National Writer: Charles Boehm

USMNT reach five games unbeaten vs. Mexico as Nations League test looms


Both Jesús Ferreira and Jordan Morris would probably not hesitate in acknowledging that the US men’s national team’s friendly with Mexico on Wednesday evening was not their most memorable performance.

Occupying both a withdrawn playmaking role and the No. 9 slot, Ferreira completed a modest 64% of his passes, only one of them leading to a scoring chance, committed six turnovers and took just two shots. Morris got the chance to play a mere 15 passes on the night, took only one shot and coughed the ball up three times.

Yet with the USMNT’s ancient rivals up 1-0 in Glendale, Arizona and just minutes away from snapping the Yanks’ now-five-game unbeaten streak against El Tri, the two persisted, and eventually combined – aided by a slaloming run by Sergiño Dest – for a late equalizer to salvage a 1-1 draw that keeps the US on higher ground ahead of their Concacaf Nations League semifinal rematch in Las Vegas on June 15.

“It shows that we believe. The team’s mentality is strong,” Ferreira said on the postgame show at State Farm Stadium. “Me personally, I didn’t have my best game, my first touch wasn’t there. But it’s how strong my mentality was and how easy it was for me to just flip the page. In these types of games, you can’t keep your head on what you did wrong, you just have to flip it and keep working.”

Caught by surprise

Interim head coach Anthony Hudson admitted to being surprised by the 3-5-2 formation Diego Cocca picked out for his squad, as the Yanks struggled to come to grips with Mexico’s pressing triggers and probing switches of play to the flanks.

A brutally flat start to the second half worsened matters. The USMNT were finally punished for their sloppiness when Aaron Long couldn’t deal with a hospital-ball back pass played to him by Kellyn Acosta, setting Uriel Antuna loose on a half-field breakaway coolly finished past Sean Johnson.

“The change in the Mexico shape was something unexpected and we tried at halftime to adjust our shape so we could one, get certain players in positions on the ball, and then also allow us to be able to put pressure on the back three,” said Hudson postgame. “We found it difficult to get pressure on the ball and then also I think you saw maybe seven or eight big diagonal passes out to their wingbacks, and it was tough in a back four to really get across and get pressure on the ball.”

He couldn’t get his side reconfigured into a three-player backline in time to prevent Antuna’s opener. Yet the combination of added numbers in defense and some timely substitutes tipped the scales just in time to maintain the USMNT’s recent superiority over their border rivals. They haven't lost against El Tri since September 2019.

“It's very important, it's very important,” said US and Inter Miami CF fullback DeAndre Yedlin. “We've got a lot of competitions coming up against them, so it's something that will stay in the back of their head.”

Where to put Ferreira

Hudson, who is expected to remain in charge through this summer's Gold Cup as U.S. Soccer slowly cranks through the hiring process for first the sporting director and later the USMNT head coach, must also wrestle with the question of how to best utilize Ferreira. A talented and trusted attacker who nonetheless remains a ‘tweener,’ it’s hard to gauge the best deployment of the FC Dallas homegrown starlet.

“Yeah, it's interesting,” said Hudson when asked about Ferreira’s role. “I think we've seen him with his club play as a 10, and he's done very well. This is obviously a big step up playing at international level. The game’s a lot quicker, there's less space, you're under pressure quicker.

“I'll be honest, I don't know. We're still searching and one thing is, one of his biggest qualities is he's a very intelligent player, smart player, good at linking the play, and he's good around the box. I was really glad he got the goal tonight because he's been trying really hard for us. He's been working hard ... But yeah, he is an intelligent player, he’s a different profile of striker/attacking midfielder."

Seizing on a rare chance to hit El Tri on the counter, Ferreira finished a well-struck trivela cross from Jordan Morris while leading the line after the formation change. His work as a withdrawn playmaker behind Brandon Vazquez over the game’s first hour or so was more of a mixed bag, though he sounds game to spend more time there for the USMNT.

“As a 10 you can kind of roam around, get behind their 6s and try to find the ball; obviously with a target 9 like Brandon, you can get any second balls,” said Ferreira. “It was something exciting for me to try and I’m thankful that coach had me in mind for that role. So for me, it’s just adjusting to where I have to drop or just fix the center backs in. We knew that balls in behind were going to be key here, so when I went to the 9, I knew I had to stretch them and make sure that we give that space to Alan [Soñora].

“I love being around the box and as a 10, I know that I have the freedom to join late, be on the PK spot, and so I can do both from both positions.”

The USMNT’s next match is a far weightier edition of this clasico, with a place in the Nations League final up for grabs. So as fleeting as this midweek, non-FIFA window exhibition was, it was still a useful exercise for Hudson & Co. before defending a regional title.

“It allows us to go into the summer with a very, a much better understanding of what we're going to face and also a better idea of the players. So it was a good test on that front,” Hudson said. “I think the five-game unbeaten streak is nice. It's obviously very nice. But the next time we play Mexico, again, all of that goes out the window.”