There’s nothing quite like USA vs. Mexico when there’s something on the line. It can bring out the best (and worst) of the players and coaches who are involved. We saw that happen in the USA’s dramatic 3-2 win on Sunday in multiple ways.
1) McKennie, Reyna and Pulisic finally take charge: Together with Tyler Adams, they are the best players on the U.S. team and this final was the occasion in which they finally put their stamp on this team. McKennie had the best game, Pulisic made the biggest play (as captain), and Reyna experienced the most notable improvement over the three games of the camp. It’s their USMNT moving forward in the good times and bad with a little over a year to a World Cup.
2) USA discovers recipe for success: When it comes to national teams, it’s not realistic to expect squads that gather every three months to play flowing, attacking soccer. Success on the international level invariably comes down to having world-class players who can make big plays and commit as few big errors as possible, while giving maximum effort. The USA did all those things better than Mexico on the night. It always helps when you’re dominating virtually every set piece.
3) Mexico needs a forward (and some younger players): It’s clear that if Mexico had a true reference point in attack who could (a) occupy defenders and (b) provide passing options and (c) make runs that open up space, their world-class attacking talent (Chucky Lozano, Tecatito Corona and Diego Lainez) could be so much more effective. Henry Martin and false nines are not the answer.
They also need to emulate the USA and hasten the generational changeover in key positions with a World Cup looming: Hector Moreno (33 yrs), Hector Herrera (31 yrs) and Andres Guardado (34 yrs) are no longer the players they once were. We probably would’ve seen it happen in the Nations League matches if an Olympic (Under-23) camp wasn’t happening at the same time.
Player Ratings: USA vs. Mexico
Zack Steffen: 6
Before he came off the field due to a knee injury, he made a handful of key saves. Not much he could do to stop the opening Mexico goal.
Sergino Dest: 4.5
He was never able to get into the game, let alone leave a mark on it. Very uncharacteristic performance for him. No surprise he was subbed off at the hour mark.
Tim Ream: 5.5
It was a bit of a head-scratcher that he was named to start a match at left center back (and later at left back) against a trio of speedy Mexican attackers. His lack of speed was exposed on several plays. Despite the challenges, he remained generally composed on the night.
John Brooks: 6
It’s a lot of good with some bad from Brooks. He’s an aggressive defender and he picked up a 10th minute yellow card. But he did well to manage the situation without losing the bite to his game.
Mark McKenzie: 5.5
His error led to Mexico’s 2nd-minute goal and his hand ball triggered a late Mexico penalty kick. But he rebounded from the early mistake and acquitted himself well despite needing to chase Tecatito Corona and Chucky Lozano all night. It wasn’t an easy assignment.
DeAndre Yedlin: 6
With the license given to Dest on the left, Yedlin was more of a stay-at-home right back in this game. He had his hands full all night with Corona first, and then Lozano.
Kellyn Acosta: 6.5
U.S. fans would love a central midfield that dictates play through passing. But not every game works out that way and Acosta took what this game gave him and made the best of it, including filling in at left back during a crucial period of the final.
Weston McKennie: 7.5
He was the force and presence that the USMNT desperately needs him to be, and he exuded composure, confidence and swagger. McKennie was tireless in midfield and a ball magnet on attacking set pieces, scoring the second equalizer when it looked like Mexico had the victory locked up. Best U.S. field player on the night and Nations League MVP.
Christian Pulisic: 6
Despite wearing the captain’s armband, he was invisible for most of the night except for a through ball he served in the box. But he turned up in the big pressure moment, drawing a penalty kick and expertly converting it. It could be a USMNT career-defining moment.
Josh Sargent: 5
The U.S. attacks down the flanks rarely reached Sargent, who was limited to hoping for loose balls in the box during his 68 minutes of action. One early shot from distance was it for him.
Gio Reyna: 6.5
He seemed to rise to the occasion, taking the initiative and leaving his mark on the game, including showing a solid defensive workrate. The goal he scored should serve as a confidence booster that the team is reliant on him to be a difference-maker.
Ethan Horvath: 8
What else to say about the backup goalkeeper (below) coming into the game with 20 minutes left and making a series of clutch saves, including a dramatic penalty kick stop that preserved the result? If he had any nerves, he sure didn’t show them.
