Bob and Michael, I salute you.
Because of your fantastic performances tonight, the US has gotten off to a great start to the hexagonal round of 2010 World Cup Qualifying.
Bob outcoached Sven-Goran Eriksson and his son Michael had the best game of his young career for the Nats, scoring two goals as the United States bested Mexico 2-0 in Ohio.
Tonight’s atmosphere in Columbus was electric. Despite some very poor weather, fans of both squads had filled the stadium just prior to kickoff. Of the sold out crowd of nearly 24,000, American fans actually appeared to outnumber the El Tri supporters, which has unfortunately not always been the case recently, even for games in the US.
The US fans, the “12th Man” if you will, made a ton of noise throughout the game too. My beloved Sam’s Army never let up the entire match. I would say the crowd was at least 75% for the Yanks, and there were a few times when you almost wondered why the Mexican fans weren’t making more noise. It was an ugly game for El Tri though.
Bob confused the visitors by employing an unusual 4-2-3-1 formation for the match, which initially spooked me a little. I was thinking it was sort of a strange decision to put Ching alone up top and Donovan underneath him, and during the first 30 minutes it looked like my fears could be realized as Landon remained bottled up in the middle.
Only three minutes into the game, Mexico almost scored when the US played some sloppy defense, but Howard made a very clutch save on a pretty poor shot from close range. The US controlled the flow of play for the rest of the first half, but every shooting opportunity seemed to soar just inches off the target. It looked like it would be 0-0 at half.
But, in the 43rd minute, Michael Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley nicely forced a corner. Beasley threw a nice one in too, and Donovan perfectly put it in the box for Onyewu, who rifled a header off of Sanchez. Fate (or maybe luck) was on Michael’s side as the rebound popped out to him so he could easily bury a shot to give the US a 1-0 lead.
The second half was sloppy. The US played tough as nails defense. In a rivalry usually noted for its violence, this game was pretty tame. The US actually looked more aggressive, picking up a whopping 26 fouls. Marquez was red carded for sticking his studs in Howard’s thigh, but the teams played with more sportsmanship than in the past.
Mexico just couldn’t find any chemistry offensively, especially once they went one man down. In the 92nd minute, Bradley threw up a Hail Mary which Sanchez really should have saved. It went under his arms though, so the US had a 2-0 lead and the game was over. Michael has to be the Man of the Match, though Howard played well too (as usual).
As for everyone else, there were some good performances, but many mediocre ones. The backline did their job, so it is tough to criticize anyone too much. Onyewu got whistled every time he went up for a challenge, and he mishit a few clearances. Boca played well as did Pearce. Hejduk actually looked fantastic and way younger than his 34 years.
For the mids, MB obviously played great, but Kljestan looked nervous at times. Dempsey was a mixed bag as usual, while Donovan and Beasley did some nice, creative things to concoct some solid attacking chances. Ching played the role of holding forward well, but he didn’t do anything to prove he should be on the pitch instead of Altidore.
Jozy did get in the game and he actually started the play that resulted in the second goal. Ricardo Clark also got in for about seven minutes, but he never really got a chance to do anything other than play some stoic defense. Both Howard and Hejduk looked like they were injured in the second half, but both toughed it out and stayed in the game.
This game will be remembered though as the one where both Bob and Michael established themselves as leaders for the US. Bob’s tactics were flawless and the usually hot-headed Michael played with composure. When Pedro Gomez asked Bob if he was prouder of his son’s goal as a coach or a dad at the half, Bob didn’t even blink before his response.
He said he was proud of the team and that he only thought about the goal as a coach. That answer seemingly typifies the two men’s relationship. Bob treats Michael only as a player and does not show him favoritism due to their familial bond. Michael has now silenced the naysayers who said his position of prominence on the team was due to nepotism.
All in all, it was a great performance for the US. They possessed the ball longer than El Tri, took more shots, had more shots on goal, waaaay more corners, and, yes, even more fouls. This match exorcised many demons, which is fitting because it was the Father (Bob), the Son (Michael) and the Holy Spirit (the 12th Man) who got the Yanks the win.