Michael Bradley
Michael Bradley celebrates putting the United States in front against Mexico. Reuters

Mexico responded to a dominant first-half display from the United States by fighting back from a two-goal deficit and earn a 2-2 draw in a friendly at Glendale, Ariz. on Wednesday.

In the final match for both countries before their provisional squads are named next month for the World Cup, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had far more cause for optimism at the half-time interval than counterpart Miguel Herrera. Bradley put in a superb performance to again illustrate that he is the man that truly makes the U.S. side tick. The midfielder, who joined Toronto FC from AS Roma this winter, scored the opening goal form a corner 15 minutes in before setting up Chris Wondolowski to double his side’s lead.

It had been a poor effort from a Mexico side that had struggled desperately and unexpectedly to qualify for the World Cup, but had sewn some seeds of optimism since Herrera took charge last November. But the expected wave of substitutions in the second half turned the match in El Tri’s favor. Captain Rafael Marquez headed in a corner four minutes after the break before striker Alan Pulido finished from close range midway through the period.

It was a contest that saw both teams without their Europe-based players, due to the fixture occurring outside of a recognized FIFA date. There was still much intrigue involved, however, with several players still fighting to earn a spot in Brazil this summer. Most attention was focused on 18-year-old Julian Green. The forward, who has only played three minutes of first-team soccer with Bayern Munich, pledged his allegiance to the U.S. last month and made his much-anticipated debut in front of 59,000 at the University of Phoenix Stadium. It’s widely expected that Klinsmann intends to take the pacy Green to the World Cup, yet he showed his inexperience in the little more than 30 minutes on the pitch.

While the match was billed as one for the fringe players, it was also important for the U.S. to get back on track after some flat performances in friendlies since qualifying for the World Cup. Crucially, having not featured in the 2-0 defeat to Ukraine last month, Bradley was back and showed just how important he is to the United States’ chances of making it out of a brutal World Cup group. Playing a slightly more advanced role than usual, Bradley was a driving force for his team. And fittingly it was he who opened the scoring. As Mexico’s defenders were all dragged toward the near post from Graham Zusi’s corner, the ball went over all of them and Bradley arrived round the back to half-volley it into the net from inside the six-yard box and grab his 12th international goal.

It was Bradley’s ability to get forward that enabled the U.S. to double their lead. Clint Dempsey, looking more impressive after having not been at his best since his own move back to Major League Soccer, played a key part in the move with a fine first-time ball out to Tony Beltran. The full-back’s near-post cross was headed on intelligently by the fast-breaking Bradley and Wondolowski again demonstrated his fine penalty-box instincts to get in front of his marker and finish on the volley.

But, having made three changes at the interval, it did not take long for Mexico to get back into a match in which they had been firmly second-best early on. This time it was the turn of the U.S. defense to go missing from a corner, with Marco Fabian’s delivery finding an unmarked Marquez in the center of the box, allowing the veteran to head past Nick Rimando.

Green made his entrance in the 59th minute, but soon showed why it may be a gamble to have the youngster in the high-pressure environment of the World Cup. It was Green’s header inside his own half that gifted the ball to Paul Aguilar. To be fair to Green, his defense did him no favors by allowing Aguilar to get the ball back inside the box and hit a scuffed first-time shot that came back off the far post. Substitute Omar Gonzalez was then found dozing to allow Pulido to finish form the rebound. Pulido, with now four goals in his three appearances for El Tri, is making a compelling case to go to the World Cup. For both teams, though, there is much work still to be done if they are to make an impact on soccer’s biggest stage.