What should not be lost, amid all the excitement, is that this was not a particularly close soccer match. El Tri soundly outplayed the USMNT for most of the second half and extra time, and Wood’s equalizer was the only chance of any quality that the Americans created after 45 minutes. The expected goals map, which displays shots attempted weighted by the likelihood of a goal being scored from the chance, shows Mexico in charge of the match.
The problem for the United States was how to deal with the movement of Mexico’s front three. Interim Manager Ricardo Ferretti started Peralta, Raul Jiménez and Chicharito as a narrow, interchangeable forward line, with Jiménez and Chicharito regularly dropping off. This overloaded defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman’s zone, and the 33-year-old Real Salt Lake player is not mobile enough to defuse so many threats. He was a passenger on the first goal, unable to stop the ball or track a man. To protect Beckerman, Jurgen Klinsmann flattened out his diamond midfield into a more traditional bank of four, with Bradley settling in next to Beckerman and Jermaine Jones tucking in from the left to help out. The effect of this change was to cede midfield to Mexico.
El Tri held possession for well more than 60 percent of the match, but the real marker of Mexico’s dominance was the location of possession. While the Americans completed only 69 passes in the final third, Mexico completed 204. Conceding possession is a perfectly respectable strategy if you can counterattack, but the United States was unable to get anything going the other way at all — Klinsmann’s side created just one chance inside the 18-yard box between the end of the first half and Wood’s equalizer at 110 minutes. Mexico pressed high on the turnover of possession and throttled the American counter, then settled into patterns of deep possession play. El Tri combined for chance after chance and were probably unlucky the match went to extra time in the first place.
So it was a bad result for the United States. But does it mean American fans should worry? Or is Klinsmann’s job in jeopardy?
For the latter question, the answer is probably not. Klinsmann has a contract through 2018, at a rate of likely over $2.5 million per year, and has been given massive authority over the American soccer program. To ditch him now would leave the plans for that program up in the air, and perhaps more importantly it would leave the USSF paying Klinsmann more than $7.5 million not to manage the team. The most likely outcome here is that the manager sticks it out.
But the recent form of the USMNT is worrying. It’s not just losing this one match to a talented Mexican side, and it’s not just the disappointing exit in the Gold Cup semifinals. The United States called up a full-strength side to the home Gold Cup and never impressed. In the group stage, the Americans were out-shot by Honduras, Panama and Haiti — CONCACAF sides that nonetheless should not be giving the United States this much trouble.
Saturday night’s result does not appear to be an isolated incident. When facing reasonably good opposition, the USMNT has failed to put together convincing performances for some time now. Klinsmann will likely be given his chance to right the ship, but his ability to do so at the moment are not heartening.