NASHVILLE — The United States men’s national team used a second-half surge following a red card to Angel Zaldivar to beat Mexico 1-0 at Nissan Stadium on Tuesday night.
The main talking points, which will go down in U.S.-Mexico lore, were Matt Miazga mimicking Diego Lainez’s height, the ensuing hard challenge from Zaldivar on Wil Trapp that led to a red card and Tyler Adams’ game-winning goal.
Although those moments will be celebrated, the overall production from the USMNT still needs to be better as it moves forward.
Here are the three things we learned from the USMNT’s victory over Mexico.
1. USMNT uses mental game to get edge on Mexico
Matt Miazga dubbed his confrontation with Diego Lainez as mental warfare, and in the intense rivalry that is U.S.-Mexico, you need any edge possible to get one over on the opponent.
Even before the incident, in which the USMNT centerback mocked the height of Lainez following a one-on-one battle, the American players believed they had an edge over their El Tri foes.
“I think that we came in at halftime and we kind of figured that they’re a little bit too comfortable,” Adams said. “Their centerbacks had time on the ball to hit diagonals that we’re running 70 yards where we don’t need to be doing that. So to step out in the right times and find certain triggers, whether it’s back pass or a bad touch, and see how we could measure up to defend that better.
“I think that we were able to get at them a little bit, and when their midfielders got the ball, put a little pressure so they weren’t comfortable. Ultimately, we were able to create a couple more chances. That final pass wasn’t there at times, but I think we picked off balls in better spots in the second half.”
Even if they weren’t all the way inside the minds of the Mexican players before the 65th minute, the Americans achieved that goal once Zaldivar lost his cool and got sent off for a harsh tackle on Trapp.
“I think we knew we were in their heads at that point,” Adams said. “We were possessing the ball a little bit better at times and being able to break them down, but that’s just a tackle that you don’t want to see because Wil has to go back to his club now and do what he has to do. It’s just a tackle you don’t want to see, so it definitely fires you up.”
Interim manager Dave Sarachan believed the composure displayed after the Miazga-Lainez incident was a nice indicator for moments to come against other Concacaf competition.
“A lot of these young guys have played Mexico at the youth level, so it’s not new to them, but we knew that at some point in the game, things might boil over, and I do think our guys showed great composure,” Sarachan said. “That’s one of the things going into games against Concacaf opponents, is having composure in moments where it could lead to maybe a red card or something. They got a good taste of it.”
2. Green changed complexion of formation
Julian Green’s entrance in the 40th minute wasn’t planned, but it came as a blessing in disguise.
When he went on for the injured Weston McKennie, Green took over the central position in a 4-1-4-1 formation that quickly turned into a 4-2-3-1 with Timothy Weah and Kellyn Acosta on the wings and Tyler Adams and Wil Trapp in holding positions.
Green’s influence on the game from a No. 10 position, or as a second striker behind Gyasi Zardes, brought the creative punch to the field the USMNT needed.
“We felt by adding Julian it was just another player who could hold up play for us, add another body up top to help Gyasi,” Sarachan said. “I knew with Wil and Tyler, they certainly cover the center of the midfield so I thought it allowed us a little more of an opportunity to be dangerous going forward.”
Green, who is still most recognized for being the player chosen over Landon Donovan for the 2014 World Cup roster, displayed skills on Tuesday that could make him a more central attacker on the international level, like he’s done with Greuther Furth in the 2.Bundesliga.
The 23-year-old won’t be the first option to slot into the attacking midfield position with Christian Pulisic at full strength, but he could be a vital part of the USMNT depth chart moving forward.
3. Robinson rebounds from rough Brazil game
Everyone was concerned about how Antonee Robinson would respond Tuesday after struggling against Brazil, except for Antonee Robinson.
“I didn’t really have the (Brazil game) too much on my mind,”Robinson said. “I thought, ‘I have to be ready to go out and do my best whenever I’m needed.’ I came on and did my part, and that’s really all you can ask for.”
The 21-year-old, who is on loan at Wigan Athletic from Everton, came on for a 34-minute shift and produced the game-winning assist on a ball sent in from the left flank.
“I just seen the defenders all close to the goal so I cut it back and hopefully someone gets on the end of it and thankfully Tyler did and it was a great finish,” Robinson said.
The bounce-back ability displayed by Robinson is exactly what the USMNT staff wants to see out of all its players, and it’s a good sign entering the October friendlies against Colombia and Peru.
“I think with Antonee, I was quick to pull him aside after that game against Brazil because everybody was pretty harsh on him,” Sarachan said. “He had some pretty good moments in that game, but people remember the moment that wasn’t so good.
“I think that’s going to happen with every player. With him, he still has an inner confidence and you can see it and he even made a couple mistakes tonight, but generally he was really good. As an athlete, you want to get back on the horse when you get knocked off it and I thought he did great.”