GLENDALE, Ariz. – A bogus offside call robbed the United States of a morale-boosting victory over its fiercest rival Mexico on Wednesday night, leaving head coach Jurgen Klinsmann fuming over the contentious disallowed goal in a 2-2 draw.
Eddie Johnson appeared to have clinched the win for the Americans at the University of Phoenix Stadium with a late strike. It should have put the finishing touch on an entertaining battle between the CONCACAF region's most high profile teams. Klinsmann could scarcely believe his eyes at the controversial call and screamed at Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno from the sidelines while gesticulating wildly in disgust.
"It looked good to me," American midfielder Michael Bradley said of Johnson's goal.
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Instead, an officiating blunder – television replays showed Johnson was level with the defender marking him and not in an offside position when the ball was passed – left a rather unsatisfying conclusion to the U.S.' final international game before its World Cup preparations start in earnest next month.
While this clash was a "friendly" international game primarily featuring players based in Major League Soccer and Mexico's Primera Division and missing a swathe of Europe-based members of both squads, no match between these old foes is particularly amicable.
With so few opportunities to get access to his players in the months leading up to Brazil, because of the constraints of their club commitments, Klinsmann would have been delighted to have taken what would have been a satisfying win. Such an outcome looked likely at halftime after the U.S. led 2-0 thanks to goals from Michael Bradley and Chris Wondolowski.
However, Mexico, which looked so shaky during World Cup qualifying and narrowly avoided being eliminated from the tournament, responded strongly after the break. Captain Rafa Marquez pulled one goal back with a header four minutes into the second half and Alan Pulido leveled the score in the 67th minute.
These matches are a chance for players to prove a point, no matter their situation. But Bradley, one of the backbones of the U.S. team and arguably its most important member, has no doubts over his place on the squad. His tireless and energetic performance and clinical half-volleyed finish on 15 minutes was a timely snub to those who questioned the wisdom of his move from Serie A's Roma to MLS' Toronto FC. Wondolowski has no such assurances about his position. The San Jose Earthqaukes forward is "on the bubble" and hopes to force his way into the U.S. squad of 23, and he did his chances no harm after tapping in the Americans' second goal after 28 minutes.Klinsmann's biggest concern to come out of this will center around the defense, where Omar Gonzalez turned in perhaps his weakest performance in a national team jersey. If a Mexico team that scored just seven times in its 10 qualifying games can give the L.A. Galaxy defender such trouble, it is scary to think how he can cope with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and the attacking machines of Ghana and Germany at the World Cup.
Klinsmann made his expected glut of changes towards the end, giving 18-year-old Bayern Munich prospect Julian Green an international debut that fell way short of expectations but will not preclude further involvement in the national team program.
All in all, Klinsmann has plenty to think about between now and the middle of May, when his squad meets in the Bay Area for its pre-World Cup training camp. He won't lose too much sleep over the poor decision that denied Johnson a winning goal, but as a coach who knows the value of momentum, it was a mistake he could have done without.