Rafa Márquez’s late header gave Mexico a historic victory in Columbus on Friday night. A thrilling, and frantic, encounter, both sides will feel that they could have come away from the game with all 3 points. But it was Mexico who did, as they ended the dos a cero curse. Here are my thoughts on a crazy game.
Mexico dominant early on
Mexico lined-up in a forward-thinking 4-2-3-1 formation, with the talented trio of Jesús Corona, Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela behind Javier Hernández. This tactical decision was a pleasant surprise for fans and pundits who were anticipating a 3-3-3-1 system, which would have given the US plenty of space down the flanks.
Holding a high-line, and forcing the US back, Mexico controlled much of the first-half. Andrés Guardado distributed the ball effectively from his deep-lying playmaker role, Gio regularly found pockets of space in front of the US defence, whilst Vela and Corona looked threatening from wide areas.
Both Vela and Corona hit the woodwork during the first-half, with these efforts sandwiching Miguel Layún’s goal. El Tri were unfortunate to only score once during the first 45 minutes.
Mexico’s starting line-up v USA. With Layún pushing forward and Reyes staying back, it often looked like a back-3
The game turns thanks to Guardado’s injury and the US formation change
Mid-way through the first period, Guardado had to go off injured, and US boss Jurgen Klinsmann altered his system. Originally playing with 3 centre-backs, the German switched to a back-4.
Mexico’s control was lost. Gaps in Mexico’s midfield began to appear at an alarming rate. Rafa Márquez, who shifted into the holding-midfield role when Guardado went off injured, offered little protection to the El Tri defence, with his lack of pace all too evident. In retrospect, Osorio should have brought on Jonathan Dos Santos to replace the PSV midfielder.
Overall, the first-half was still an impressive one for Mexico, but the gaps in midfield were concerning, and Osorio failed to address this issue at half-time. The US were all over Mexico at the start of the second-half, and equalised in the 49th minute through Bobby Wood.
HH not right for a 4-2-3-1
Hugo Ayala and Héctor Moreno were at fault for Wood’s goal, but the chance stemmed from Héctor Herrera giving away possession.
The Porto midfielder had a poor night, and was a major reason behind the US finding so much space in front of Mexico’s defence.
Herrera didn’t look like the right man to play in the double pivot of a 4-2-3-1 formation. With 4 attacking players ahead of him, HH needed to hold his position to solidify Mexico’s shape. But far too often he was draw out wide, or pushed too far forward, leaving Márquez as the only defensive cover when the US transitioned from defence to attack.
Herrera can also be criticised for trying too much; fancy passes, dribbling runs, etc… Perhaps this was inevitable from a player who’s been questioned recently and feels he has a point to prove. But it didn’t help him on the night, and many are calling for HH to be dropped on Tuesday.
Hero and Villain: Layún got a goal and assist, whilst HH was Mexico’s worst player on the night
Mexico’s attack ran at the US defence too often in the latter stages
As the game became frantic and end-to-end in the second-half, El Tri could have greatly benefitted from a decent spell of possession. This would have allowed the players to have a breather, regroup mentally, and regain a level of control.
But Mexico were drawn into this frenetic match, and, like the US, looked to break quickly and directly when they received possession. Mexico’s attacking players regularly opted to run at the US defence, rather than pass it around them, and be more patient in their attempts to create chances.
Occasionally, this tactic worked, and Mexico were unfortunate to not receive a penalty when Vela was adjudged to have dived inside the box. But regularly, Mexican attackers would lose the ball, resulting in quick turnovers. The US then caused problems on the counter with Mexico unorganised, and players like Héctor Herrera out of position.
This should be Rafa’s last game
El Kaiser looked so far off the pace at times on Friday, it was frightening. The Mexico legend was too slow off the mark, too slow to turn, and was beaten far too often by the likes of Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic.
Sure, he proved the doubters wrong by scoring a dramatic late winner with his near-post header. But a defensive player cannot be given a place in the team just for his potential goal scoring ability.
The other defence of Rafa is that he’s needed for his leadership, and ability to dictate the tempo of the side. On the first point, Márquez wasn’t able to correct Mexico’s apparent issues on the field on Friday. For example, the ex-Barcelona man didn’t address Herrera’s poor positioning.
Secondly, Andrés Guardado has shown that he’s more than capable to controlling the game, and dictating the tempo. Jonathan Dos Santos, and even youngsters like Orbelín Pineda and Erick Gutiérrez, have also indicated that they are capable of doing this for their club sides.
Rafa is no longer good enough to play for Mexico, and there’s surely no better time to end his career. Scoring a late winner in Columbus, where he’s been on the losing side so often, would be a fairy-tale ending for Márquez. I hope Osorio’s read the script.