Jordan Morris made a loud statement in his first start for the U.S. national team against his country’s biggest and most bitter rival.
His reward? A game pennant given to him by veteran Michael Bradley to hang in his room at college.
The 20-year-old Stanford sophomore scored his first international goal early in the second half, Juan Agudelo added his first international goal in four years, and the Americans dispatched Mexico by their traditional 2-0 score in an exhibition game Wednesday night.
“I was nervous but I was excited,” Morris said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid, scoring a goal, especially in such a big game in front of so many fans.”
Morris, thought to be the first collegian to start for the U.S. in at least two decades, scored in the 49th minute after Bradley brought the ball upfield and passed to Gyasi Zardes. The return pass ricocheted off defender Mario Osuna and was picked up by Morris at the top of the penalty area. He took a touch, broke in and slid the ball between the legs of goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo from 10 yards.
“It just kind of popped out,” Morris said. “I’m happy that when I got the chance, I got to the ball and put it away.”
Agudelo replaced Morris in the 65th and scored seven minutes later. Bradley made a long pass from the midfield line and Agudelo controlled it just outside the penalty area. He cut inside with half a dozen touches and beat Saucedo to the near post with a low shot from 19 yards.
It was the third international goal for Agudelo and first since March 2011. Playing his second international match since November 2012 and his first since March last year, he dropped to his knees and was mobbed by a group of teammates.
Before a sellout crowd of 64,369, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann improved to 3-0-3 against his team’s regional rival.
The U.S. has defeated Mexico by “dos a cero,” or 2-0, in four straight home World Cup qualifiers, all in Columbus, Ohio. The U.S. is 13-5-5 against Mexico since 2000, including a win in the second round of the 2002 World Cup.
With the game not on a FIFA international date, both teams were missing top players. And with the U.S. looking ahead to this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Klinsmann mixed a roster of veterans and young players.
Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler, who was called up Sunday for the game, did not play.
Morris, who trained with the national team last May and made his debut at Ireland in November, started because captain Clint Dempsey is sidelined by a hamstring injury and Jozy Altidore was serving a one-game suspension for a red card.
“You say, ‘Why not give him a chance?’” Klinsmann said. “He trained very well. We see his improvement.”
Klinsmann also saw some nerves in the youngster.
“When Jordan was doing his shooting before the game, he was pretty much missing everything. I told him, ‘Just relax. It’s OK,’” Klinsmann said. “To see a boy like Morris score his first international goal, you jump for joy.”
Klinsmann also gave defender Ventura Alvarado his first start and started center back Omar Gonzalez for the first time since last summer’s World Cup.
Kyle Beckerman, who was deep in a midfield diamond, limped off midway through the second half with a bruised left thigh.
Morris narrowly missed a chance in the first half when a cross barely sailed over his head for what would have been a point-blank chance at goal.
The Americans avoided their tendency to give up late goals. The U.S. had allowed 13 goals from the 80th minute on in their previous 13 games.
Mexico’s best chance came late in the first half when Eduardo Herrera ran into the penalty area and poked a low cross past goalkeeper Nick Rimando into the side netting. El Tri had complained about the field conditions on Tuesday and by game time the grass was uneven, with large brown and dirt patches causing players to slip and stumble several times. “I think they had better luck with the ball, but they weren’t that much better,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. “Their opportunities were really mistakes on our part, slipping on the field because we didn’t have the right cleats.”