Mexico, meanwhile, will see Tata Martino take charge of his first competitive match as head man of El Tri. He comes into the Gold Cup on a high, having won each of the four previous matches he has taken charge of. Mexico has high expectations for the tournament, and a big start over Cuba would set the stage.