Mexico v USA – Tactical Analysis


2014 WCQ – Mexico v US (0-0)

The Stars and Stripes set up to defend and held off El Tri to earn a rare point at the Azteca.

United States’ Setup

With the much publicized injury list growing by two after the win over Costa Rica, Jurgen Klinsmann brought in Matt Besler and Maurice Edu for Clarence Goodson and Jermaine Jones.

Besler and Omar Gonzalez formed an inexperienced centerback tandem with Geoff Cameron and DeMarcus Beasley the fullbacks.

Keeping the 4231 shape from Friday night, Michael Bradley and Edu lined up as the two holding midfielders. Ahead of them were Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. Out wide, Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez operated more as wingbacks than wingers. They were diligent tracking back and helping deal with Mexico’s wide play.

Mexico’s Approach, Do they lack a plan b?

Jose Manuel de la Torre opted to field his preferred 442.

At the back, Reyes and Hector Moreno were largely untroubled. The side is built around their width; Aquino played on the right and Guardado the left. The fullbacks, Meza and Torres Nilo aggressively positioned themselves high up the pitch to overlap. Also, Gio Dos Santos played as a central winger more so than a true striker.

All of these crosses are designed to take advantage of Javier Hernandez’s heading ability and also his knack for latching onto crosses and hitting the target inside the box. Mexico rarely played the ball into his feet; when they did he was either caught offside or the pass was intercepted.

The center of the pitch was patrolled by Zavala and Salcido. The two provided little thrust going forward, electing to spread the play wide. Looking at the successful passes graphic, ( opta chalkboards) we see how little variety the two central midfielders had in their passing. Almost all of the passes were towards the touchline.

Passing Graphic

Mexico Passing Graphic

As he did in the Gold Cup Final in 2011, Dos Santos constantly drifted out wide to create triangles with the wingers and fullbacks. However, Dos Santos did very little with this possession and only cut inside to shoot at the end of the match (nearly scoring).

Dos \Santos turned this opportunity into a shot

Dos \Santos turned this opportunity into a shot


One of Mexico’s best moves came in the 7th minute.

The passing moved quickly from the left to the right and Beasley had to make an important tackle inside the box. But a minute later, he got booked for shoving Aquino after getting caught out from a Salcido long ball to Aquino in behind.

After the early booking, it could have been a long night for the left back, but Beasley settled in and had help from Edu when Dos Santos drifted out wide. Furthermore, the Yanks closed down the flanks with their wide players tracking back. Zusi and Gomez never left their teammates to defend a two v one situation.


Mexico Build on the Right

Mexico Build on the Right


The above picture shows Mexico’s three on the right with Edu and Gomez helping Beasley defend.

Surprisingly, Mexico did not apply high pressure early. This let the US settle into the match, especially Gonzalez and Besler. They were able to take touches on the ball and ease their nerves.

Thirty minutes into the match, Mexico created another great chance when Guardado found Torres Nilo in behind Zusi. His cross found Hernandez but the striker could not get his head over top of the ball.

Zavala had one run through the middle and found Aquino whose cross was blocked after Beasley slipped. This was rare penetration through the middle for El Tri.

US in Possession

While the Yanks had a fair amount of possession in the first hour of the match, most of it was conservative. Klinsmann must have told his squad to use the ball as a vehicle to take pressure off and catch their breath after tireless defending.

Also, Zusi and Gomez showed extreme caution on the ball. The strategy must have been to avoid giving the ball away to prevent counter attacks. The Americans felt confident in defending when they had numbers behind the ball. While this strategy worked, several times Zusi or Gomez had the chance to take on a fullback one v one but instead chose to step on the ball and play a backwards pass. This resulted in virtually zero chances created.

As a number ten, Dempsey was kept quiet. Often, he was up against two central defenders when he received the ball since Bradley and Edu did not take chances making forward runs.

Hopefully, this will change; especially in home matches. Bradley is known for making surging runs into the box. The one exception was in the 39th minute. As seen in the picture, both players converged on Dempsey who lays it off to Bradley. Bradley then plays a quick combo with Altidore and was free on goal until Torres Nilo made a great last ditch tackle.

Michael Bradley's run

Michael Bradley’s run



In the 55th minute Eddie Johnson came on for Altidore. Johnson did little but was seen as a better counter attacking option. Fifteen minutes later, Brad Davis entered for Gomez and in the 82nd Shea came on for Zusi. Both were like for like swaps.

A forty yard sprint from Zusi prevented Reyna from latching on to a great chipped cross from Aquino. That kind of commitment is what it takes to earn a result in Azteca. Maurice Edu made a clumsy challenge in the 76th minute when Reyna cut it back to Aquino who was taken down by Edu from behind but the referee made no call.

Mexico had a couple of chances at the death. Hernandez missed a bouncing cross across the six yard box. Then Dos Santos and Reyna had chances from distance. Yet, the Yanks held on and secured the point.


Mexico can complain about the non-call on the Edu challenge on Aquino, but overall they created few chances. Without a plan b, de la Torre should have inserted Reyna earlier into the match. He provided a presence as a number ten that Dos Santos lacked. With only fifteen minutes to create something, he did not have enough time to open the scoring.

Klinsmann and his team will be thrilled.

With so many injuries, he decided that playing for a point was his only option. Beasley showed that he can be a valuable squad player and reserve left back. Omar Gonzalez; he looks to have more of his pace back as he continues to recover from last year’s ACL tear. Matt Besler has proven himself worthy of another call up.

Going forward, the Americans will have to show more ambition to win home matches.

They still have not figured out if Gomez and Zusi are sure fire starting wide players. Altidore had a great first half against Costa Rica, but after he was hampered by the snow and last night by a lack of service.

In the center, Klinsmann has elected to use Bradley as a deep lying holding player. In the two matches he often dropped back to the center backs to pick up the ball. I would prefer him in a more advanced role where he has the freedom to get in the box.

However, Klinsmann prefers Jones in the role. All in all, four points from these two matches is exceptional. But, USA must continue to look and try and find talent to strengthen a rather thin player pool.

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More Mexcio v USA:

USA Player Ratings

Mexico 0-0 USA — Defense and (Indefensible?) Referee Saves Americans


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1 Comment

  1. I think alot of the problems could be solved by a playmaker. We just don’t have the guy that can penetrate and pass in the final third. Once we get a more solid backline, which I think is now starting to happen with Gonzalez, Besler, and when Johnson and Cherundolo get healthy—then we can start going for some attacking soccer. Maybe we can experiment with Feilhaber or Torres or Corona at that point.