Photo by John Todd/ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
MEXICO CITY– On a night when Mexico was far from sharp, and the crowd at Estadio Azteca was not quite as intimidating as in past visits, the U.S. Men’s National Team played a solid overall team game and showed no fear in grabbing a valuable point in Tuesday’s 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw.
The U.S. defense led the way, keeping Mexico’s dynamic attack at bay, as centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler turned in star performances despite the fact both still have single-digit appearances totals for the national team. Gonzalez was the star of the show for the Americans, dominating the air and showing incredible growth in his third World Cup qualifying start. Besler was equally impressive, showing well in his very first qualifier.
The American attack didn’t create many chances, in large part to the fact that the U.S. midfield had to help cover the back four, but the defensive contributions of Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez can’t be overstated.
In goal, Brad Guzan made every big play the U.S. needed, and provided a security blanked in the back for his defense, which showed confidence in sending passes back to him on a regular basis.
It wasn’t a memorable night for Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore, but that had as much to do with the U.S. midfield being too busy defending to offer the necessary attacking support.
That was a trade-off Jurgen Klinsmann was more than willing to make if it meant coming away from Estadio Azteca with a point, and while it still wasn’t a victory, Tuesday’s draw still means four points from two matches and another handful of American players who have shown they are capable of stepping up in big matches when called upon.
Here are SBI’s USMNT Player grades for Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw vs. Mexico:
USMNT Player Grades vs. Mexico
Brad Guzan- (7)- Made some big saves late and handled the ball cleanly throughout the match. He showed an ability to relieve pressure for his defense by making himself available for back-passes and getting the ball out of danger.
DaMarcus Beasley- (6)- Was shaky early on, and was clearly targeted by Mexico’s attack, but he eventually settled down and made several quality defensive plays while also drawing countless fouls as he tried to get forward.
Omar Gonzalez- (8)- The Man of the Match for the USA, Gonzalez was imperious in the air and cut out every Mexican threat that came his way. The kind of game that shows why he’s considered the future (and clearly the present) of the USMNT centerback position.
Matt Besler- (7.5)- Showed some nerves early but promptly settled down and played every bit like a veteran rather than a novice playing just his second U.S. Men’s National Team match. He was strong in the air, confident on the ball and did his best to keep tabs on Chicharito.
Geoff Cameron- (6.5)- On a night when there were questions about his ability to handle Mexican winger Andres Guardado, Cameron showed the athleticism and positioning that has made him a regular starter at right back for Stoke City.
Maurice Edu- (5)- Did little to make people forget about Jermaine Jones. Made several mistakes, particularly in dangerous positions, and committed needless turnovers. Faded out of the game at times, but did settle down and play better in the match’s final 30 minutes, though he very nearly drew a match-deciding penalty.
Michael Bradley- (8)- In the first half, with the rest of the midfield struggling, it was Bradley who helped relieve pressure and cover ground and circulate the ball in order to keep Mexico’s attack from running the U.S. defense into the ground. Thoroughly outplayed his Mexican counterparts in the middle of the park.
Herculez Gomez- (6)- Put in an astounding amount of defensive work to help Beasley from being overrun by the Mexico attack.
Clint Dempsey- (5.5) – Did his best to try and keep the ball and help the U.S. possess, but the lack of midfield support in attack rendered Dempsey largely ineffective. Did his part to pressure the Mexican midfield when they had the ball deep in their end, but never could find a real chance to test Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Graham Zusi- (6)- Known more as a creative finess player in MLS, Zusi showed on Tuesday that he is more than capable of doing the necessary dirty work as a two-way winger. He made some lung-busting runs to help cover for Cameron on the right flank and tried testing Mexico’s defense when he could.
Jozy Altidore (5)- With the U.S. wingers busy tracking back, and Clint Dempsey not involved much in the attack, Altidore had zero attacking impact. Where he had value was in putting defensive pressure on the Mexico defense and central midfield when they had the ball.
Eddie Johnson (4.5)- Gave the team some energy off the bench, even if the team was in full defend mode by the time he came into the match.
Brad Davis (4.5)- Gave up a terrible free kick that nearly gifted Mexico a golden scoring chance late in the second half. Did provide some quality on the ball at times, and tried to send in a few dangerous crosses.
Brek Shea (NA)- Brought in for some speed, and energy, on the left, Shea didn’t have enough time to really make his mark.
Jurgen Klinsmann (7)- Turned to Matt Besler as a starter despite him only having one previous cap. That and the decision to stick with Cameron and Beasley at fullback paid dividends, even if the move to start Edu in central midfield didn’t exactly look like a winner. His substitutions showed a coach who wasn’t trying to completely park the bus, but being able to earn a point at Estadio Azteca earns Klinsmann high marks for the match.
What did you think of the USMNT’s performance on Tuesday night? Which players impressed you the most? Which players do you think struggled and didn’t make the grade against Mexico?
Share your thoughts below.