Klinsmann’s debut as USMNT coach was not an instant success. The talented Mexican side was dominant in the first half, as the Americans looked tentative and unable to establish any coherent attack. The American side had a definite German/Mexican look, as German-based players Steve Cherundolo, Jermaine Jones, Edson Buddle and Michael Bradley started the match along with Jose ‘Gringo’ Torres, Edgar Castillo and Michael Orozco Fiscal, who play in the FMF. (Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ricardo Clark and Stuttgart’s Francisco ‘Maza’ Rodriguez were late substitues for each side). Buddle, Castillo, Torres and Fiscal, along with midfielder Kyle Beckermann of Real Salt Lake, have all previously earned U.S. caps but haven’t been in the national team mix recently, and their absence lent itself to uncoordinated, ragged play by the team throughout the first half in which the Americans didn’t have a shot on goal.
Mexico took the lead in the 18th minute of the match, as Santos Laguna striker Oribe Peralta Morones scored his first international goal for El Tri. And although the Mexican side was clearly dominant in the first half, led by such veterans as Andres Guardado, Rafa Marquez, Sinha and Gerardo Torrado, Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre’s side were unable to generate much more in the way of clear goal-scoring chances than the Americans. Absent from the Mexican side was their exciting young striker, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of Manchester United.
Although Klinsmann’s debut started with an inauspicious first half, there was a marked improvement in American play during the second half. In the 56th minute, defender Carlos Bocanegra struck a powerful header from a Landon Donovan corner that forced a fine reactive save by Mexican keeper Meme Ochoa. Minutes later, the California-based German coach brought in MLS youngsters Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers and shifted tactics to give Landon Donovan and Gringo Torres more room to operate. The USMNT looked much more lively and inventive as they moved the game up the field. The work of Agudelo, Shea and Rogers tangibly paid off in the 73rd minute when Agudelo got a ball to Shea near the Mexican goalline, and the tall FC Dallas star efforted his way to strike a low cross across the Mexican goal mouth which the hustling Rogers tapped in to tie the match.
Momentum had changed, and the Americans were the more effective team in the remaining minutes. controversy took place with about five minutes remaining, as Agudelo placed a ball to the streaking Rogers who would have charged unimpeded on the Mexican goal if not pulled down by Torrado. Although Torrado was given a yellow card, many felt that a red card ejection was warranted by Torrado’s blatant, professional foul. The resulting free kick by Landon Donovan was blocked, and last-minute attempts by substitute Clark and Donovan were off the mark as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
For footy fans not only in the United States but around the world who are eager to see what Klinsmann can do with his American squad, perhaps the best insight came in Klinsmann’s post-game interview with ESPN’s Rob Stone. Asked by Stone what would resonate with him after his debut as American head coach, Klinsmann replied that “I had a lot of fun.” Certainly his upbeat, smiling attitude could be seen as he greeted his American players when they came off the field for substitutes, and the Americans seemed all smiles after the match, taking a cue from their positive coach. The Klinsmann era has started off in an interesting fashion, and both USA and Mexican national team fans have a great deal to look forward to in the next years leading to the 2014 World Cup.