Today the United States missed out on a golden opportunity to end their 0-22-1 winless streak in Azteca Stadium in Mexico. When Charlie Davies nailed home a punishing goal on a beautiful assist from Landon Donovan, it looked like the time for the United States to win in Mexico, and at the same time severely cripple Mexico’s chances of making the 2010 World Cup. However, the reality is that overall, Mexico dominated this match. The midfield quartet of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark was completely dominated by their Mexican counterparts. The truth is that this game was lost for the United States in the midfield. And the most discouraging aspect about this is that the midfield is where the United States is supposed to possess the most talent. But it wasn’t until Coach Bob Bradley inserted Stuart Holden and Benny Feilhaber that the midfield began to show any signs of life.

Bob Bradley’s decision to start Brian Ching really isn’t as surprising as much as it is revealing. Jozy Altidore didn’t arrive in camp until yesterday from England, so not starting Altidore made some sense. The problem isn’t that Altidore didn’t start and subsequently only played about 19 minutes. The problem is the lack of viable options behind Altidore and Davies. Brian Ching, as he demonstrated today, is not the answer. And neither is Conor Casey. I’m puzzled why he even made the roster. Ching brought almost nothing to the match today.

The match also revealed what a liability Ricardo Clark is offensively. He has ability to track all over the field, and offered a handful of good tackles, but his touch killed multiple attacking opportunities. He doesn’t compliment Michael Bradley well, who while a workhorse in his own right, has to make up for his lack of creativity with hustle and effort. The problem is that Michael Bradley isn’t going to leave the starting 11. And I am not necessarily suggesting that he should. He is one of the US’ best players. But Bradley isn’t a defensive center midfielder, nor is he quite good enough to be an attacking midfielder. You have to put 2 players in the midfield who compliment one another. Unfortunately, Clark and Bradley are too similar in their style and ability.

What should Bob Bradley do? Consider using his son as a substitute, insert Benny Feilhaber or Jose Francisco Torres, and see what Jermaine Jones can do come October. Jones is more of a defensive midfielder, but with better ball skills than Ricardo Clark. Clark can be a valuable asset against lesser quality teams, but his lack of touch makes it difficult for the US to possess in the midfield. And both Feilhaber and Torres are not only more creative than Clark or Bradley, but they are also better on the ball.

The central defenders (Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit) played very well. DeMerit was unlucky on the winning goal, as he made a valiant tackle that, in most cases, dribbles harmlessly out of bounds. Onyewu was the best player on the pitch, with Charlie Davies not far behind. The outside defenders (Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra) were abused throughout the day and neither had a particularly good match. I suspect that Cherundolo will have a difficult time holding off Jonathan Spector, who played brilliantly at the Confederations Cup (though I do understand why Bradley went with experience here). I am not sure that Bocanegra is the answer at LB, but neither is Jonathan Bornstein, so I am not sure where Coach Bradley looks from here.

The officiating was, by far, some of the worst I’ve ever seen in FIFA. The referee’s judgment with cards was questionable and his foul recognition even worse. But this game wasn’t decided by poor officiating (even though it clearly favored Mexico). This game was won by the better team today. The truth is that this game was more critical for Mexico than it was the US. The next two qualifying matches for the US are at home vs. El Salvador and at Trinidad and Tobago. They should be favored in both matches, and will likely win. 16 points will probably secure the US a spot in the 2010 World Cup.

While this match was more critical for Mexico, it was a match where the US should have seized the opportunity to take a giant leap forward towards respectability. The US has taken leads against Italy, Spain, Brazil and Mexico, and yet the US is only 1-3 in those matches. The US has to do a better job of putting quality opponents away when taking the lead. Once again, just like in the Confederations Cup, the US showed it still has a long way to go in becoming an elite team in the world of futbol.

In the meantime Coach Bob Bradley needs to find a reliable third striker to go with Altidore and Davies. Clint Dempsey could be the answer, even though he was noticeably absent in this match. Another option would be to give Michael Bradley a look at striker. The US also needs to settle on outside defenders. Jonathan Spector should be the starter at RB. But right now LB is going to be a weak link, and in all likelihood, unless Jay DeMerit self-destructs, Bocanegra is going to stay there. If this happens the US will remain vulnerable to teams with speed on the flanks. Given the fact that the US was completely dominated in possession against Spain, Brazil and Mexico, trying a different combination at central midfield might not be a bad idea. The US needs someone who can hold possession, and right now only Benny Feilhaber and Jose Francisco Torres fit that description. Bradley would do well to stop punishing Torres for his play against Costa Rica (which wasn’t even bad) and give him another shot versus El Salvador and/or Trinidad and Tobago.

Player Rankings vs. Mexico:

Tim Howard: 8  Did everything that was asked of him. Kept the US in the match.

Steve Cherundolo: 3  Did not have a good match and was abused most of the day.

Oguchi Onyewu: 8 Man of the match.

Jay DeMerit: 6  Played well. Unlucky on game-winning goal.

Carlos Bocanegra: 3  Forgettable match. Too slow for fast wingers. Could have closed space better on Mexico’s equalizer.

Landon Donovan: 5  Brilliant pass to Davies. Held ball too long on certain occasions. Fatigued from 70min on and largely non-existent. Blizted on winning goal.

Ricardo Clark: 4  Several good defensive stops. Showed no ability to possess.

Michael Bradley: 4  Largely ineffective and outplayed.

Clint Dempsey: 3  Where was he?

Charlie Davies: 7  Great effort. Fantastic finish to put US up 1-0. Should have done more with Stuart Holden’s beautiful cross in 71 min.

Brian Ching: 3  I am pretty sure that only thing I saw him do with consistency was head the ball out of play

Substitutions:

Stuart Holden: 6  Impact substitution. Good effort defensively and offensively. Could be a long-term solution off the bench because of versatility.

Benny Feilhaber: 5  Brought some composure to midfield.

Jozy Altidore: No Ranking. Didn’t play enough.

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