Monday, July 27, 2009

Mexico Thrashes USA

Headline says it all really. 5-0. Wow.

What's worse is that it was hard to see that coming. The United States outshot Mexico in the first half, though the play was probably about even, as Mexico often looked enterprising with possession, particularly when they counterattacked with pace. That was perhaps the only omen of the debacle to come.

The Americans even had the first great chance of the second half, when Robbie Rogers found himself behind his defender and managed to bring the ball down with his thigh to his feet. Unfortunately for the US, Rogers thumped the shot over the bar with his preferred left foot. Rogers has to hit the target from there. And frankly, he has to score. The game permanently changed when Jay Heaps fouled Giovani Dos Santos by getting elbowed in the head and then having Santos fall down on top of him. The penalty call was abysmal, no question about it. It's worth wondering if the US did something in their soccer history to upset the referees for all karmic time, like going all Drogba or something. At least Heaps didn't get a red card. Dos Santos after the game said about the penalty: "That's soccer. Afterward, you must still do your job." Coy.

Of course, the awful penalty would not be the story of the game, but rather what happened after. The United States essentially crawled into the fetal position for the remaining 35 minutes, unable to maintain posession, basic defensive responsibilities or even hustle when beat. Mexico scored five goals, but it easily could have been eight or nine. Bob Bradley said after the game that "the area where we didn’t do well enough was our response to the first goal." Take a moment to absorb that quote and rank it in the pantheon of the world's greatest understatements.

Mexico did play champagne football in the second half, to give credit where it's earned. The introduction of Arsenal youngster Carlos Vela completely changed the game, and the precision of the Mexican attack was a joy to watch (at least for the El Tri fans and the neutrals). But the effort level and lack of resilience shown by the Americans was simply unacceptable. The second goal was a direct result of the United States central defenders waiting for an offside flag that was rightfully never coming. From there the rout was on, as the additions of Cooper and Quaranta predictably made no difference.

The United States is not the world's most talented squad, nor will they probably ever be. But American football has come a long way in the last two decades, both because the talent level has been raised, and because the Americans have shown resilience in the face of adversity. Finding a way to draw with Italy a man down. Picking themselves off the dirt and beating Egypt by three goals when all seemed lost. Dispatching an elite Spanish side. Nearly doing the same to Brazil. These are only a few of the most recent examples of an American side persevering against circumstances and superior sides. In this way, the Americans live up to their slogan: Don't Tread on Me. That slogan not only represents America's revolutionary roots, but a simple message to opponents of the USMNT: nothing is going to come easy. Yesterday, against their hated rival, those on the field allowed everything to come easy. And they should be embarassed.

Horrific as yesterday was, it's unclear what the long term implications of this match will be. For the individual American players on the pitch, there is not much good to say. Holden's stock went up for the tournament, and Beckerman's as well, though probably not enough for it to matter at the deepest American position. Rogers regressed throughout the tournament, as did Ching, whose inability to showcase himself as one of the best players on the "C" team was surprising. It would be surprising if Ching started at Estadio Azteca. Overall, the "C" team will remain just that.

More interesting is how this match will affect the confidence of the United States and Mexico. Mexico just won for the first time in the United States since August 1999. Will that matter come next month? Is this the beginning of a turnaround in form for the previously struggling El Tri? Or just a triumph over a depleted side? These questions are interesting to ponder, but unknowable for now. For now, there is just one more question: is it August 12 yet?

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