Young teams from the U.S. and Mexico got their first taste of the cross-border soccer rivalry Tuesday and the advantage clearly went to the Americans. Defender Matt Miazga seized on the emotion of the moment to bait Mexico’s Angel Zaldivar into a red card and four minutes later teenager Tyler Adams scored the game’s only goal to give the U.S. a 1-0 win. Here are some other things we learned from the national team’s September friendlies, a 2-0 loss to Brazil and the victory over Mexico:
1. The team lacks experience but not confidence: The U.S. was outplayed in its loss to Brazil but it allowed just one goal from the run of play. In its previous game in June, the U.S. led eventual World Cup champion France for more than a half hour before accepting a draw. For interim coach Dave Sarachan that showed his young players aren’t about to shrink from a challenge. “There could have been a situation where maybe the shoulders slump, the confidence was blown,” he said. “But I think that’s one of the things I’ve noticed in this group that I’ve had across many of these friendlies now, they don’t lack confidence.”
2. They’re pretty good at mind games: The U.S. starting lineup Tuesday included four players under the age of 21 and eight players with fewer than 10 international caps. But they didn’t let the magnitude of the rivalry with Mexico overwhelm them. When the game got a little chippy in the final 30 minutes, the Americans kept their cool while the Mexican players lost theirs. “We got in their heads, they got a red card right after and you saw what happened. We took control and we won the game,” said Miazga, who sparked the chippiness by mocking the size of diminutive Mexican midfielder Diego Lainez. “We talked a little smack. It’s part of the game. It’s mental warfare.”
3. The team is far from a finished product: For starters, this isn’t the real team. The last 10 months have been dedicated to deepening the national squad’s talent pool by testing young players. In time the auditions will end, and veterans such as Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan and Christian Pulisic will rejoin the roster, smoothing off some of the rough edges. (Adams and Miazga don’t need to worry about their jobs; they have shown they will be important parts of the team no matter who gets called up.) The U.S. play was brutal at times against both Brazil and Mexico and it took a change of formation Tuesday — with first-half substitute Julian Green moving into position as a second forward with Gyasi Zardes in a 4-4-2 — for the U.S. to develop some semblance of an attack.
4. There’s still a lot of room to grow: The last three friendlies have all come against World Cup teams in France, Brazil and Mexico, and the U.S. has fared well with a win, a loss and a draw. Adams, one of two teenagers to start Tuesday, revealed the obvious when he said chemistry remains a work in progress. “That final pass wasn’t there at times,” he said. But on the goal, a cross from second-half substitute Antonee Robinson — who showed he had forgotten his defensive mistake that led to the game-winning goal against Brazil — weaved through and around four Mexican defenders before hitting Adams in stride in the middle of the box. “It was good timing. It was like in slo-mo,” Adams said. “The ball just came to me and I was able to finish it.”