By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 20, 2023) US Soccer Players – Even outside FIFA international windows, the border rivalry still bubbles. Sergino Dest and Jordan Morris led a flowing late counterattack capped by a Jesus Ferreira finish to grab a 1-1 draw for the USMNT vs Mexico at State Farm Stadium on Wednesday night in the first edition of the Continental Clasico. It was the border neighbors’ first meeting since the scoreless World Cup qualifier at Estadio Azteca last March. Here’s a few observations from the friendly.
The streak rolls on
The USMNT is now undefeated in its last five games against El Tri (3-0-2). That’s the second-longest such streak in the series, one shy of the record set with six straight unbeaten from 2011-15. That could well offer a psychological advantage when the two sides meet again in Las Vegas in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals.
“I think the five games unbeaten streak is nice. It’s obviously very nice,” interim coach Anthony Hudson said. “But the next time we play Mexico, again, all of that goes out the window.”
The equalizer was Ferreira’s eighth senior international goal, and the reward for a night of hard work mixed with frustration across two different positions in Hudson’s 4-2-3-1 formation. The FC Dallas homegrown started as a withdrawn playmaker in the hole behind target man Brandon Vazquez. He then moved up to the #9 spot himself amid a series of second-half substitutions, including the insertion of Alan Sonora as the #10.
“As a 10 you can kind of roam around, get behind their 6s and try to find the ball. Obviously with a target 9 like Brandon, you can get any second balls,” said Ferreira postgame. “It was something exciting for me to try and I’m thankful that coach had me in mind for that role.
Coaches for both club and country have explored how best to utilize Ferreira’s soccer IQ and versatility. Wednesday was something of a microcosm in that regard, with Hudson referring to Ferreira as “an intelligent player, he’s a different profile of striker/attacking midfielder.”
Experimenting, then adapting
With his starting lineup, Hudson sought to make subtle tweaks to what the USMNT had worked on in his first two camps. He admitted to being surprised by Diego Cocca arranging Mexico in a 3-5-2 formation, however.
Hudson tried but couldn’t get his team shifted into a different shape before Uriel Antuna’s breakaway goal. The matchups did improve when the Yanks moved to a three-man back line by bringing on Matt Miazga and dropping James Sands back to center back.
“We wanted to change it maybe two minutes before the (Mexico) goal was scored,” explained Hudson. “But we felt first-half and then up until that change, it was tough to get pressure on the ball. The distances were very big from our forward and midfield players…. And as a result of us getting pressure on the ball, it allowed us to keep the ball.”
Matching El Tri’s wing backs allowed for better control of the wide areas, especially when they sought to change the point of attack quickly with long switches. Hudson noted the value of Sands’s composure and ability to pick a pass from both center back and holding midfield zones.
“We knew the game was going to be chaotic and intense. But I feel the change at the end, I thought the players really responded well,” said the coach. “Overall we’re very proud of the players.”
It’s been said and written countless times that a hallmark of a successful team is an ability to avoid defeat even when a match is not playing out as desired. Such was the case again for the USMNT. The lineup and tactics were somewhat experimental and extended passing sequences in the final third were frustratingly elusive in the first-half. Dogged persistence was the path to digging out a positive result.
“The team’s mentality is strong, and me personally, I didn’t have my best game, my first touch wasn’t there, but it’s how strong my mentality was and how easy it was for me to just flip the page,” said Ferreira. “In these type of games, you can’t keep your head on what you did wrong, you just flip it and keep working. … I know my teammates are going to need me out on the field and it’s just keeping that strong mentality and looking for the next play again.”
Working on the player pool
With just two training sessions before the game, USMNT gatherings don’t get much briefer than this one. The technical staff still valued the chance to get any sort of touch points with a domestic group, particularly ahead of a busy summer that kicks off with June’s Nations League rematch.
“Tonight we’ve added a few more players to the player pool, had the opportunity to see some players that came in in January, that now are playing against one of the top teams in Concacaf,” said Hudson. “It allows us to go into the summer with a much better understanding of what we’re going to face and also a better idea of the players. So it was a good test on that front.”