Jurgen Klinsmann and Miguel Herrera didn't schedule an April friendly before the World Cup to continue a great rivalry or give their teams a morale boost. They did it to learn something about the players that they have at their disposal -- particularly the ones on the fringes of their World Cup squads.
So while the United States and Mexico didn't separate themselves on Wednesday, the game itself wasn't meaningless. The managers got to learn a lot about their teams and now have a lot more information with which to make their 30-man squad selections.
The USMNT's diamond midfield will be a thing again
The United States does not have a lot of good true wingers, but plenty of solid players who are at their best when playing centrally or in a narrow system. Enter the diamond midfield, which featured Michael Bradley at the tip, Kyle Beckerman at the base and Graham Zusi and Brad Davis as shuttlers against Mexico. The team looked surprisingly well drilled in the setup, as if their brains had been taken over by New York City FC's Jason Kreis, the man who made a diamond work to perfection at Real Salt Lake.
It won't be the only formation the United States use in Brazil, but if Klinsmann is to be believed, it's not going away either.
Klinsmann: "We need three or four systems to confuse our opponents in the World Cup."— Juan Arango (@JuanG_Arango) April 3, 2014
Since the USMNT has quite a bit less high-end talent and depth than two of their three opponents, and are comparable to the other, that's not a bad plan.
Michael Bradley is still America's best player
While his success was partially down to the struggles of a Mexican player who will be highlighted in a minute, Bradley looked at home at the tip of the diamond. He knew exactly when to stay high and when to drop back to find the ball, as well as when to try to beat defenders and when to play a safe pass. He was just as much about defending and retaining possession as he was about creating anything, even though he was moved into a role usually manned by true playmakers. He was a perfect fit, and the way he played the position looked like something that might be effective against the United States' European opponents in Brazil.
Photo: Christian Petersen
That's not to say it's necessarily Bradley's best position. He's proven that he can be effective in a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, depending on what his team is trying to accomplish and the personnel around him. More than proving that he can play at the tip of a diamond, he proved on Wednesday that he is the United States' best player, and everything should be built around his strengths, no matter what formation the team deploys.
It's time for Omar Gonzalez to move to the bench
It's extremely rare that a goal is conceded because of one individual's error, and neither goal that the United States conceded falls into that category. But in both cases, the last line of defense was Omar Gonzalez, and he made glaring errors on both goals. He was easily caught up by a routine pick play on Rafa Marquez's goal, then completely fell asleep at the back post on Alan Pulido's, which was followed by a hilarious offside appeal even though Pulido was at least two yards in front of Gonzalez when the ball was played in.
This wasn't the first USMNT game in which Gonzalez has switched off. He's done it many times before over the last year and a half, for both his national team and the LA Galaxy. The time has come for Klinsmann to start considering other options to partner Matt Besler.
Julian Green is just a prospect
He may be the best prospect in the history of the United States, but he is not going to be the savior of American soccer at this World Cup. Green looked every bit the part of a teenager who has immense ability, but who hasn't played competitive matches against top professionals. He had just as many cheap giveaways as he did flashes of brilliance.
This isn't to criticize Green, who looks like a huge talent. But he didn't look the part of someone who's going to make an impact at the World Cup this summer. He looked like a kid with a potentially promising, but ultimately unpredictable future.
Zavala played himself out of a job
And back to the man who made Bradley look good. Jesus Zavala has always had the most potential of any of Mexico's central midfielders. He's 6'3, but quick and solid with the ball at his feet for a midfielder his size. Even though he's been in poor form, Herrera gave the Monterrey man another chance to win a starting job, or at least a World Cup roster spot. He did absolutely nothing to earn either of those things and was poor in every way.
Herrera's boys made the difference
Herrera has faced a bit of criticism for favoring his former Club America players over some European-based stars and guys who have been lighting it up for different teams in Liga MX, but his favoritism appeared justified on Wednesday. He kept Raul Jimenez, Juan Carlos Medina and Paul Aguilar on the bench to start the game, then brought them on in the second half. Their inclusions changed the game in Mexico's favor, even if they didn't directly make either goal for their team.
The reason Herrera picks his old favorites is because they understand his system and what he expects from them. He gave other players chances to win spots, and they weren't able to do it.