By Professor Fred Whitted NORTH CAROLINA (BASN) — The title above...
US, Mexico Looking to Right their Respective Ships in World Cup Qualifier
What: USA v. Mexico, World Cup Qualifier
When: Tonight, ESPN 7pm
Where: Columbus, OH
(BASN-TALLAHASSEE, FL) It’s a little different this time.
Normally when the United States and El Enemigo square off, whether it’s for a Gold Cup title or like tonight’s World Cup qualifier, it’s the latest chapter in the never ending saga used to answer a single question:
Who are the Kings of CONCACAF?
Quien estan los Reyes de CONCACAF?
Estado Unidos o Mexico?
The Enemy or the United States?
Not this time.
When the US and El Enemigo meet at Columbus Crew stadium tonight (7pm, Pregame; 8pm kickoff, ESPN) the vibe will be a little bit different. Neither team will come in with looking to solidify their supposed right to call themselves the best team in the region.
Instead they will be using the latest Superclassico Norteamericano to simply get back on track.
The US is coming into to this match a bit shell-shocked. Riding high like Faze-O on the strength of a 12 match winning streak (which included some impressive displays against some solid teams and a Gold Cup title with what many considered the B team), The Squad rolled into Costa Rica for Friday’s match, laughing off the Ticos’ indignation about the snow game in March, amused at the eggs thrown at their team bus and their inability to get a proper practice facility. They were confident that the form they’d demonstrated over the past 4 months would carry the day and allow them to get a result in a place where they had never won in World Cup Qualifying and, if other results went their way, qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Then Michael Bradley aka The BAWSE, sprained his ankle.
And the game started.
The US spent the first 35 minutes giving up 2 goals before double digits had even registered on the game clock, and getting run out of Estadio Nacional. They pulled a goal back on a penalty earned by Fabian Johnson and converted by Clint Dempsey and played great ball in the second half; only to see Matt Besler unable to catch Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell from storming down the field and converting the definitive goal in a 3-1 win that took the Central Americans to the top of the Hex standings.
This was to be the Period of Consolidation for the US but instead more Self-Examination is needed.
The loss of the BAWSE, 10 minutes before kickoff, was the biggest blow. The US’ inability to gain foothold in the early stages of the match was down to his absence. No one in the US’ midfield, Jermaine Jones or Geoff Cameron especially, was able to settle the team down and make the right pass to relieve the constant pressure Costa Rica was applying, condemning them to a hole of out of which they ultimately could not crawl. His ankle has not sufficiently healed and unless Mr. Miyagi arrives in Columbus to rub his hands together, the BAWSE will be watching this game like the rest of us.
But it was the later developments that has the US limping into this match-up as well. Jozy Altidore, who had been on a record goal scoring streak for the US but appeared as a second half substitute due to a iffy hamstring, picked up a yellow card which could only be described as stupid for needlessly shoving a Costa Rican defender in the dying minutes of the match. It’s his second yellow of the Hex and he’ll miss tonight’s match. Matt Besler, who like the rest of the defense had a subpar match but had gained enough confidence as starter, was the victim of a shameful dive by Campbell and received a yellow card. He’ll also miss the match. Cameron, who also started, received a yellow and so he’s out as well.
Yet it’s not all doom and gloom for the Red White and Blue. The US is still in second place and has called in reinforcements in the persons of Clarence Goodson who’ll probably start in Besler’s place, as well as midfielders Brad Davis, Jose Torres and Joe Corona. They’ll still have the services of Dempsey and The Truth (Landon Donovan) who’ll start a match together for the second straight time, something they have not done in years. Eddie Johnson will likely find himself the focal point of the offense and the defense can’t play any worse than they did Friday night.
The goal scoring onus for the US will fall on EJ
Moreover, the US is coming home to Columbus Crew stadium where they have never lost and can claim 2-0 shutouts in each of their three World Cup qualifiers against El Enemigo dating back to 2002. Better yet, even after the result in San Jose, a win by the US tonight and a win or tie by Honduras against Panama, clinches a spot in next year’s World Cup.
All possible, especially as El Enemigo is a mess right now.
To say that the team that touts itself as the best in the CONCACAF is struggling right now is like saying Megan Goode’s kind of cute. Before the start of the Hex, El Enemigo’s coach, Jose Manuel “Chepo” De La Torre, clearly feeling himself having led Mexico to the 2011 Gold Cup and overseeing the 2012 Olympic triumph, said that it was his goal to win each and every match of the Hex and cruise into the 2014 World Cup.
To quote my man, J Hutcherson, “Yeah, about that…”
El Enemigo drags itself into Columbus in 4th place in the Hex standings after losing in Estadio Azteca for the just second time in its World Cup qualifying history, 2-1 to Honduras. El Enemigo have not won a single match at home in this calendar year and combined with a poor performance at both the Confederations Cup (3 and out) and the Gold Cup (semifinals loss to Panama) De La Torre was shown the door in the early morning hours on Saturday.
El Enemigo’s inability to consistently finish in the final third of the field, their lack of confidence and their lack of incisive possession when it matters most has left the talented, proud team reeling. They have not responded well to adversity at any time during this Hex and now head to a place where they simple have not competed well over the last 11 years.
Fans of El Enemigo believed they had finally turned a corner with their Gold Cup win over the US two years ago and thought they had solidified their future with the Olympic team’s win over Brazil in in London the following year. Now desperate to save their campaign the Mexican Federation have turned to Luis Fernando Tena, who coached the aforementioned Olympic Team to the Gold Medal.
Often times coaching changes provide a new spark in a team’s fortunes. That has historically been the case with The Enemy who fired coaches during the qualifying run for the 2002 and 2010 campaigns, only to qualify under their new coach, in both cases Javier Aguirre. However Tena, will have to quickly raise the morale of an underperforming team, having been brought on board 3 days before having to face their biggest rival. The Enemy still has players that they can rely upon such as Manchester United’s Javiar Hernández, the always dangerous Andres Guardado and the baby-faced Giovanni Dos Santos who always seems to save his best for the US. Mexico should still recover and qualify, even if they have to go through a playoff with New Zealand as CONCACAF’s fourth place team. They’re just that good. Pulling it together in time to defeat the US? Another question entirely.
Dos Santos: Baby-faced assassin
Games between the US and El Enemigo usually are about regional supremacy. Tonight’s match is about righting the ship and regaining momentum, something rather unfamiliar for fans of both nations.
That’s what makes it so intriguing.
Once again, it’s on…
Andrew L. Dixon, III is a soccer writer based in Tallahassee, FL and has contributed articles to BASN since 2004. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org