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Point of Pride

Crazy like a fox. 
Mexico 0, U.S. 0 

"And ... Annnnd .... Annnnnd ... you put the load right on me." -- The Weight, The Band

That was kind of a dud, huh?

Did either Mexico or the U.S. muster a quality attempt for 94 minutes of drab, uninspiring soccer?

Okay, that's an even too cynical by my blackhearted standards way to look at Tuesday's game for Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in CONCACAF World Cup qualification.

Realistically, if you're a fan of the stars and stripes, 0-0 has never tasted so sweet.

The lede here from this memorable result is this: when the draw for the Hex came out most expected the U.S. to walk away from the first three matches with four points. All it took was the second-ever point in World Cup qualifiers at the Azteca to make that math add up, but the 2-1 loss at Honduras last month seems a distant memory.

That's what matters.

After three of 10 Hex matches the U.S. is tied in second place on four points with Costa Rica and Honduras. In first? Yep, you guessed ... Panama! Mexico -- the big bad wolf of CONCACAF -- has only mustered three draws in its first three matches, two at home.

What in the wild and wacky world of Steve Sampson is going on here?

But yeah, let's do Hex math some other time and instead praise a job well done by a makeshift American team, that featured (gasp) two MLSers -- Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez -- as rocks of Garb-raltar in the center of the U.S. defense.

Everybody else, sans maybe Maurice Edu (stepping in for Jermaine Jones in both spirit and fan ire), aquitted themselves well. Did Clint Dempsey, or any other attacker, do all that much? Not really, but that's beside the point after a match like this.

Did the U.S. get lucky that Edu running over Javier Aquino late in the second half and not getting called for a penalty? Damn straight the U.S. did, never mind it still doesn't make up for all the woeful calls from CONCACAF's finest which have screwed the team over the years. (There was an earlier non-PK call with Michael Bradley taking down Javier Hernandez, flagged by the linesman -- who was somehow the ref's brother -- but that one was debatable.)

How did the U.S. survive Mexico getting 15 corner kicks and Hernandez missing -- point blank -- late? Who cares?

The seemingly doomed U.S. qualification ship has been righted.

The mystique the Mexicans had playing at the Azteca appears a thing of the past.

Really it's hard not to look at this Mexican side and not think one thing ... it's soft. Guys like Rafa Marquez and those goons might not have the technical pedigree the current El Tri unit has, but they ground out games. You feared that team. You hated that team.
Come at me, amigo.

These guys, for all the youth tournaments they've won, almost seem too nice.

This seems to be an overarching trend for most international teams -- nobody likes playing as the favorite -- where they have to take it to the opposition for 90 minutes. Even mighty Spain, masters of death by possession where shocked by Finland 1-1 last week, although it came back Tuesday to win 1-0 at France, but the point stands.

Mexico's performance tonight was a lot like we've seen by the U.S. in recent games -- albeit against CONCACAF minnows. When the onus of the attack falls onto them, it becomes very difficult to unlock a committed, disciplined defense. The play looks listless. The fans grumble. The players huff and puff and try to do something positive, or the opposition runs out of gas.

This isn't club soccer where you're training with a team for about 40-odd weeks a year. Eventually you'll find a combination that clicks. With the international windows, you're basically throwing together a team and getting a couple days training. Frustration sets in a lot easier.

Tuesday Mexico didn't really do anything to gravely worry the U.S. and it appeared set up for the Americans to pull off a classic counter-attacking goal against the run of play and steal all three points. Andres Guardado and Gio Dos Santos were flat-out awful, which was nice since they've roasted the Americans so many times in the past. The U.S. clogged the passing lanes to prevent 1-2 combinations and flushed most of attack out wide.

Did Mexico create anything up the middle of the field beyond some poorly weighted passes? The central midfield of El Tri was equally woeful.

Tonight you could say the pressure of playing in front of 90,000 (or whatever the actual number was) home fans was a burden, not an advantage. Every minute the clock ticked toward 90 and the score stayed 0-0 it hurt Mexico and lifted the U.S.

You know what, as one of my cranky co-workers would say, "that's your problem."

And it is: Mexico's problem.

Klinsmann and crew cross the border with four points in their pocket.

The U-S-A is feeling A-OKAY right now.

Funny what a couple days -- and a Hex-changing snowstorm -- can do.

Other Quick Thoughts:

Reference to the HBO show, "the Wire."

* Nice hour pregame show by ESPN, first class work.