Reggie Cannon: N/A
Filled in at right back for DeAndre Yedlin for the second extra time period.
Tyler Adams: 6
His energy and effort in midfield had been sorely missed by the USMNT. He was coming off an injury, but didn’t show any wear. He was popping up all over the field to make challenges, as he’s known to do.
Tim Weah: 6
When he had the ball at his feet, you had the distinct impression he was capable of making a game-breaking play. The problem is he didn’t get many touches in good areas.
Sebastian Lletget: 6
Typical solid contribution in midfield from Lletget, who started the play that led to the Pulisic penalty kick. As a starter or off the bench, he’s Mr. Dependable.
Jordan Siebatcheu: 5.5
Similar story to Sargent’s. He didn’t factor into the match in any important way during his nearly one hour of action.
Guillermo Ochoa: 6
He made some big saves at key moments, but when your team plays as poorly on set pieces as Mexico did, it wasn’t enough.
Jesus Gallardo: 5
Gallardo wasn’t a meaningful contributor on either end of the field and was beaten badly by Weston McKennie on the equalizer when his team was eight minutes away from a win.
Hector Moreno: 5.5
Average performance. The veteran wasn’t tested as much during the run of play, but he was exposed on set pieces. He was beaten on the corner kick header that resulted in the first U.S. goal. The goal he scored that was scratched for offside in the first half was a key turning point in the match.
Nestor Araujo: 6
The best of the Mexican defenders on the night, but he wasn’t called upon to do anything extraordinary.
Luis “Chaka” Rodriguez: 5
Helped keep Pulisic and Dest in check, probably a big reason he didn’t offer his usual contributions in attack. His flub of an easy ball in the second half led to the corner kick that spurred McKennie’s 2-2 equalizer.
Hector Herrera: 5
Should’ve been sent off for a second yellow and the chokehold on McKennie. Mexico needed him to be more involved in the attack and not just dish the ball to the forwards and watch them dribble. McKennie was a nightmare for him to deal with.
Edson Alvarez: 6
The most influential of the Mexico midfielders on both sides of the ball. Alvarez gave everything he had and covered a lot of ground. He was visibly gassed late in the match and it was a surprise he wasn’t subbed out sooner.
Charly Rodriguez: 5
He wasn’t mobile or speedy enough on the day to get into helpful positions for the attackers to play off him. He hovered, but never truly participated.
Jesus “Tecatito” Corona: 6.5
“Tecatito” was electric early on in the game and scored. He gave DeAndre Yedlin and Mark McKenzie fits in the first half before fading in the second.
Hirving “Chucky” Lozano: 7.5
Chucky was the best player on the field for Mexico. He held onto the ball way too much, but Mexico’s gameplan in attack is to feed him the ball and let him create. He often did so dangerously and he drew several fouls.
Uriel Antuna: 6
He was generally dangerous on the run, but he lacked substance in and around the box. That’s his player profile in a nutshell: He’ll get you to the penalty area, but doesn’t always know what to do with it.
Carlos Salcedo: 5.5
Is it a surprise he didn’t start either Nations League game for Mexico? He brings a lot of positives to the center back position (aggressiveness, athleticism, aerial ability), but he’s also a liability around the box as he showed on the penalty kick he gave away to the USA in extra time.
Luis Romo: 6
A solid player coming off the bench for Mexico. He did more in his 44 minutes than Charly Rodriguez did before him. He was regularly a willing participant in the attack, pushing deep into the attack.
Orbelin Pineda: N/A
Came in as fresh legs for the final few minutes.
Andres Guardado: 4.5
Entering the match with 20 minutes left, he had one job: Execute set pieces and dish accurate passes. But Guardado missed on converting the most important of the set pieces, failing to score what would’ve been a match-saving penalty.
Diego Lainez: 6.5
A sparkplug off the bench. He immediately injected life into the Mexican attack and scored what looked to be the potential game-winner at 2-1. Whenever he got on the ball, he was wreaking havoc.
Henry Martin: 5.5
Nothing remarkable in his 50+ minutes on the field. The cries for Chicharito Hernandez and Raul Jimenez won’t be stopping any time soon, whether or not Tata Martino thinks they are disrespectful to the players in camp like Martin.