As the hype builds around next Wednesday’s U.S./Mexico friendly (that’s February 6 on ESPN2), the underlying frustrations that produced the over-bold statement of a couple days ago comes into clearer focus. And, mea culpa, the wrong verb came to me in that one: it’s not so much that I “hope” the U.S. loses as I’m finding little value in playing what amounts to the same game – and one with less importance than most recent editions.
How to explain…what tortured analogy to employ? Ah! Think of a juggler. Imagine that, after getting the basic art down – e.g. juggling three balls of equal size and weight – she improves to where she can juggle, say, wet cats without picking up a scratch. A cool trick, yes, but imagine she then masters this act, finds a venue she likes working, a place that pays well enough without demanding anything more of her, and…that’s it. She keeps doing the same act, one everyone has seen an ever-growing number of times; even the cats would find a comfort zone after a while.
This is what yet another U.S./Mexico friendly feels like. A couple pieces out today try to breath some life into this latest edition by connecting this to past games: Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla talks about the power of wins over Mexico for establishing the reputations of past (and current) U.S. coaches; elsewhere, Jeff Bradley inverts his First XI into a “Last XI” by recapping the recent, lopsided history of the series. Both pieces come up short on sustaining the hype, at least for me. Last year’s win over Mexico established U.S. coach Bob Bradley coaching bona fides; pulled a little outside his thesis, Woitalla calls this the last serious test before upcoming World Cup qualifying. But, by listing the many games we’ve won, as well as the several on-field permutations U.S. coaches fielded to earn them, Bradley’s piece provides an inadvertent answer to that theory.
That we need a win on Wednesday to keep the Mexicans squirming under our “inferior soccer” and, therefore, our psychological thumb, doesn’t really compute. The fact that the U.S. can beat Mexico has been established…well, almost. And both authors, without making it central, point to what really should come next:
“Sampson remains the only coach to get a result in Mexico – a scoreless tie in World Cup qualifying in Azteca Stadium.”
“What would the U.S.-Mexico rivalry be without the home-field advantage? Winning at Azteca Stadium remains, not only for the U.S. but for just about everyone, the final frontier.”
“With horns blaring and more than 100,000 fans on hand to will Mexico to a qualifying victory, the U.S. came up just short…grabbing a result at Azteca remains the holy grail for the U.S. team.”
Did the Knights of the Round Table (or was it some random French Crusaders?) find the Holy Grail by hosting repeated jousting tournaments at Camelot? Hell, no! They went out and found the damn thing (whoops…bad adjective), enduring many doubts and hardships along the way…they didn’t dodge cellophane bags of urine and batteries along the way, but the analogy is there.
The point is, we’ve got this win on U.S. soil thing down. As clarified in the comments to my earlier, verbally reckless post – and, to give him due credit, by jaimemoreno before me – I believe the U.S. would do better on Wednesday to field a line-up of bubble players. That will guarantee, at least, that we’ll take something more from this game than one more win. But I’d really like to see us scheduling games in Mexico. And for more than friendlies: we need the club competitions, even more than the national team games, to play on Mexican, or Central American soil. If that’s what’s happening with the 2008 Superliga, that’s great. Keep it up and do it more often.
UPDATE: Soccer y Futbol just did the service of naming the players Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez called up for the friendly. It’s a pretty imposing list, but this being a friendly, and given all the givens noted above, I’d rather learn than win.