Oct. 11, 2015
By Scott French
A CLASSIC TURNS SOUR
U.S. loses momentum at the finish, falls to Mexico in extraordinary contest
LA Soccer News Contributing Editor
PASADENA, Calif. -- It was -- considering the venue, what was at stake, the electric atmosphere and the absorbing drama over 120 minutes -- the greatest encounter in the lengthy, rich history of the region's greatest soccer rivalry. That's hardly consolation for the United States.
Mexico scored twice in overtime, the finale a spectacular volley from right back Paul Aguilar, to pull out a 3-2 overtime victory against the Yanks in Saturday night's CONCACAF Cup to claim the region's berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
The U.S. rallied twice from deficits, with Bobby Wood coming off the bench to answer Oribe Peralta's strike early in the extra period, but couldn't hold off the Tricolores at the finish.
“A loss is always difficult to swallow, there's no doubt about it, especially when there's a lot at stake,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in his postgame news conference. “It means that you have to work even harder than you ever did before in order to turn the results around and make things happen. ... I think [our guys] showed a lot of character, they showed tremendous effort, and they gave everything they had out on the field.
“When you're on the losing side, it hurts, that's normal, and it takes a couple of days to swallow a pill like that. But I told the guys [to keep their] heads up, because they gave everything they had there. Coming back twice against Mexico and playing very, very openly is impressive, but it was not enough, unfortunately.”
Mexico had most of the possession and more and better scoring opportunities, at least after halftime, but effective defense kept the U.S. in the game and, heading into the final minutes of overtime -- just before Aguilar's goal -- the Americans thought it was their game to lose.
Then they lost.
“Obviously, I'm disappointed,” said defender Geoff Cameron, whose 15th-minute header from a Michael Bradley free kick answered Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez's opener five minutes earlier. “We come so close in the last few minutes of the game, the guy scores a worldie of a goal, and it puts them through.
“I thought defensively we kept it tight, we made it difficult for them to break us down. But we didn’t dominate the game as much as we wanted to. We let them dictate the pace of the game, they had more possession and more passes and all that. But, saying that, you claw your way back in, tie it, 1-1,and then tie it, 2-2, and then you go into extra time, and it's just disappointing, obviously, that we didn’t come out on top. But you’ve got to take it on the chin and you've got to roll with the next one.”
It was an often glorious affair that thrilled a crowd of 93,723 at the Rose Bowl, with five superb goals -- all three in overtime were dynamite -- big saves from U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Mexico's Moises Muńoz, especially in the first 45 minutes, and plenty of opportunity to play hero.
Aguilar got the nod in that regard.
It started with a free kick perhaps 35 yards from the U.S. net, with the serve cleared out of the U.S. box to Miguel Layun, who sent a ball toward the right side of the area. Raul Jimenez, his back to the goal, flicked the ball high over his head while under pressure from DaMarcus Beasley, and Aguilar hit it squarely on the volley, blistering it past Guzan and inside the left post.
“You make maybe one in your life like he did it today,” U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones said. “It's bad and we're not happy, but we have to put our hands up and keep going.”
Said Cameron: “They had the luck of the bounce, you can say, because you clear the ball, and then all of the sudden the ball kind of goes over and the guy just smashes it. It's a great goal for him and a great goal for Mexico, but it's one of those things, it's tough to swallow.”
That the U.S. was still in the game at that point was credit to Klinsmann's substitutions. He brought on DeAndre Yedlin late in the second half, then Wood immediately after Peralta made it a 2-1 game. Wood, a late addition to the Yanks' roster after Alejandro Bedoya came down with the flu, finished Yedlin's through ball to tie the score in the 108th minute.
“I saw there was space, and I saw Bobby making the run,” Yedlin said. “I played him into space and he finished it well.”
Klinsmann had one more sub to make -- and an idea.
“The plan was maybe to have [goalkeeper] Nick Rimando ready for the shootout, because, obviously, he's the best penalty-blocker you can have in this whole region,” Klinsmann said. “And that thought kind of went down the drain when Fabian Johnson said he can’t go any more [and was pulled for Brad Evans in the 111th minute], and that was a real bummer, because we had the feeling that the momentum changed, we had it, and I was very optimistic.
“If it's 2-2, maybe we score the third goal, but if it went 2-2 going into the penalty shootout, Nick Rimando would be a good consolation, but it didn't work that way.”
Klinsmann was happy with the Americans' play, said they struggled to hold onto the ball -- and take advantage of possession -- in the second half, but he believed the occasion favored his side as the climax neared.
“I think it was an open game until the very, very end,” he said. :And we thought already [in overtime], OK, how to prepare the penalty shootout. Then they hit you with that volley.
“I think we had enough chances to score the second or third goal. The second half belonged more to Mexico, and we turned it around again in extra time, so it was our feeling that we were closer to that third goal than Mexico was. But they scored that third goal.”
And that was that.