The US-Mexico rivalry has long been one of the major themes for soccer in North America. Being one of two major countries that connect to the US, Mexico is almost destined to be the American’s rival for soccer. Other than geography, the two countries are both a member of CONCACAF, competing for World Cup places and in other competitions. We all know about the history on the field, but now we have a battle brewing between the two nations behind the scenes.
Somewhere along the line, national team managers began to realize that dual-nationality was a possibility to open up their player pool. The United States might be one of the most visual examples of this. There are plenty of [insert nationality here]-Americans on their roster and in their player pool. Julian Green, John Brooks, and Timmy Chandler are German-Americans. Mix Diskerud is a Norwegian-American. Last night featured multiple Mexican-Americans.
It had added implications that the United States was playing Mexico, with multiple players being eligible to represent both teams. ESPN has estimated that there are over 50 dual-nationals in Liga MX (Mexico’s league) that could pick either El Tri or the US. So for some, this match was even more emotional than usual.
Club Tijuana defender Greg Garza got the start for the USMNT at left back, while his club teammate Joe Corona was positioned above him in the midfield. Omar Gonzalez and Ventura Alvarado combined to make a dual-national pair in central defense. Second half subs William Yarbrough and Miguel Ibarra were also eligible to represent both the United States and Mexico. Michael Orozco was also called up for the US, but stayed with club team Puebla, who are battling relegation.
For years, El Tri had a strict policy that limited national team players to their domestic league, but that stance has lessened in recent times. Due to the policy, some players with dual passports decided to commit to the United States, and some ended up using their one-time switch from FIFA. Corona is just one example of a player who represented Mexico in the youth ranks before switching to the United States — even more reason why this match means so much to so many people.
The match itself took place in San Antonio at the AlamoDome. The playing surface was nothing short of awful, and both teams had to contend with weird bounces of the ball. Both sides were without some of their “A” squad players, including Giovani dos Santos and Javier Hernandez for Mexico, and Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey for the US. That didn’t damper any of the atmosphere though, as a sell-out crowd enjoyed the rivalry.
The story at the beginning of the game was Jordan Morris, a Stanford sophomore, who got his first start for the USMNT. He was paired up top with Gyasi Zardes, who looks to continue his adjustment to the international game. DeAndre Yedlin made his first Tottenham debut just last week, so it was surprising to see him in the lineup.
Mexico fielded a side that was very young. Francisco Javier Rodriguez logged his 99th cap in defense, while the next most experienced player only had 16 caps to their name. All 19 players called up by manager Miguel Herrera are players in the Mexican domestic leagues. The total number of international goals from those 19 players: seven. It is no wonder the Mexicans had trouble putting the ball in the net in either half.
The first half had a frenetic pace, but most players took time to adjust to the poor field conditions. Players all over the pitch lost their footing, which opened up lanes for their opponents, but no one could really take advantage in the first half. Mexico had a few chances, but nothing too threatening. Morris had a few long ball runs, but nothing ever became of them. No corners by either team that threatened the goalkeepers.
On a personal note, I really enjoyed the link-up play between Greg Garza and Corona, bringing Club Tijuana style to the USMNT. I noticed Ventura Alvarado getting upfield quite a bit for a centreback. Most players struggled with traction, so it was hard to link-up and make accurate passes. Even Michael Bradley, a usual pinpoint passer, had under a 60% pass completion rate in the first half. There were some positive signs, as Diskerud and Bradley seemed determined to move up the pitch like Jurgen Klinsmann has been preaching for months. Anyway you picture it, there was a 0-0 scoreline at half.
The second half started with multiple substitutions. Brek Shea came in for Greg Garza at left back, while Miguel Ibarra relieved Joe Corona. Both of those players have games on Friday, so taking them off at half was likely a plan all along. Yarbrough was sent in as goalkeeper, while Nick Rimando came off. Only a few minutes after resuming Jordan Morris got his chance and slotted home his first USMNT goal. After a few more minutes, Morris got substituted for Juan Agudelo. Agudelo had a very solid shift, doing very well holding the ball. Then, he too got his chance from 20 yards, grabbing a goal to make the score “dos a cero.”
Then, it was over. 2-0 was the final scoreline. It was a very promising result, keeping a clean sheet, especially in the last 10 minutes. Michael Bradley has been nicknamed “The General,” and he lived up to that title against Mexico. He was very clearly the most in control player on the pitch. The defense didn’t look so much like a liability as matches past. Perhaps the United States found a forward not named Jozy Altidore. The positives were all around, but the battle is never over with Mexico. The US must continue to battle on the field, as well as off, getting players to pledge their loyalty. For this US-Mexico rivalry, the match never ends.