It was all Mexico at MetLife Stadium, as Gregg Berhalter’s U.S. men’s national team failed to find their groove in El Tri’s 3-0 win against their heated rivals on Friday.
Recent Sevilla signing and Mexico’s all-time leading scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored in the first half. Erick Gutierrez and Uriel Antuna chipped in second-half goals for Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side, which has won consecutive games in convincing fashion against the USMNT.
As in the majority of meetings between the rivals, the opening minutes were cautiously slow – each team doing their best to hide their weapons while trying to figure out one another. El Tri facilitated the ball with urgency through the wings, yet were unhesitant to go back and redraw their approach. The Stars and Stripes, on the other hand, made it clear they’d lean on playing from the back – a tactic that would eventually backfire on Berhalter and Co.
Debutant Sergiño Dest — who made headlines heading into Friday’s friendly for his first senior cap — was unafraid to show his worth, rifling a shot from distance 15 minutes into the bout. With a semi-extended save, Mexico’s Jonathan Orozco quietly put away the home’s side only noteworthy attempt on goal in the first half.
Dest, however, appeared against shortly after for unfavorable reasons.
Settled with dominant possession of the ball, El Tri had a plethora of areas of the field to exploit. And in Jesus “Tecatito” Corona’s mind – at least in the 21st minute – the 18-year-old fullback’s left side of the USMNT’s first third was it, doing so with a bit of wizardry and supreme technique to avoid Christian Pulisic and Dest, before assisting Hernandez.
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The USMNT’s night was plagued by two deficiencies: the inability to move the ball out of the back and the lack of efficient passing in space. In the 33rd minute, El Tri nearly punished Weston McKennie’s poor ball. Corona, though, missed out on recording a brace by inches.
In the second half, with his first touch of the night, Jordan Morris fueled an explosive Mexico counter-attack. With the game moving at a low-scoring pace, it was only fitting that debutant Miles Robinson bailed the Sounders forward.
The low-scoring aura to fade was merely a question of not if but when.
Similar to his impact on his Napoli debut, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano rose fans off their seats. He didn’t score this time, however.
Despite clearly being the inferior team, Berhalter’s side stuck to their game plan, starting the buildup from the back. Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, despite being known for being defenders comfortable on the ball, suffered when Martino ordered his frenetic frontline to press viciously for the ball.
It felt pre-destined that one of Berhalter’s go-to strategies would soon give out in front of a Mexico side that had caught on to the tactics. Zack Steffen, who has started his season with Fortuna Dusseldorf on a positive note, topped off the shaky sequence of passing with a gift to Erick Gutierrez, who made no mistake with the ball in enemy territory.
Alfredo Morales, representing the Yanks for a first time in three years, was the closest to spoiling Oronzo’s clean sheet, volleying a low ball into the ‘keeper’s far post in the dying minutes of the match.
And just as the USMNT’s bite became nothing more than a nibble, El Tri responded with one more chomp of its own. LA Galaxy’s speedy winger, Uriel Antuna, who has unexpectedly become a household name under Martino, did the honors. Along the way, Lozano, gave the New York crowd something he will showcase on a weekly basis in Italy.
In the game’s last breath, it was clear it wasn’t meant to be the USMNT’s night. Josh Sargent, from the spot, had his strike saved by Orozco, solidifying the narrative that El Tri’s night was perfect and nothing else.