“Dos a Cero”, Remember the Alamo, But Don’t Forget Your Raincoat
True to the mission statement of OTF, my recap of last night’s United States vs. Mexico match will be a mix of analysis, insight and fluff. I’ll mix it up by starting with some insight, followed by some fluff and a snippet of analysis.
Insight: Is a “Friendly” Ever Friendly?
The term “friendly” is a misnomer of sorts when the term involves United State vs. Mexico. Regardless of where played or what’s at stake, a “friendly” match between the US and Mexico can be anything but friendly. As the highlights of the pre-game show demonstrated, shoving matches and stare downs are common place…
Why is that? Do the players really hate each other to the core based upon some prior scraps and words? Or is something different at play?
My theory is that regardless of the importance of the game, the players are amped up and playing to their potential because they are playing for their country against their biggest rival. I’ve never had the opportunity to ask a current player for his views on this topic, but from what I’ve read and personally heard from some former players, I think the intensity of the match is a product of national pride, machismo and the intense desire to beat the strongest rival, in your rival’s own backyard.
It is a given that World Cup qualifiers and Gold Cup matches have become legendary events, no matter where the venue happens to be. Whether by intent of design, the staging this match at the “Alamodome” conjures of images embedded in our minds from grade school history books – remember the Alamo?
(The Fall of the Alamo (1903) by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk)
Against this back drop, last night’s game was “legendary” in a sense, but not because of quality play on the pitch. Rather, despite the horrid looking pitch, the USA came out victorious with a familiar score line – “dos a cero.” This was a highly “hyped” event, with a long pre-game show loaded with tons of commercials and a sell-out crowd at a large venue. Everyone knows that a “friendly” like this serves several purposes, one of which is to raise money for the host nation. Another purpose is to stoke the embers of our fabled rivalry.
The historical rivalry was stoked at length during the pre-game show. A wide range of topics was discussed, incluidng Eric Wynalda’s “Evil Eric” phase. It’s still ongoing, isnt’ it? (just kidding Eric, you’ve matured into a thoughtful pundit and a future MLS coach in my not so humble opinion).
At one point during last night’s pre-game show on Fox1, one of the commentator suggested that Mexican fans started to hate Landon Donovan because he (allegedly) relieved himself on sacred land in Mexico – Estadio Jalisco. Whether this is true or not, Mexico fans have retaliated against Landon in various ways.
Ozzy Osbourne is lucky that Americans are more forgiving of his visit to the Alamo. I have my own theories on why Mexico fans dislike Donovan. It’s for scoring goals like this.
And for the fact that Landon looked like this in his physical prime.
Of course, the machismo and apparent “hatred” exhibited by players for both countries spill over to the fans, who appear to care as much, if not more, about the winner of any given match. You may have heard stories about the American Outlaws (http://fusion.net/story/102600/american-outlaws-us-soccer-supporters-group-growing-pains/), but there will be bad apples among any group. I’ve played soccer with the Chicago AO Chapter, and I can tell you with much pride, that it’s a melting pot. Here we all are in our third-place glory (if you look closely you can actual see an actual trophy).
In the end, American and Mexican fans are nothing like certain “fans” in parts Europe who are historically viewed as flat-out racists.
This is not intended to be a story on the existence of racism or jingoism. Rather, I will give you recollections of past match ups between Mexico and the United States, at completely different venues, each with a different vibe, but both with the same result – USA victories.
In 2007 I was among what appeared to be a few thousand USA fans at the USA’s stunning Gold Cup victory at Soldier Field. I brought a friend of mine who had never seen a soccer game live and he was entertained and soon became a fan of the “beautiful game”.
The crowd was pro Mexico from the start, and when Landon Donovan scored the first goal via a penalty at the 62nd minute mark, the crowd got VERY VERY upset. Boos and jeers rained down on the USA players and fans alike. But it was only a matter of time before the USA scored again. I could just feel it. After watching what rained down upon a group of nearby USA fans after the USA goal, I put on my raincoat and told my buddy to do the same. “But it’s sunny out” he responded. To which I replied, “That wasn’t beer.” Needless to say, we were prepared for the deluge of “beer” when Benny Fielhaber scored in the 73rd minute.
The largely pro-Mexico crowd was completely silenced after that goal. I had never before and have never since heard such silence at a sporting event. You could hear a pin drop and then my buddy and I yelled out and ducked. At that point Mexico had begun its fall from being our “Big Brother” and the USA was on the rise.
I was lucky to witness another great event, the “dos a cero” victory in Columbus on September 10, 2013, which sealed the USA’s 2014 World Cup qualification. I stood directly behind one of the goals.
It was hot and steamy that night, and atmosphere was electric. But what struck me just as much was the festic pre-game atmosphere. If you have not attended a USA vs. Mexico match, you must do so. Here’s but a sampling of the “Americana” characters that I ran into during the pre-game festivities (yes, that’s a diminutive “Rocky Balboa”, some “horned up” riff on “Greatest American Hero” and a VERY harry “Captain American”).
Despite the importance of the game, USA fans and Mexico fans, were having one big party – TOGETHER – to celebrate the “beautiful game.”