* That said, it really does feel like the heat from the U.S./Mexico rivalry has come a little off the boil regardless of what happened in the 1990s and 2000s. There seems much more mutual respect and less out-and-out resentment on both sides of the border.

* Great late save by Brad Guzan -- was it his only one?

* Another strong game by DaMarcus Beasley at left back, especially by the end of it he could barely walk. Playing out of position with a yellow card for almost 80 minutes is impressive.

* Gonzalez looks the real deal in the center of the defense. (As per usual, let's not overreact and anoint someone ahead of time, but this case it seems a safe bet.)

* Grahamn Zusi -- who knew -- would make two terrific defensive plays including running back into his own penalty area to head away a dangerous cross.

* Besler, making his second cap, and starting in the center of the U.S. defense seemed a recipe for disaster. You thought Mexico would, "hack the bone, HACK THE BONE" but El Tri (running theme) didn't do much to pressure the defense outside the first 15-odd minutes.

* Bradley produced the only real American attack, which was blocked away after a darting run into the box. Still, Bradley was never out of position providing cover to the U.S. center backs.

* Donovan, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Johnson, etc., as they say in the NFL: Next man up.

* Happy longtime friends of the blog Adam and Andy Morris were in Azteca tonight to enjoy it. Subs are on me.

* It's late. That's all I got tonight. What did you guys think?

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4 Responses to “Point of Pride”

  1. # Anonymous Dr. JwB

    I remember a time when we'd just hide in the bunker all day, hoping for the quick counterstrike. It is nice to see that for large stretches of time we were able to control the ball and the game. I'm not used to that, but I can get used to it.

    And I love the MLS guys stepping up. I have always played the pessimist about MLS relative to the international level, but the quality has increased, no doubt. And it makes me proud that we can grow these guys at home. I'd like to think it shows progress.

    Dempsey's disappearance was disappointing.

    All those years of missed calls: well, I guess we are one step closer to even.


  2. # Blogger 30f

    There were two different take-downs in the box where USMNT lucked out of getting called for penalties. I imagine south of the Border (where Lando goes to play the lottery) this game looks like a VERY lucky draw for the Yanks. I'm not gonna tell them they are wrong.

    Both the US and Mexico often get boned by CONCACAF officials, in large part, because those are the only two 'big' nations in the region. If France is playing Spain they can get a refereeing team from Germany, or Italy or the Netherlands to do the game. In Europe, there are plenty of major, soccer playing countries with vibrant, complex leagues from which to pull officials. In CONCACAF, when the big boys are playing - where else can experienced refs be found? I read that even Canada isn't an option because all the good Canuck refs work with MLS and thus work in the US and cannot be selected for US games. There are certainly other resentments and mysterious envelopes going around, but I think a huge part of how poorly the US (and Mexico) gets officiated in this region is because the pool is so small. And, let's be honest, if you've watched MLS games you know that 'Merikun officials aren't always super-awesome, either.

    I wonder why Landon isn't getting more heat over his sabbatical. He showed up yesterday at the White House with the Galaxy (and the LA Kings) to meet the President while team mates like Omar were, umm, busy. Maybe Lando has been hanging out in Qatar with Rio Ferdinand.  

  3. # Anonymous Michael

    I thought the sub of Altidore ten minutes in to the 2nd half was bit weird. He was not awful, just not getting any service. Same with Dempsey who seemed to be the only guy willing to take on Mexico's defense. Everyone else passed back to the fullback who then hoofed the ball forward. For all the great work the team did in running back and picking up guys on defense, I cannot remember one forward run Zusi made.

    Seems like US might be OK in central defense now, addition by subtraction in finally dumping Bocanegra. Honestly the noise over not picking him was to much to take. He is done as an INTL player. He probably was the last World Cup too but they had nowhere else to go.

    If they can get this offense thing figured out, they may be somewhat dangerous.

    The big question would be do you welcome back Donovan into the fold when ever he comes back? Who gets cut for him?


  4. # Anonymous lokibeat

    Seems like we saw Eddie Johnson more involved than Jozy. Maybe it meant Johnson was tracking back more. Regardless, it was a like for like change which didn't change things up much. Johnson seemed a bit more amped up than Altidore.
    I'm done with Donovan. If we can get there without him, let's let him retire. If we can't get past the group without him, then we just need to get better. This was his last WC anyway. Really happy to see Gonzalez in the center of defense. Hard to believe how much poise and polish he has for the young (in US Development terms) age of 24.  

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