For the first hour of play last night, it sure seemed like not much had changed in the Jurgen Klinsmann administration.
The United States looked disjointed, unable to create quality attacks or hold on to the ball for more than a few seconds at a time. Mexico was full of pace and technique, and even though El Tri only had a 1-0 lead, it felt like the U.S. was stuck in a larger hole than that.
But to paraphrase the old saying, sometimes a 1-0 deficit is just a 1-0 deficit. Over the course of the second half, the U.S. started to play better, and eventually scored a goal that they fully deserved.
The history books will show that the final score of Klinsmann’s first game in charge was a 1-1 draw, a result that means that the U.S. still has never lost a game at Lincoln Financial Field (two wins and one draw).
What really mattered, though, was sometthing that Klinsmann tried to make not matter in the game: the names on the backs of the jerseys.
Look at who was involved in the buildup to Robbie Rogers’ goal. José Francisco Torres sent the throw-in to Juan Agudelo, who passed to Brek Shea, who sliced past three Mexican defenders before squaring a pass across the open net for Rogers’ easy finish.
A few moments earlier, there were two terrific sequences of one-touch passes involving Torres, Shea, Landon Donovan and Kyle Beckerman - the last of whom was clearly enjoying his time in the spotlight after having spent so long shackled in Bob Bradley’s doghouse.
All six of the aforementioned players have real creative talents. The starters among them fit pretty well into Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1 formation, and the substitutes - especially Shea and Agudelo - fit in with Klinsmann's second-half tactical maneuvers.
(I pause here to note that Klinsmann threw New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe under the bus pretty hard in his postgame remarks for not giving Agudelo more playing time.)
When Rogers scored, Sam’s Army roared to life after having been rather muted for much of the game. A “U-S-A!” cheer arose from Lincoln Financial Field that was just as loud as anything that the Mexican majority in the stands had produced - or at least that's how it sounded from the Linc's glass-enclosed press box.
To think that Rogers wouldn’t have been on the field in the first place if Maurice Edu hadn’t been injured playing for his club, Glasgow Rangers, in a friendly against Chelsea last weekend.
Mere seconds after Rogers’ goal, Landon Donovan was racing right back down the field with the ball at his feet. If Torres had produced a better shot (or perhaps if Donovan had passed to Agudelo instead), it could very easily have been 2-1 to the United States just like that.
A few minutes later, Rogers had another chance to put the U.S. in front, thanks to a terrific through ball from Agudelo.
Rogers almost surely would have scored if Gerrardo Torrado had not grabbed Rogers’ jersey and sent him crashing to the turf. It was a play that would have made Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie proud.
In the press box, on the U.S. bench, and in both the ESPN and Univision commentary booths, the vote was unanimous: it should have been a red card.
But it seemed only fitting that Klinsmann’s inaugural match in charge should include a controversial refereeing decision. After all, the night had started with an old-fashioned present from ESPN: a Little League World Series game that ran long and prevented the English-speaking fans out there from watching the first 21 minutes of play on their televisions.
When the final whistle blew, I didn’t think that the quality we saw in the last 30 minutes outweighed the lack thereof we saw in the first 60.
Looking back on things this morning, though, I think there’s reason for optimism - and reason to believe that Klinsmann’s first real steps with the U.S. national team were in the right direction.
Combine last night's result with the new TV contract that MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation sealed with NBC Sports before the game, and we might start hearing the words hope and change in a context other than politics.
(Change, for example, being defined as the reported $10 million per year in rights fees that MLS will receive from the Peacock and its friends at Comcast.)
Here are the video highlights from the game. I was able to find a package from the Univision feed (thanks to 101 Great Goals), so I figured I would spare you having to listen to John Harkes almost completely talk over Robbie Rogers’ goal.