PASADENA, Calif. – The United States' 3-2 defeat in a spectacular CONCACAF Cup contest with Mexico certainly stings, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann acknowledged, but he hopes it serves as a catalyst for improvement.
The Yanks battled Mexico on somewhat even terms at the Rose Bowl for nearly 120 minutes, twice rallying from deficits--the second time in overtime--before falling on Paul Aguilar's volley in the 118th minute.
Klinsmann thought his team was likelier to get a third goal, if one was to be gotten, and was preparing for a penalty-kick shootout when Aguilar thrilled most of the 93,723 on hand with a sensational strike.
“A loss is always difficult to swallow, there's no doubt about it, especially when there's a lot at stake,” Klinsmann said in his post-game news conference. “It means that you have to work even harder than you ever did before in order to turn the results around and make things happen....
“We have to get out group together and rethink the next couple of months," he continued. "Obviously, we're going into World Cup qualifying already in November, and we have to kind of sit together and discuss things--who we'll be counting on, how we want to build toward the next couple of games. There's not much time in between, because World Cup qualifying is World Cup qualifying. So there will be a lot of conversations coming up in the next couple of days.”
The Yanks have a friendly Tuesday night against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena, then open their 2018 qualifying campaign with games Nov. 13 against St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis, and Nov. 17 at Trinidad and Tobago.
It's been a difficult few months for Klinsmann's group, which finished a disappointing fourth at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July. With Saturday's loss, the USMNT misses out on the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. Some critics, including former US star Landon Donovan, have suggested that Klinsmann should be replaced, and that the Yanks have not progressed since reaching the knockout phase of last year's World Cup.
It weighs in, too, that the US U-23 team also lost Saturday, to Honduras in a CONCACAF qualifying semifinal for next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and must now beat Canada and Colombia to reach the games.
“I don't want to make any excuses here for what happened in the Gold Cup, but ... the Gold Cup [results were] heavily influenced by referee decisions,” Klinsmann said. “That's why we had this game tonight [to determine the region's representative for the Confederations Cup]. We didn't win this game tonight because they scored the last goal two minutes before the end of the game.
“Obviously, it was a bummer to see the Olympic team not win today, as well," he continued, "so you can have your own impression that you look at the last four years, what we went through, and they're not only positive moments. Like we had 2012, great year; 2013, great year; 2014, we got out of the [World Cup's] 'Group of Death.' And now we had a tough one this summer. That's part of it.”
The U.S. might have salvaged things with a victory Saturday, and Klinsmann was delighted with how his team “showed a lot of character. They showed tremendous effort, and they went all the way through and gave everything they had on the field.”
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“When you're on the losing side, it hurts, that's normal, and it takes a couple of days to swallow a pill like that,” he added. “But I told the guys [to keep their] heads up, because they gave everything they had there. Coming back twice against Mexico and playing very, very openly is impressive, but it was not enough, unfortunately.”
Mexico had most of the possession and more and better scoring chances, but the Yanks' defensive organization was outstanding, especially in the second half, when El Tri applied heavy pressure. They also did well to rally twice, with Geoff Cameron's 15th-minute header to answer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez's opener, and then Bobby Wood's finish a dozen minutes after Oribe Peralta's overtime strike.
“We knew they were coming again [with heavy pressure after halftime], so we said, 'Let's be as compact as possible,'” Klinsmann said. “But what we didn't do well the second half was simply to keep the ball. We ran a lot after, we won a lot of balls, and then we couldn't combine and we couldn't calm the game down enough. That was a struggle we went through the second half that we should have done better....
“I think it was an open game until the very, very end. And we thought already [in overtime], 'Okay, how to prepare the penalty shootout?' Then they hit you with that volley. I think we had enough chances to score the second or third goal. The second half belonged more to Mexico, and we turned it around again in extra time, so it was out feeling that we were closer to that third goal than Mexico was. But they scored that third goal.”