Michael Bradley scores stunner as U.S. grab 1-1 draw in Mexico in WC qualifier
Three thoughts from the United States' 1-1 draw vs. Mexico at the Azteca in a fun World Cup qualifier on Sunday.
1. U.S. earn golden point in Azteca
Going into this month's qualifiers, the priority for the U.S. was to get all three points against Trinidad and Tobago - mission accomplished -- knowing full well that U.S. history against Mexico in the Estadio Azteca is poor. But on Sunday night the U.S. walked away with a golden point that was fully earned.
Fielding a rotated lineup with a whopping seven changes, the U.S. played a poised, composed 90 minutes against Mexico, surviving two early Carlos Salcedo elbows that could have unnerved the Americans early on. Think back to four years ago when then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann's team seemingly held on for dear life to earn a 0-0 draw; this time around, the U.S. showed enough offensive guile to keep the El Tri defense on their toes despite Mexico's overwhelming share of possession.
Christian Pulisic had been the hero for the U.S. in recent qualifiers, but the young Borussia Dortmund man was quiet Sunday. Instead, a grizzled veteran showed the way. He has been maligned and criticized by many fans, but Michael Bradley silenced many of his doubters on Sunday night with what has to be considered the finest individual play ever made by a U.S. player in the Azteca.
Anticipating a pass in midfield, Bradley swooped in to dispossess, charged into the Mexico half and chipped a perfect shot over Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa after just five minutes. It was a wonderful goal from Bradley and it will long live in U.S. Soccer lore.
It took the hosts just 15 minutes to equalize, as Carlos Vela completed a sharp counterattack with a left-footed finish that left U.S. keeper Brad Guzan no chance. El Tri continued to press for much of the game, cracking the crossbar with a Hector Herrera free kick and coaxing some excellent defending out of Geoff Cameron late on.
Bradley nearly produced another moment of magic in the second half with another long-range effort, but it rattled off the outside of the post. Nevertheless, the work put in by Bradley on top of his superb goal -- especially after Vela's goal and the subsequent pressure -- was a reminder of just how invaluable he can be to the U.S.
2. Arena's lineup works to a tee
Many eyebrows were raised when coach Bruce Arena's starting XI was released. The former L.A. Galaxy coach made seven changes from the side that beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 on Thursday, and he opted for an atypical 5-2-3. From a defensive perspective, it worked like a charm. When the Americans were set up properly, they kept Mexico's possession dominance far from goal. Kellyn Acosta and Bradley worked tirelessly in tandem and played as if they were a regular pairing in midfield, stepping up to pressure Mexican plays on the ball and making tactical fouls when necessary.
At the back, the U.S. center-back trio of Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream were watchful of Javier Hernandez's constant motion. Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela were threats on the wings, but on the whole, the U.S. was organized and did well to fend off any deep crosses into the area.
That said, Mexico's equalizer had to have been incredibly frustrating for Arena. Up until Vela's left-footed rocket, the U.S. had stayed nice and compact in defense, turning El Tri away from dangerous positions. But one of the few times that the U.S. was not set up adequately, Mexico took full advantage.
Wood failed to convert a loose ball right in front of the Mexico goal and the counterattack developed quickly, sparked by Hernandez. Once the former Man United man found Vela on the right in front of DaMarcus Beasley, it was advantage Mexico. As Vela cut to his left, the lack of pressure from the rest of the U.S. defense afforded Vela all the time he needed to score with a classic finish.
Nevertheless, the U.S. recovered nicely from that lapse and turned in a splendid performance that not only kept the Mexico attack at bay but also quieted the usually rowdy Azteca crowd.
3. Frustration for Mexico ahead of Confederations Cup
Mexico has been superb in this qualifying cycle, and despite the lack of such big names as Rafa Marquez, Andres Guardado and Jesus Corona in the starting XI, coach Juan Carlos Osorio still had an abundance of talent from which to choose. But a combination of a solid defense and a lack of finishing left El Tri feeling frustrated as they head to the airport for Russia and the Confederations Cup.
Assuredly, Mexico's Confed Cup opponents and future CONCACAF rivals will have watched this closely and will perhaps adopt a similarly stout approach.
It will be up to Osorio to shake off the disappointment of Sunday's result, but there is the nagging sense that a difference-maker like Jesus Corona would have helped Mexico on Sunday night. He missed the U.S. match because of a family issue, which will also cause him to miss the trip to Russia for the Confed Cup. Osorio will need someone to step up and fill that void.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .