Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from US history being made at the Azteca
No soccer game is perfect. Especially not one that ends goalless, as the US' trip to Mexico City did on Tuesday night.
Nonetheless, that point is as close to perfect as can reasonably be expected when traveling to a venue as hostile, as historic and as intimidating as the Estadio Azteca. Yes, Mexico dominated the ball, and yes, they were denied a clear penalty in the second half.
But so what? Haven't the US been denied clear penalties in CONCACAF before? Haven't the US strung together passes to no effect before? Hasn't luck – good and bad – been a part of every qualifying run by every team in World Cup history?
Here are three more thoughts on the game:
1. José Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre is absolutely culpable for El Tri's inability to adjust
There probably hasn't been a less experienced central defensive pairing, either together or at the international level overall, in the history of the rivalry than Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. And Chepo never asked them to do anything but play lanes and crosses.
It was an absolutely bizarre tactical decision, one that, honestly, has no excuse. It was clear at 30 minutes that Gonzalez and Besler were going to gobble up everything from the flanks. It was clear again at 45, and 60, and 75. Chepo had a responsibility to change the way Mexico attacked, but only ever altered it by putting in Ángel Reyna.
Yes, Reyna was good, but he's an enganche, so Gonzlez and Besler were never going to be asked to come off their line and make decisions. The play stayed in front of them, so they were able to read the game and react appropriately, putting on a clinic in back-foot defending.
Why no Raúl Jiménez, who's been so good as a No. 9 for Club América? Why wasn't Aldo de Nigris even called? He gives the US fits every time he plays.
Either of those guys would have created exponentially more variables for the US central defense. But stubbornness prevented Chepo from turning to a true No. 9, and his team walked away with one point instead of three as a result.
2. Jurgen Klinsmann's decided to play to the US strengths so far in the Hexagonal
It was only token high pressure, applied sporadically, that Klinsmann's team trotted out on Tuesday. That's smart, seeing as the 7,200 feet of altitude can sap energy and empty lungs faster than most recognize.
Beyond smart, though, it's pragmatic (the only school of philosophy that originated in the States, by the way). This US team has shown no ability to generate chances from possession, and have been vulnerable defensively when they push high. Klinsmann's new style that he's tried to initiate has resulted in fewer goals scored, and blown leads in all four road qualifiers.
So the only pragmatic thing to do was stay deep and defend, try to hit on the counter and hope to get a set piece. The last two didn't really work out – and again, the US had a bit of luck from the referee in getting out of there with the result – but there's nobody in the US camp, and no fan in their right mind, who wouldn't have happily taken a point from this game.
Maybe it's not the compromise that Klinsmann wanted to make when he took over the job. But it was absolutely the right compromise on the night.
3. The US, through three games, now sit as pretty as anybody in the Hexagonal
The job's nowhere near done, but the Yanks have arguably now played their two toughest road qualifiers and they've come away with a point. They, along with Costa Rica, are the only teams that haven't dropped home points.
And whether or not Chepo's the coach come June – my guess is "not" – Mexico are going to come out in the next series of qualifiers looking for blood. And it'll be other teams that are on the receiving end. They won't drop anymore home points, and probably not that many on the road either. Points lost by other teams – at home, especially – keeps lowering and lowering the bar for US qualification.
Again, that's maybe not the evolution Klinsmann wanted, but it's the one his team has forced, and have shown that they're best suited for.
In Klinsmann's words, "They took their chance." The coach is dancing to their tune now, and it has them sitting pretty after what probably should have been a brutal night at the Azteca.
Can't script it much better than that.