The U.S. Men’s National Team was in its fortress: Columbus, Ohio. Home of “Dos a Cero.” A place of dominance. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and they did in heartbreaking fashion tonight, with the U.S. falling 2-1 to Mexico in the opening match of the hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
The U.S. lined up in a 3-5-2, with Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson being asked to play wingbacks in an attempt to slow down Mexico’s flanks. Chandler’s start put DeAndre Yedlin on the bench, while Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood served as the forwards up top.
From an Sounders’ playoffs point of view, Colorado Rapids players Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard both earned starts.
The 3-5-2 was, by all accounts, a failure. The formation works great when your side dominates possession, but it was Mexico who dominated that stat line in the first half. Wood and Altidore were running into each other in the attack, while Michael Bradley struggled to connect passes in the attacking third.
While the U.S. had a few dangerous chances, Mexico had, by far, the best opportunities in the first half -- outshooting the U.S. 9-2.
A 10th-minute Jesus Corona shot would have put Mexico up, but a fingertip save by Tim Howard pushed the ball to the post. Ten minutes later, however, Miguel Layun collected a loose ball in the midfield and took a shot from about 20 yards out that was deflected into the back of the net, putting Mexico up 1-0.
In the 27th minute, the U.S. moved to a more familiar four-person back line, although things didn’t get much better for the U.S. to close out the half. Mexico continued to threaten, and Tim Howard had to be subbed off in the 39th minute after aggravating his groin on a goalkick.
The formation switch to a 4-4-2 paid off for the U.S. in the second half, however. In the 49th minute, Jozy Altidore broke free from his defender and slid a pass into Bobby Wood in the box. Thanks to a great first touch, Wood got a left-footed shot off that bounced off a few defenders before sliding past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera.
After the equalizer, the match became a back-and-forth, exciting affair. There were aggressive tackles, counter attacks, yellow cards, and glorious (read: horrible) dives.
Yedlin subbed into the game in the 72nd minute, and Michael Orozco was the final U.S. sub in the 81st — coming on for Matt Besler, despite the fact that Jurgen Klinsmann said Jermaine Jones was not 90 minutes fit. In between, Fabian Johnson made a diving save on a Mexico cross in the 79th to preserve the tie.
Then, in the final waning minutes — the 89th, to be precise — and just when it felt like the match was going to end in a draw, a near-post corner kick for Mexico found Rafael Marquez’s head. The 37-year-old captain flicked the ball toward the far post, putting Mexico up 2-1 and giving the U.S. its first home loss in 15 years in World Cup qualifying play.
The U.S. now travel to Costa Rica to face Los Ticos on Tuesday, November 15.