COLUMBUS, Ohio – If the United States were going to lose to Mexico in Columbus, it wouldn’t be because of set pieces.
That was the general feeling from the Americans heading into Friday night’s clash. In the history of the “dos a cero” games, set pieces had often been the difference for the US. The dead ball situations played into the gritty reputation the Americans had earned over the years, and went against the way the Mexicans wanted to play.
Even Friday’s lineups didn’t show any signs of that trend changing. On paper, the ball-dominant Mexicans didn’t look intent on hurting the USMNT on set pieces.
Comparing the starting XI of each squad, the visitors gave up a whopping 19 total inches in height to the Americans, with only two players taller than 6-foot-1. The USMNT had six such players.
But in the 89th minute, it wasn’t a swashbuckling Giovani dos Santos run or a Carlos Vela laser that did the Americans in, but a corner kick. Rafa Marquez, the most experienced player on the field – and one of Mexico’s tallest – drifted unmarked into empty space on a corner kick and put a perfectly placed header past Brad Guzan for the 2-1 win.
“Obviously set pieces are something that we always try to use to our advantage,” said USMNT captain Michael Bradley, “and to lose on one like that tonight is frustrating.”
Even the Mexicans noted the Americans’ aerial dominance in the days leading up to the match. Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he was planning for “their game in the air,” and Marquez himself noted the importance of defending on dead balls.
“We’re well aware of the fact that they’re physically strong and that they’re strong in dead-ball situations,” he said. “I think in that respect this team is basically ready to give their lives to defend in those situations. In every dead ball situation, we have to ensure that every one of their players is accounted for and unable to hurt us.”
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he thought Marquez was defender John Brooks’ man on the fateful corner.
“We lost him there, simple as that – individual mistake,” he said. “We had all kinds of sight that should do nicely on a whiteboard, but the player misses that split second and he misses his player being ahead of him and that’s when these goals happen.”
The team had very few excuses for allowing the go-ahead goal.
Jermaine Jones said players “weren’t awake for that last corner,” while Omar Gonzalez said they “fell asleep.”
Jozy Altidore wound up as close to Marquez as anyone on the shot, but didn’t want to blame anyone on the team for the “soft” goal.
“Marking, marking in the box – it's growing pains,” he said. “We have a young team with a lot of young guys that will learn from tonight and move forward. A lot of talented guys, but these are some of the growing pains you go with. You switch off for one minute and give up that soft goal.”