Stanford Sophomore Jordan Morris enjoyed a dream first start for the United States men’s national team, scoring the opening goal as fierce rivals Mexico were defeated by a now familiar 2-0 score line in Wednesday’s friendly at San Antonio’s Alamodome. Yet to play a professional game, Morris seized upon a fortunate bounce at the start of the second half before showing poise beyond his limited years and experience to find the net for the first time in his third appearance in his national colors. And with 18 minutes remaining, substitute Juan Agudelo marked his first international appearance in more than a year by firing into the net with the help of a goalkeeping error from Mexico’s Cirilo Saucedo. It meant for the fourth consecutive match between the Concacaf foes north of the border, the U.S. triumphed 2-0.
Quite how much can be taken from the match leading into the real business at this summer’s Gold Cup is highly questionable, however. With the contest taking place outside of a recognized FIFA international date, both countries fielded shadow squads. While the U.S. were still able to start with six players who went to the World Cup, Mexico’s experimentation ahead of their busy summer at the Gold Cup and Copa America meant their starting lineup contained just one name who was on the plane to Brazil.
And for much of match, the dominant story was of the horrid surface at the Alamodome. There was speculation ahead of the game that Mexico were ready to pull out due to the quality of the temporary grass field. And right from the kickoff it was easy to see why. Inexcusably for an international contest, players were focused simply on keeping their footing, and many were unable to do even that. U.S. The possibility of injury was a significant concern, and it has to be hoped that the apparent non-contact knee problem suffered by U.S. midfielder Kyle Beckerman is not serious
None the less, an always savored win over their neighbors will comes as a major boost to the U.S. and coach Jurgen Klinsmann after what has been a difficult run since last year’s World Cup. Particularly encouraging will have been the way Morris, a threat with his pace, handled himself in front of a 64,000 largely pro-Mexican crowd, as well. Agudelo, too, now back in Major League Soccer with New England Revolution after an ill-fated spell in Europe, has provided Klinsmann with another potential option up front in the absence of Jozy Altidore.
In contrast, Hector Herrera will have taken precious little positive from the match, in which he auditioned candidates to fill out the two squads he has to build for this summer’s dual commitments. In the first 45 minutes, Pumas striker Eduardo Herrera did again show his quality after scoring in his first start against Paraguay last month. It was he who was at the heart of the two clearest openings of the first half, including an effort sent just just wide into the side netting.
There were changes from both teams at the interval, but it was the United States who were stronger in the second period. Within four minutes of the restart the hosts were in front. Michael Bradley evaded pressure in the midfield to find Gyasi Zardes, with the LA Galaxy forward’s return ball came back off Mexico midfielder Mario Osuna to fall into the path of Morris, who coolly took it on and fired low past Saucedo.
Mexico struggled to find a route back to parity, with Erick “Cubo” Torres failing to make the most of an opening. And soon they were further behind and staring once more at a “dos a cero” score line in favor of their bitter foes. Bradley, once more playing at the head of a diamond, was again involved, playing a fine ball to Agudelo, who took it under his spell with an exemplary first touch. From there the pitch played its part, with a Mexico defender slipping and then Agudelo’s shot bobbling through the grasp of Saucedo.
Since the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. have made an unfortunate habit of conceding late goals, and so it was surely to Klinsmann’s delight that on this occasion his side held on. The real test, though, will be whether that now famed 2-0 score line can be repeated in a potential contest with very different personnel and in very different conditions this summer.