The U.S. Men’s National Team ended its June World Cup Qualifying camp on a high note, earning another massive point on the road in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with group-leaders Mexico at Estadio Azteca.
From doing in-depth altitude training to deploying vastly different lineups in two important World Cup Qualifiers and working on different formations from game to game, the entire 18-day camp that returned four crucial qualifying points was expertly managed by head coach Bruce Arena and staff from start to finish.
“The way that we prepared, the work that went in on the field, the arrangements that were made off the field in terms of adjusting to altitude, I really think that we did everything we could,” Michael Bradley said after the match.
And then there was Bradley’s highlight reel strike to open the scoring in the sixth minute of Sunday’s 1-1 draw. That goal the U.S. captain explained, came in part as a result of some quality video analysis in the lead up to the match.
“We watched a lot of video with some of their movements,” Bradley told reporters following the game. “We knew in certain moments that Chicharito was looking to come to the ball. It meant that one of those inside midfielders is looking to run through as he’s coming to the ball, and in some of those moments it meant that the other center backs had to be pulled in to deal with that. I felt like I was able to read what he wanted to do and step in and it led to a good goal for us.”
Bradley seems to have a knack for scoring against Mexico. Having tallied 17 international goals, Bradley’s chip from distance over Ochoa was his fifth all-time against El Trí and silenced the home crowd while also lifting some of the tension for the U.S. early in the match.
“Michael’s goal in the beginning of the game was crucial for us,” U.S. center back Omar Gonzalez said. “It was able to take a lot of pressure off the game, especially what a beautiful goal he scored. It kind of silenced the crowd. It took a little bit of energy out of Mexico, and from that point on we knew we sort of had to press the ball. We knew that we couldn’t just sit back.”
Though standing at the other end of the field, goalkeeper Brad Guzan still saw enough to have plenty of appreciation for the strike.
“It was unbelievable,” said the veteran net minder. “If some of the big time, world-class players score that goal, that’s being shown around the world and that person’s getting praise from every direction. There’s never any doubt he’s got the quality, he’s got the work rate. He’s an unbelievable captain and leader for this team, so for him to score a goal like that in Azteca, that was world class plain and simple.”
The goal was only part of the equation, however. The tactical decision to go with five defenders frustrated Mexico, as Gonzalez along with fellow center backs Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream jammed the box, winning aerial battles throughout the match. On the flanks, DeAndre Yedlin and DaMarcus Beasley worked efficiently, quickly closing down space and limiting a number of opportunities into the area.
Taking four points away from the June set of World Cup Qualifiers, the U.S. now sits tied with second-place Costa Rica on eight points, and ultimately Bradley credited the well-executed plan for helping the U.S. continue to move up the Hex table.
“We worked a lot,” he said. “We spent a lot of time working on two different things. One with the idea of Trinidad and one with the idea of Mexico. Over the course of two weeks every guy had a good amount of time in terms of understanding responsibilities and knowing what was going to go into it. Obviously, Bruce laid out things early on in terms of his idea for how he wanted to go about the two games. You always know that things can change, but ultimately we stuck to what he wanted to do and we take four really important points. The bad start in the Hex meant that every point now is worth its weight in gold.”