The opening salvo in Friday’s friendly between regional soccer adversaries was symbolic of Mexico’s current superiority in the searing rivalry and initiated a 3-0 victory before 47,960 at MetLife Stadium.
El Tri was confident and electric, not just on that pivotal sequence but throughout much of the 90 minutes. The Americans were forced into errors, slow to keep pace and outclassed most of the night.
The match carried no great meaning, other than to demonstrate the difference between the programs about a year before qualifying for the 2022 World Cup commences.
The pro-Mexican crowd celebrated a second victory over the United States in two months, following the 1-0 result at the Concacaf Gold Cup championship in Chicago.
“You guys are going to think I’m crazy: I’m happier about this game than the Gold Cup final because in the Gold Cup final I felt like all we did was play the ball long and that was our only solution,” first-year coach Gregg Berhalter said. “And now at least we tried to play the way we are envisioning. … We saw that [Gold Cup] performance and we wanted a different performance.”
In putting his stamp on the team, Berhalter wants to initiate attacks out of the back. But when put under pressure, his team gave away the ball too often to the Mexicans, who created opportunities in a flash and threatened multiple times before halftime. Hernandez scored in the 21st minute for his 52nd international goal.
Berhalter took issue with the line of questioning in his postgame news conference, saying, “I see where the narrative is going now: It’s why we’re playing the way we are playing and we don’t have the players to do it. That’s what all of you guys are thinking.”
He called it a “back-and-forth game.”
On his team’s approach, Berhalter said, “Our focus was to keep trying, to focus on making progress as a group. There were times when it was good and there were times when it wasn’t so good, but that’s going to be the case. … To me, the message to the group is use this as an opportunity to continue to grow. And I think that is what we did.”
The Americans were better composed in the second half but lacked the sophistication and expertise in the final third of the field to rattle the Mexicans, who are 10-0-1 since former Atlanta United coach Gerardo Martino took charge in January.
The second goal was the result of Hernandez’s pressure on Zack Steffen in the 78th minute. The goalkeeper’s clearance was disrupted just outside the penalty area and fell to Erick Gutierrez for a clean finish from the top of the box.
Four minutes later, Hirving Lozano torched Alfredo Morales on the counter and set up Uriel Antuna (Los Angeles Galaxy) for the third goal.
Jonathan Orozco preserved the shutout, stopping Josh Sargent’s penalty kick in the 88th minute.
The next U.S. match is Tuesday against Uruguay in St. Louis.
Dest, 18, made his senior national team debut, starting at left back and logging 67 minutes. The Dutch-born dual national, who has been starting for European power Ajax, still has the option to play for the Netherlands.
The first chance for Berhalter to lock him in for good is in the next official FIFA competition, a Nations League match Oct. 11 against Cuba at Washington’s Audi Field.
“Did he make some mistakes? Yeah, of course,” Berhalter said. “But I can’t be more proud of a guy who goes out and tries to do things. ... Dest was lively. You’ve got to remember he is 18 years old. … He played like an older guy.”
Several players will return to their clubs instead of going to St. Louis: Pulisic, Morales, Steffen, midfielder Weston McKennie, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and defender John Brooks, who did not play Friday because of a groin injury.