By Noah Davis
MEXICO CITY, Mexico -- The United
States Men's National Team took its first lead and almost made history
in the unfriendly confines of Estadio Azteca, but ultimately fell 2-1
to a Mexican team that desperately needed three points. Charlie Davies
goal in the 9th minute put the Americans ahead, but Israel Castro equalized
10 minutes later and Miguel Sabah won the match with his late tally.
Despite the loss, the U.S. still remains in good position to qualify
for the 2010 World Cup.
While the performance won't
go down as the midfielder's most impressive one against his team's archrival,
American soccer fans won't soon forget the lightning rod's day. Donovan
showed off the passing touch he continues to develop, sending a brilliant
ball in to spring Davies. Landon the assist man almost had another one
in the 35th minute, when his well-struck curling free kick nearly found
the head of Oguchi Onyewu. Playing on the sunny side of the field for
most of the match, Donovan wilted just a bit and lost Efrain Juarez
on the play that led to the second goal, but overall his performance
was solid, if not outstanding (given the elevated expectations he inspires).
Given the result, however, Donovan -- who says he's playing the best football of his career -- may need
to get a bit better.
He didn't look like a man playing
in his first match at Azteca. Perhaps a surprise starter, the former
Boston College Eagle repaid the faith Bradley's showed in his speedy
striker with a beautiful right-footed finish off of Donovan's throughball
that shocked and silenced the green-clad crowd. Davies' hustle and desire
are wonderful to witness, and Mexico's defenders couldn't handle his
speed and strength throughout the match. He fell to the turf, exhausted,
in the 75th minute and had to be carted off, but his day was virtually
flawless. (The only blemish on the afternoon was a missed diving header
late in the second half on Stuart Holden's great cross.) Davies has
had a good run of national team form since he opened the scoring against
Egypt in the Confederations Cup, and likely cemented his place as a
starter with his performance at 7,400 feet.
Partnered once again with Jay
Demerit (more on him in a bit), AC Milan's American import was the brick wall
the Stars and Stripes desperately needed as the waves of Mexican attackers
crashed forward. As usual, he won virtually every ball in the air and
was solid with his tackling as well. As always, his distribution to
American midfielders and strikers could be better -- To feet, Oguchi!
-- but without his head and heart in the back, the U.S. would have conceded
at least one more goal. Unfortunately for the Red, White, and Blue,
he picked up a yellow card and will miss the U.S.'s next qualifier against
El Salvador on Sept. 5, which looms even more important given the American's
inability to gain a point or three in Mexico.
The third-best player in the
Confed Cup picked a terrible time to play poorly. He looked tired and
was frequently unable to make runs forward. Davies seemed to be urging
him on a couple of times. (The pair talked as they were walking off
the field at half time.) As with any Dempsey performance, there were
a couple moments of brilliance -- like the wonderful ball he sent to
the Sochaux striker after fighting off three Mexican defenders in the
33rd minute -- but it was another moment that summed up the Fulham midfielder's
day best: In one of the few instances where he had the ball at his feet,
Dempsey spotted Donovan making a run down the left flank, but his crossfield
ball fell woefully short.
The coach's son, the hero of
the match against Mexico in February, never looked comfortable on Wednesday.
He won very few balls in the midfield and did little to slow Javier
Aguirre marshaled troops. His performance wasn't all bad -- there was the world-class
pass to Holden on the right flank that gave the Dynamo midfielder acres
of space and enough time to hit an excellent cross -- but each good
one was countered by long periods of invisibility. (Ricardo Clark, Bradley's
partner in central midfield, played poorly as well and easily could
have made this list.)
The Confed Cup revelation seemed
intimidated by the surroundings in the early going. After the U.S. scored,
he compounded his errors by jumping in too aggressively to challenge
Mexican attackers, who frequently dodged around him. A reckless foul
created a dangerous opportunity in the 16th minute, and he missed a
pass that led to El Tri's first goal. DeMerit drew a deserved yellow
card for a tackle on Dos Santos and the resulting free kick was nearly
converted into another tally. Watford's centerback improved as the match
wore on, even outplayed Onyewu for stretches in the second 45 minutes,
but was unlucky to see his hard tackle on Efrain
Juarez bounce directly
to Miguel Sabah who
didn't miss what would prove to be the game-winner.
For more on the U.S. National Team visit Goal.com's U.S. National Team page.