GLENDALE, Ariz. – For 45 minutes, it had all the makings of Dos a Cero. With Michael Bradley tearing Mexico apart, it appeared the US national team was on its way to writing another glorious chapter in the region’s marquee rivalry.
Appearances, of course, can be deceiving.
Despite first-half goals from the Toronto FC star and Chris Wondolowski, the US wilted in the second half in front of 59,066 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium on Wednesday night, settling for a 2-2 draw with Mexico following goals by Rafa Márquez and Alan Pulido.
The friendly draw means the US are now 10-2-4 against El Tri on American soil since 2000 (12-5-5 overall), while Jurgen Klinsmann’s perfect record against Mexico remains intact (2-0-3).
In the final tune-up before the pre-World Cup camp gathers in mid-May, Klinsmann left Landon Donovan on the bench, giving hopefuls Wondolowski, Brad Davis and Tony Beltran the start. With DaMarcus Beasley stuck in Puebla, Michael Parkhurst deputized on the left side of defense.
The spine of the team, meanwhile, was composed of players who’ll almost certainly be on the plane to Brazil in early June, with Kyle Beckerman and Bradley partnering in central midfield, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler reprising their partnership in central defense in front of goalkeeper Nick Rimando and Clint Dempsey floating behind Wondolowski up top.
Mexico, meanwhile, got stuck in traffic on their way to the match, arriving more than half an hour late, and manager Miguel Herrera trotted out his customary 5-3-2 with the line led by Pulido and Marco Fabián.
It didn’t take long for the US to find a rhythm against a largely disjointed El Tri, with their first real chance 14 minutes into thematch – a header by Gonzalez from a Davis free kick headed out for a corner – leading to Bradley’s opener.
On the ensuing corner kick, the TFC midfielder left Jesús Zavala in no-man’s land, beginning his run at the edge of the area before making a beeline to the back post, where he met Graham Zusi’s in-swinger on the half-volley for a 1-0 lead.
It was a combination that frustrated the Mexicans for most of the first half, as Bradley collected the ball and either drove forward or sprayed it wide right before coming back to the ball or making a penetrating run into the area. With Beckerman providing cover behind him, El Tri had few answers for the US attack.
Predictably, it was another move down the right flank that unlocked the Mexican defense in the 28th minute to set up a familiar scoreline. Dempsey started the play by flipping the ball wide to Beltran, who curled an early ball to the front post that Bradley nodded on to Wondolowski for a delicate tap-in, his ninth goal in 19 US appearances and third in 2014.
But neither the overriding sense of security nor the scoreline would last long for the US after halftime as El Tri hauled themselves back in the game, an old face making the US pay for lackadaisical marking.
Queuing up for a corner kick in the 49th minute, Márquez made the most of a pick on Gonzalez to ghost unmarked into position at the penalty spot, nodding a powerful header past a helpless Rimando for Mexico’s first goal against the US in more than 300 minutes.
The former New York Red Bulls Designated Player nearly tied the game just four minutes later, rising about Gonzalez to test Rimando, but his effort was pushed over the crossbar by the Real Salt Lake 'keeper as El Tri began to find their footing in a game previously dominated by the US.
Klinsmann went to his bench in the 59th minute, giving Julian Green his USMNT debut in place of Davis and inserting Donovan and Clarence Goodson for Sporting KC duo Zusi and Besler. Eddie Johnson joined the fray a few minutes later for Wondolowski.
But the changes couldn’t stem the shifting tide, as Pulido made it 2-2 in the 67th minute after substitute Paul Aguilar’s shot cannoned off Rimando’s right post and into the path of the on-rushing forward for a simple finish.
After weathering repeated Mexican forays forward, US thought they’d taken the lead in the 86th minute when Johnson burst through on goal to curl the ball inside the far post, but the assistant referee raised his flag for what appeared to be a dubious offside call
Moments later, Green was felled in the box, but Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno waved play on as neither side found a goal to split the high-profile tie.