Any good drama needs a villain and Friday night in Columbus, Ohio Mexico’s Rafa Marquez, who has worn the black hat with relish for El Tri against the the U.S. for a decade and a half now, scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute to beat the USA 2-1 and end the Americans streak of Dos a Cero victories at four.
At 37-years-old Marquez has antagonized American players and enraged U.S. supporters going all the way back to the original Dos a Cero in Columbus in 2001 but this time, for the first time in Ohio, Rafa and Mexico came out on top.
Marquez’ goal reclaimed the lead for Mexico after the U.S. had dominated play in the second half, having pulled level in the 49th minute on a fine goal from Bobby Wood. As the half progressed the home side seemed far more likely to produce a winner than Mexico, then up stepped the ageless Rafa.
Mexico led early when Miguel Layun capitalized on El Tri’s near total dominance in the early stages of the match. Layun out battled U.S. captain Michael Bradley to win possession and fire a deflected shot past newly reinstalled U.S. number one goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 20th minute.
Mexico had hit the post twice, once thanks to an acrobatit tip from Howard, before Layun broke the deadlock and with the U.S. struggling to adjust to an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation, the home team appeared lost.
The first match of the World Cup Qualifiers against your biggest rivals might seem an unusual time and place to send your team out in an unfamiliar system but that is what U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann did Friday night in Columbus against Mexico.
Klinsmann lined his side out in a 3-5-2 with John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler as his back three, with Fabian Johnson and Tim Chandler operating as wing backs.
18-year-old sensation Christian Pulisic began the night as a central attacking midfielder, and the responsibility of directing the U.S. attack, as opposed to manning his accustomed wing role seemed a bit much too soon, even for the Borussia Dortmund prodigy.
The Americans were on their heels from the start, never seeming comfortable in this new formation. At some point around the half hour mark Klinsmann shape shifted the Americans back to their old reliable 4-4-2, and the team improved, although Besler looked out of his depth at fullback, committing too many fouls in dangerous areas against Mexico’s quick and elusive wide men.
Klinsmann’s plans also suffered a blow not of his own making when Howard had to leave the match in the 40th minute after injuring himself on a goal kick. Former number one Brad Guzan stepped in without a hitch but no coach likes to burn up one of his three subs in the first half, a predicament also faced by Mexico supremo Juan Carlos Osorio who lost influential midfielder Andres Guardado in the 28th minute.
The Americans flew out of the traps on the restart and soon enough had their reward when Bobby Wood used his strength, speed, and control to leave his marker in his wake before slotting his shot past Alfredo Talavera in the Mexico goal.
Operating now out of its preferred formation the U.S. received better performances all over the field. Chandler, in particular, improved but he was hardly alone. As Bradley and Jones came into the match they brought forwards Altidore and Wood in while Pulisic began to terrorize Guardado’s replacement Carlos Salcedo from his accustomed spot on the wing.
A second goal and a comeback victory appeared to be in the cards for the U.S. but it never quite happened and then came Rafa. On a rare second stanza foray into the American final third Mexico earned a corner kick. Marquez has always been dangerous on set pieces, a skill he retains as he pushes 40.
His deft header came after Marquez had evaded Altidore and Brooks and with so little time remaining there was no way back for the home team.
The loss is a tough one for the U.S. who now head to Costa Rica where they will face the Ticos on Tuesday. The Americans have never come away with all three points in Costa Rica but then Mexico had never defeated the U.S. MNT in Columbus before Friday night and with its 10 game schedule, it is good to keep in mind that the Hex is a marathon, not a sprint.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
MEX 1 1 2
MEX – Miguel Layún 20th minute
USA – Bobby Wood (Jozy Altidore) 49
MEX – Rafael Márquez (Miguel Layún) 89
USA: 1-Tim Howard (12-Brad Guzan, 40); 21-Timmy Chandler (2-DeAndre Yedlin 74), 3-Omar Gonzalez, 6-John Brooks, 5-Matt Besler (14-Michael Orozco, 81); 23-Fabian Johnson, 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 13-Jermaine Jones; 10-Christian Pulisic, 17-Jozy Altidore, 7-Bobby Wood
Subs: 22-William Yarbrough, 8-Alan Gordon, 9-Aron Johannsson, 11-Alejandro Bedoya, 15-Steve Birnbaum, 16-Sacha Kljestan, 18-Julian Green, 19-Graham Zusi, 20-Lynden Gooch
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
MEX: 12-Alfredo Talavera; 4-Rafael Márquez (capt.), 5-Diego Reyes (2-Hugo Ayala, 46), 7-Miguel Layún, 10-Giovani dos Santos, 11-Carlos Vela, 14-Javier Hernández, 15-Héctor Moreno, 16-Héctor Herrera, 17-Jesús Manuel Corona, 18-Andrés Guardado (3-Carlos Salcedo, 28)
Subs: 1-Jesús Corona, 13-Guillermo Ochoa, 20-Jesús Dueñas, 22-Orbelín Pineda, 8-Marco Fabián, 9-Raúl Jiménez, 19-Oribe Peralta, 6-Jonathan dos Santos, 23-Hirving Lozano, 21-Oswaldo Alanís
Head coach: Juan Carlos Osorio
Stats Summary: USA / MEX
Shots: 9 / 11
Shots on Goal: 5 / 5
Saves: 3 / 4
Corner Kicks: 5 / 1
Fouls: 18 / 13
Offside: 1 / 4
MEX – Diego Reyes (caution) 10th minute
USA – John Brooks (caution) 15
USA – Timmy Chandler (caution) 44
MEX – Héctor Herrera (caution) 58
MEX – Carlos Vela (caution) 64
USA – Matt Besler (caution) 68
MEX – Miguel Layún (caution) 70
MEX – Carlos Salcedo (caution) 76
MEX – Carlos Salcedo (caution) 90+3
MEX – Carlos Salcedo (ejection) 90+3