Times change, but the song remains the same. Bradley Jr. gets to be the hero, and, once again, it's Marquez and Sanchez who lay claim to the goat horns. The opening ten minutes looked a little dicey, with Mexico applying pressure and working hard, creating an early golden opportunity that went for naught. In fact, both halves started with early chances for El Tri, but a combination of poor finishing and Super Timmy kept them out (as usual). To the talking points!
* Don't you hate it when cliches come home to roost? You know, that old footballing maxim about the most important, game-changing portion of the match being the five minutes on either side of halftime? Bradley gets a goal off a set play, and Mexico has a golden chance to do the same on the other side of the break, but fails to do so.
* How often have we seen this pattern? Mexico looks comfortable on the ball, pinging it around and approaching the final third carrying a whiff of danger. But then, as soon as they get within sight of goal--poof!--nada. It looked for a while there as if the quick forwards would be a problem. Actually, it looked that way for much of the match, with some moments of slack defending requiring last-ditch interventions and scrambled clearances.
* My early notes were complaining that Beasley looked a step behind--like a player who wasn't fully fit and getting regular minutes--but as the game wore on, he started to become more influential. He even beat a defender on the dribble to launch a cross. I don't remember how long it's been since I've seen him do that. Promising signs. Here's hoping for more minutes at Rangers or a summer move to someplace he can flourish.
* I'll give Bob credit for one thing. I love the way he has Dempsey and Beasley pinching in beneath the forwards, creating room for the overlapping fullbacks to rampage down the wings. Gods do I hope the United FO was paying attention! Actually, I have to give him credit for two things. The quick, one-touch stuff was generally good to watch.
* Pearce really solidified himself at left back. I still have a few issues, most notably his often-negative first touch. It was maddening to have him work into advanced positions, only to pull the ball back rather than taking on the defender or looking for the ball forward. Except, of course, in the final five minutes, when he made ill-advised dashes forward and pinged balls into hopeless thickets of players. Still, for the most part he did the job.
* Super Timmy! 'Nuff said.
* Yes, Donovan did play a major part in both goals, but I though that he saw far to much of the ball with his back to goal, a position that doesn't suit him and doesn't maximize his strengths for us. Or maybe the voodoo dolls worked?
* Mexico's early high pressure and lack of jawing at the ref were worrying. Both had me wondering if the streak might be about to die. But they couldn't maintain the pressure over 90 minutes, and when they backed off, the time and space allowed the US to settle into the game. Predictably, they also managed at least that one moment of madness. Stay classy, Rafa!
* I don't mind bringing in Rico Clark when he has a chance to settle into the game, but with only five minutes left, he never got up to the speed of the game and lost the ball several times in bad positions. While I thought the Jozy sub for Chinger was timed about right (Ching was looking gassed and Jozy's speed opens things up, particularly against tired defenders playing a man down), I think I might have either left Kljestan on or brought Clark in a little earlier, when the Mexicans weren't closing down so hard and desperate for the equalizer.
* Tell me which was supposed to feel better--Bradley netting the late second to bring back our familiar 2-0 friend, or watching Sanchez' reaction after the ball slipped under him? I guess the "F$%K YES!" scrawled over my note page says I favor the former for its immediacy, but I think I'll savor Sanchez' shame over time.
* Castillo going off early after a blow from the Bum Hammy Hammer was helpful, but I can't help but wonder if his uncanny resemblance to Claudio Reyna will curse him injury-wise. Ah well, it could be worse. At least he doesn't look so much like John O'Brien!
So, in the final analysis, it was a victory well-earned, but one that could have gone the other way, given a surer finishing touch on that early Mexico chance and a Marquez that can resist taking cheap shots in the air. Step one is out of the way, and it was one that we needed to get the Hex off to a solid start. I'm still worried about both fullback positions (natch!), and wouldn't mind some options to present themselves up top before next summer rolls around, but Bob has the qualification ship pointed in the right direction. I have no doubts he'll get us to the big dance. The question is: what does he do when we get there?