Mexico's Andres Guardado battles Steve Cherundolo of the U.S. for… (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty…)
Little more than six weeks after being thrashed, 4-2, by Mexico in the final of the Gold Cup at the Rose Bowl, the U.S. rebounded Wednesday night to earn a 1-1 tie with its greatest soccer rival in a friendly match in Philadelphia.
What was the difference?
In two words: Juergen Klinsmann.
The new U.S. coach, in only his 13th day on the job, radiated positive energy even after Mexico took the lead in the 16th minute on an excellent goal by Oribe Peralta off an equally superb pass by Andres Guardado.
"They scored out of nowhere," Klinsmann said in a halftime television interview, shrugging off the goal as one of those things and predicting that the U.S. would turn it up a notch in the second 45 minutes.
"If we are able to pass the ball around in their half, we're going to get them tired," he said.
Perhaps not tired, but certainly rattled.
The U.S. still trailed, 1-0, when Klinsmann threw a few switches at the hour mark to turn the game around. He sent FC Dallas winger Brek Shea on in place of an ineffective Jermaine Jones and moved Jose Francisco Torres from a wide midfield position into a more central playmaking role.
At the same time, Klinsmann took lone striker Edson Buddle out of the match, replacing the ineffective former Galaxy forward with Juan Agudelo of the New York Red Bulls.
Twelve minutes later, Klinsmann brought on Columbus Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers and took Michael Bradley out of the game.
Within minutes of the latter move, the U.S. tied the match.
Agudelo got the ball in the left corner and steered it to Shea, whose footwork beat a couple of defenders and whose cross eluded goalkeeper Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa and went straight to an unmarked Rogers.
Rogers could hardly miss the open net from a few yards out in the 75th minute and he delightedly delivered the first U.S. goal of the Klinsmann era, sending Germany's 1990 World Cup-winning striker off in a fist-pumping celebration.
The U.S., with Landon Donovan suddenly looking like the best player on the field, might even have won the match.
Jamaican referee Raymond Bogle could have awarded the U.S. a penalty kick when Donovan was brought down in the area. Rogers was denied a clear scoring chance when he was pulled down from behind by Gerardo Torrado, a foul that netted the Mexican veteran only a yellow card. Shea had a fierce shot well saved by Ochoa.
Nevertheless, the 1-1 tie had Klinsmann beaming afterward.
"I had a lot of fun," he told ESPN's Rob Stone moments after the final whistle at Lincoln Financial Field. "It's a really nice feeling. I can't be the player anymore, so the second-best solution is to be the coach."
Klinsmann, who was named to replace Bob Bradley on July 29, had only two or three days to work with his players and select a starting lineup. Not much was expected, especially against a team as powerful as Mexico, which had won the previous three games between the teams.
Only two Major League Soccer players were in Klinsmann's inaugural starting lineup — Donovan and Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman — but it was a trio of MLS youngsters who made Klinsmann's debut a success.
Agudelo is 18. Shea is 21. Rogers is 24.
Look for all three of them to be back in the lineup when the U.S. plays Costa Rica in Carson on Sept. 2 and Belgium in Brussels on Sept. 6.