The US National Arena Soccer Team looked good in its final tune-up match before the World Cup next month in Tunisia, defeating Mexico 8-5.
The cold, wet Denver evening may have kept many at home, but those that made it watched two very good teams battle back-and-forth for most of the night.
The US struck first three minutes in as Taylor Bond shot a ball toward the back post that redirected off a Mexican defender into the goal. Mexico answered by way of Ivan Campos’ goal with 9:04 to play in the period. The US would go back on top less than a minute later from a corner kick when Matt Clare chipped the ball across the field to Leo Gibson who hit a perfect volley past a diving Diego Reynoso. Both teams scored again to finish out the first quarter with the US on top, 3-2.
The first power-play of the night came after Mexican goalkeeper Reynoso was called for pulling an opponent’s jersey while out of his box, battling for the ball in the corner with 13:10 left in the second period. US coach Bernie Lilavois sent out Matt Clare, Leo Gibson, Taylor Bond, and the Tayou brothers: Franck and Uzi for his power-play line, but Mexico killed the penalty.
United States turnovers allowed Mexico to score the next two goals. The first, after Clare turned the ball over and a toe-poke squeezed through goalkeeper Boris Pardo’s legs from point blank range with 5:49 remaining in the half, tying it up at 3-3. The second, after Leo Gibson turned the ball over near his defensive yellow line allowing Mexico to walk in and score with 5:15 remaining.
Gordy Gurson almost knotted it up at 4 with an absolute cannon of a volley hit from well outside the yellow line that smashed off the crossbar and straight down, narrowly missing. Mexico took their 4-3 lead to the locker room at halftime.
From the opening whistle of the third quarter, the US came out strong. Goalkeeper Casey Gasson, looked sharp replacing Pardo to start the second half. He hooked up with Uzi Tayou from a long throw and Uzi banged it home, tying it up at 4-4. The next two goals belonged to the US. First, Bobby Hurwitz scored off a superb Bond assist with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter, then Hurwitz started a quick counter attack, played the ball across the top of the penalty box to Gurson who stepped over it and let it go through to Franck Tayou who scored a nice goal with 41 seconds left in the period. The US shut out Mexico in the third and headed into the final frame leading 6-4.
In the fourth, with 11:50 left, the US would go on its second power-play when a speedy Marcus Jordan was fouled hard into the boards. Mexico again killed the penalty and were able to score a short time later with 8:09 remaining to cut their deficit to 6-5.
The US tried letting Mexico back in the game with a couple late mistakes. Goalkeeper Justin Dzuba, who relieved Gasson with 6:11 left in the game, handled the ball outside his box, intentionally, in what I can only assume was his assumption that he was entitled to use his hands in the arced area at the top of the goalkeeper box, as keepers were once allowed to do in the PASL and PASL-Pro. That resulted in a 2-minute penalty and a dangerous restart for Mexico at the top of the arc with 5:39 to play. A short time later Clare cleared the ball from his defensive zone directly out of bounds, resulting in another dangerous restart from the top of the arc. The US weathered the storm and killed the penalty.
Later in the fourth, another quick Hurwitz transition led to another Franck Tayou goal with 3:32 remaining. Uzi Tayou finished out the scoring, beating Campos who came in as sixth attacker, with 1:51 left in the game, assisted by Jordan.
Both teams looked very good at times and not so good at other times, which is to be expected with multiple games, in multiple cities in a short window, with little time to train together and constantly evolving rosters. Mexico has set its roster for Tunisia and the US is expected to announce theirs later this week.