Jul 27, 2009

Yanks get embarrassed by archrivals Mexico, but let's put it in context

Yesterday's 5-0 drubbing suffered by the U.S. Men's National Team at the hands of archrivals Mexico in the Gold Cup final is, on paper, one of the worst results in U.S. soccer history. You need to go back to the 1950s to find a comparable scoreline in games played on U.S. soil: specifically, April 28, 1957 and a 7-2 loss to Mexico in Long Beach, Calif. Yes, that bad.

But those talking about a sea change (or even "reset") in the history of this storied rivalry either didn't watch the game or are trying to extrapolate something out of nothing. Either way, they're wrong.

First of all, the 5-0 score was in no way an indication of what transpired on the pitch. At halftime, the game was still scoreless, with the U.S. having the better chances. In one of the opening scenes of the second half, Robbie Rogers probably should have put the U.S. on the board. Through minute 55 the two sides looked about evenly matched.

It took a bogus penalty call to change the flow of the game in the 57th minute. Yes, bogus. Look at the video of the play (it's the very first scene in the YouTube clip). If anything, the ref should have called a foul against Gio Dos Santos for attempting to decapitate Jay Heaps with his elbow. This does not necessarily mean there is some kind of international (or at least CONCACAF) conspiracy against the U.S. (somebody else can attempt to make that argument if they feel so obliged. There is evidence aplenty, from this year's tournament and historically) but let's call a spade a spade: that was a crap call and the U.S. was on the wrong end of it.

Having said that, there can be no denying that what happened immediately afterward was wholly pathetic. The Yanks essentially rolled over and played dead, allowing Mexico to run up the score, which they gladly did. Much to the delight, one should add, of about 90% of the 78,156 fans at sweltering Giants Stadium. (A member of the English press, or what sounded like one, saw the need to question U.S. coach Bob Bradley on the matter in the postgame press conference, as seen in this video).

But there is a larger reason this needs to be put into context: The U.S. was fielding essentially a junior varsity side. None of these guys were even on the bench at the Confederations Cup in South Africa last month (where the U.S. soundly defeated European champions Spain before losing the final to Brazil). With the likely exception of Brian Ching, none of these players have much of a chance to see playing time with the national team again (least of all after yesterday's performance). Mexico, meanwhile, showed up with an "A-minus" squad. Other than Carlos Salcido and Ricardo Osorio (and maybe Pavel Pardo) this is essentially the same team that we can expect to see Aug. 12 when the U.S. (with 18 different players) travels to Mexico City for its next World Cup qualifying date. (Captain Rafael Marquez, who was also missing, has a history of mental/nervous breakdowns when he plays the U.S., so one could argue his absence was not a liability).

So please, don't read too much into this result. Yes, the scoreline was ugly and yes, for the last 30-plus minutes of the game the U.S. was absolutely atrocious. But when you field a squad like this, it's bound to happen. In fact, it's happened before, at the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela when a similarly-skilled U.S. lineup went three-and-out on a 2-8 goal difference. Bradley was roundly criticized for his squad selection then too. This time, expect him to learn from his mistake.

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