|Crazy like a fox.|
"And ... Annnnd .... Annnnnd ... you put the load right on me." -- The Weight, The Band
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?