Beers were shared and then it was game time. You know the score, and when it was all over, the USA qualified for the 2014 World Cup and solidified that it was Mexico’s “big brother.”
There was a similar “vibe” at last night’s game, with numerous shots of USA and Mexican fans enjoying the game together.
ANALYSIS OF THE “PITCH”
I’ve left most of my technical analysis on the cutting room floor because the game was not pretty. Yes, the pitch had something to do with that, but let’s be honest, if you were engaging in a drinking game for every time the Fox1 announcers mentioned the pitch, you might be still buzzed or hung-over while reading this piece.
Alexi Lalas went a bit overboard in carping on this fact (as Alexi often does when he wants to hammer something home with his enormous left hand). He suggested that Mexico would make excuses for the score by complaining about the pitch. While I haven’t read any post game comments by Miguel Herrara, my gut tells me that he will say the pitch was a “non-factor” because the pitch – I’m going out on a limb here – impacted both teams equally. And while I’m not going to study game footage from the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s, players from those eras played on less than ideal surfaces and the commentators (I could be wrong) did not constantly mention the field conditions.
FLUFF – THE EVER CONFOUNDING JURGEN
As always, “Jurgen was ‘pulling a Jurgen'” with his mystifying sense of call-ups and substitutions. Chris Wondolowski, sat on the bench along with Jurgen’s protégé Julian Green and New Englands’ veteran Lee Nguyen. How’s that for karma New England! Thanks again for postponing my beloved Chicago Fire’s scheduled match.
As expected, Twiter was abuzz with people questioning why Jurgen declined to choose Chicago Fire’s Harrison Shipp or this friendly match, especially during a week where the Fire has NO GAMES!!!
That was your dose of “fluff.” Now on to some “analysis”, mixed with some “fluff.”
The obvious stand out performances were from the two goal scorers, a fairly unknown college player, Jordon Morris, and Juan Agudelo, who has had his share of ups and downs in his unsuccessful efforts (but not surprising efforts) to obtain a UK work permit. Simply put, Juan did not log enough matches for the USA to meet the necessary work permit criteria. http://www.businessofsoccer.com/2013/12/02/why-the-surprise-denial-of-the-agudelo-work-permit-isnt-much-of-a-surprise/
In large part Jordon and Juan have Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore to thank for giving them the chance to play – Clint because of an injury and Jozy because of his inability to not say “F-U” to a referee (twice). This just goes to show you, anything can happen it terms of who can play with the US Men’s National Team.
Who knows, maybe Harry Shipp will be “lucky” enough to get called up. Fret not Fire faithful, Harry will get called up on his merit. For all we know, he might already be part of Jurgen’s confounding plan(s), if Harry goes back to grad school?
Jordon Morris had a strong game, considering that this was only his second match for the US. Not bad for his “spring break”, right? Tweeple on Twitter tweeted some pretty funny stuff.
He’s a physical player, with a strong upper body and he has decent pace. While his touches were not always perfect, he was in right place at the right time and calmly slotted in the USA’s first goal. I wonder what Wondo would have done under those circumstances? Some fans have not forgiven him.
Notably, Jordan Morris may have read my “Monday Musings” column as he totally avoided eye contact during his post-game interview with Fox1’s sideline reporter, Julie Stewart-Binks, who in my opinion is secretly a Cylon. http://otfsoccer.com/2015/04/13/jvlahas-monday-musings-episode-1/
Other notable mentions were the much maligned Brek Shea, who appears to be further along in solidifying his position as a left back.
Michael Bradley had a solid performance, logging miles on the pitch attempting to direct traffic and his vision helped lead to the two goals. That’s enough in my opinion.
DeAndre Yedlin looked very good. His speed was evident, even on the much maligned pitch, and he made several smart clearances and tackles.
Surprisingly, Omar Gonzalez did not make more than one gaff. A kidding aside, he looked comfortable last night, but that could be a product of him not being tested by an entire team of “A team.” Of course, he should be applauded for keeping Erick Torres off the score sheet.
I was more impressed with his center back partner, Ventura Alvarado who had a solid game considering that this was only his third match. I see good things in the future from him.
Nick Rimando was not really tested and did nothing special in my not-so-humble ‘keeper opinion.
While William Yarbrough (“Yardbird” is a good nickname – see below) didn’t have a stand out performance (check out his Youtube highlight reels for that), he didn’t make any mistakes on the pitch with the exception of majorly mucking up a punt.
Having said that, Yardbird’s distribution skills are notable.
Mix (as the darling of the press and many fan-boys, he no longer needs to have his last named used anymore, right?) had a decent game. He was not a “stand out” in my opinion, but he did hustle in the top third and broke things up at times. To his credit, while he may not have won over any new fans, he didn’t do anything to lead to his detractors to launch into criticisms that he is “over hyped.”
Notably, the USA did not concede a goal in the final minutes of the game, ending what had been an agonizing and frustrating 15 goals in 15 games in the LAST 15 minutes. In the end, it was a decent “dos a cero” performance by the USA for the record books, and one that left fond memories for all who attended the “friendly” match. In the end, can’t we all get along?
Of course, don’t forget to bring your raincoats to the next match, because it won’t be raining beer.