U.S. 2-2 Mexico: Losing a Tie

I’ll start with the usual caveats: I watched this with a 3-year-old distracting me throughout with puzzles, demands to play with balloons, gigantic playground balls, etc.

That said, that was one lucky tie. The U.S. squandered possession, our midfield got slaughtered, our flanks overrun, and the chances we deliberately created could be counted on one hand – and Josmer Altidore got on the end of most of them. Fortunately, Mexico continued their tradition of mentally seizing up every time they got within 30 yards of the U.S. goal…so not all was lost.

It has been sometime since the temptation struck to say we simply don’t know how to play the game. But that’s not fair. Over a few, brief spells the evolution of U.S. soccer showed, but these fleeting moments came and went too often near the center stripe and, more often still, they played out in a kind of ragged, random vibe. Worse, our composed moments featured too many long balls forward and those came to players who appeared ill-suited to cope – again, Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

Against that, the Mexicans displayed – to borrow a “John Harkesism” – good “characteristics”on the ball’: between better movement and sharper passing, they simply outplayed the U.S. in every meaningful aspect of outfield play (thank god for goalkeeping, right?) The most striking sequence came in the second half when four Mexican players set up an impromptu game of keep-away in the U.S. half against up to eight U.S. players. But the Mexicans’ better moments came with the simplest stuff – finding the open man in space, too often just in front of the U.S. defense. This approximates the time when my heart shrunk into my stomach and my balls lifted toward my stomach…a kind of “Oh Shit” pinch designed, perhaps, with the intention of holding the crucial pieces together until the bad stuff passed. Continue reading

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Bob: Commence the Experiment

A couple people are posting the U.S. roster that was called in to play Mexico this Wednesday – and at least one person is playing “the roster game” (and having a couple bites at as he does it). On the other side of the affair, Sideline Views’ Luis Bueno listed Mexico’s traveling party and added some analysis for good measure. Much like Luis, I think the Mexican roster looks pretty solid – as in, a whole lot like an A-Team…or maybe that’s just what I think when I recognize many of the names on a Mexican roster.

So, to kill some time on a slow Sunday (the Super what now?), I thought I’d take some time on the question of who should we play against this bunch. Given my present state of, um, underwhelmedness regarding the significance of the result itself, I’m still advocating on-field experimentation. And, in the event we do lose, we can adopt the Mexican tactic of blaming the loss on such externals.

So, below, I’ll trot out the starting XI I’d like to Bradley trot out on Wednesday…and I do so knowing this is not the line-up we’ll see. Before naming names, I should confess I tend to favor 4-4-2’s for perhaps the dumbest reason: I’ve played as a defender in my share of 3-5-2’s and I just hate how exposed I feel back there…absolutely prejudiced me against that formation. What can I say? I view myself as a midfielder…in spite of the few seconds I’ve received on that opinion from the various coaches I’ve had.

Enough preliminaries…here it is: Continue reading

Asia Rising? Relative to the U.S. at least?

This is just a quicky, an idea I want to throw out there to see if I can’t kick up a discussion/round of speculation. For the record, watching Urawa Red Diamonds play AC Milan this morning inspired it.

Question: Is Japanese club football at a higher level than Major League Soccer (MLS)?

My answer: The way Urawa played against Milan makes me think yes. And it’s less that I think an MLS club couldn’t manage the same result than I suspect we would look at lot less polished and a lot more desperate in earning it. More to the point, whenever I watch Japanese, or even South Korean teams and players, I get the sense that they’re learning a more efficient and tactically sophisticated style of play. Add their insane fitness level and I’m to the point where I’d be less surprised at seeing Japan or South Korea win the World Cup than the United States National Team.

Fortunately, we’ll have something of a test on club side of the equation during this spring’s newly announced Pan-Pacific tournament, which will include two MLS clubs – the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo – plus one from Australia’s A-League and one from Japan’s J-League. That won’t be the best of tests, mainly because MLS’s clubs will be in preseason – early preseason, no less – and, well, LA is LA, by which I mean they’re the distracted mess from 2007 as opposed to one of their earlier incarnations. But, if my theory holds true, the Japanese team should do well in the tourney.

Against the larger theory, though, are two factors. 1) Apart from having a larger population all told, we’re making more babies than the Japanese and will have a generally younger population going forward; this augurs better for our future; the growing Hispanic/Latino influence in that population growth hardly hurts, either. 2) On the international level, we’ve held our own and, if you trust a really small sample, things might be trending our way already.

This last point is based on something less than the most thorough research – in fact, I’d love it if someone who knows where to look up the United States’ all-time record against the rest of the world would tell me where to look. But it looks like we’ve split the all-time series with Japan, losing in 1993 (referred to in an article that mentions an upcoming friendly in 2003, but we played Venezuela on the date mentioned) and beating them in a close one ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Now, it’s possible we played the Japanese “B-team” – I don’t know Japanese players well enough to say one way or the other – but, against that, we definitely played our B-team.

So, that’s a theory, one possibly informed more by impatience than reality. In any case, have at it.