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Bulls Abroad: Sacha Kljestan sits out USA's 2-1 loss to Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying

Tough night for USMNT and RBNY fans.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

New York Red Bulls fans were teased and taunted by the US Men's National Team's opening game of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Teased by the fact current RBNY star Sacha Kljestan was on the bench when USMNT kicked off against Mexico: would he get into the game? He would not. In part because of a first-half injury to former MetroStar Tim Howard. The USA's 'keeper suffered a muscle strain while taking a goal kick and had to retire early, forcing head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to burn an early sub on replacement 'keeper Brad Guzan.

Howard had been the USMNT's hero of the first 30 minutes, during which Klinsmann flipped the expected script with staggeringly unsuccessful results. Among the pre-match certainties were the facts that Mexico has long struggled to handle the crowd and conditions in Columbus, giving rise to the Dos-a-Cero phenomenon that USMNT has long held over its regional rival. Also well-known: El Tri's head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, is an inveterate tactical tinkerer: for better or worse, he will chop and change formations and player positions in a ceaseless quest for the perfect lineup for every game.

It was, therefore, unexpected to find Klinsmann's tactical tweaks drawing all the attention at kick-off, and also to find Mexico surging forward with ease and confidence, as though the team was at home at Azteca rather than away in Ohio.

Klinsi lined his team up with three at the back to start, and Mexico enjoyed the challenge of pushing and pulling the shorthanded back line around the field. For the first 30 minutes, El Tri threatened to run away with the match, hitting the frame of the goal twice and scoring once. But for Howard and a fortunate bounce or two, Mexico would have been 3-0 up and coasting to victory well before half time.

Instead, Klinsmann reverted to a four-man back line and USMNT re-asserted itself in the game. The Americans were lucky to go in at half-time just 1-0 down, but El Tri had been subdued and there was time to get back into the match.

USMNT got back into the match almost immediately after the break. The home team came out hot, caused a scare or two in front of Mexico's goal, and finally reaped the reward for renewed positivity when Bobby Wood picked up Jozy Altidore's pass and made light of heavy pressure to equalize.

There followed a topsy-turvy second half. The teams traded chances, and heavy fouls. Hector Herrera had a decent penalty shout declined after he over-played his effort to illustrate the foul and was yellow-carded for simulation rather than rewarded with a spot kick. Bobby Wood continued to threaten to win the game for USMNT single-handed.

As the end of the match drew near, the tie seemed the most likely - and fair - outcome. Klinsmann opted to use his two remaining subs on relieving defenders who had picked up yellow cards: Timothy Chandler and Matt Besler were replaced by DeAndre Yedlin and Michael Orozco; Kljestan's shot at another national team cap was over.

The match had always been physical, but the referee was increasingly willing to reach for his pocket as time progressed. Klinsmann favored prudence over fresh legs up front, and almost got a point for his trouble.

He was denied, however, by another face familiar to RBNY fans: Rafa Marquez - perennial hero to El Tri fans; near-permanent villain for Red Bulls' supporters who remember his uninspiring stint at the club.

In the 89th minute, a simple corner routine saw Marquez meet the ball several yards in front of the near post and flick an uncontested header to the far side of the net.

Mexico would leave Columbus with a 2-1 win. RBNY fans watched one of the club's most derided past coaches (Osorio) and least-popular former players (Marquez) ease El Tri past USMNT, with Sacha Kljestan a helpless bystander.

The result does not irreparably damage USMNT's prospects of qualifying for Russia 2018, but it does add some pressure to the team's pending trip to Costa Rica. Los Ticos are no pushovers, and should be regarded as favorites to win any home game against CONCACAF opposition. Klinsmann and the USA will need to play better, in a more difficult environment, to avoid the ignominy of back-to-back losses in their opening matches of the Hex.