On the Road Again

Before we close the book on the latest US/Mexico match and file it away under "No Big Deal", a few observations:

Mexican fans, searching for good excuses as to why their team has such a dismal record against the US over the last dozen or so games, are very quick to tell us that most of these games have been played "on American soil"

You heard so much about "American soil" you'd have thought this was a soybean planting contest instead of a soccer match.

But as we all know, the nationality of the dirt is just about the only totally foreign aspect of that match or any of the matches Mexico plays in the US.

Of course the biggest disadvantage of playing an "away" game is the stadium atmosphere, and in this case the Reliant Stadium crowd was estimated at somewhere between 80 and 90 percent pro-Mexico.

So is the point here that that's somehow not enough? That the poor, beleaguered Mexican team simply can't perform well when only 85% of the crowd is screaming their lungs out for them? Or are they saying that American fans are so fierce, so downright intimidating that even when a mere 15% of the crowd is wearing red white and blue it makes them too frightened to play well? Is that what they're saying?

But let's go a little farther; playing "on the road" normally entails a number of hardships: long plane rides, foreign hotels, unfamiliar food, feeling like an alien surrounded by people of a different race who speak a different language, can't even read the local newspapers or listen to your own music on the radio.

So which one of these disadvantages does the Mexican team suffer from when they play in Houston? Can't find decent Mexican food? Can't ask anybody for directions to the nearest Men's room? Can't locate Mexican music on the radio? What?

I'd even wager that, on the average, most of the American players were actually farther away from their homes than most of the Mexican players.

And finally, if playing these games "on American soil" puts the Mexican team at such a huge disadvantage and makes it almost impossible for the team to play well, then why do their fans all demand that the coach be fired when they lose?

This seems remarkably unfair to me: after all, the game was "on American soil"! Everybody knows it's impossible to win in a stadium 15% full of people in Uncle Sam hats. How can you blame the coach?

I hesitate to add (but I'm already in so deep that it can't get much worse) that in the last two years, the Mexican National team has played 35 games. 17 of them have been in the US. They've only played seven times in Mexico. In 2008 alone, they'll play 8 games "on US soil".

I'm not sure that even the US team plays here that often.

But Mexico fans can rest easy. USSF has said that they plan on playing more of these games across the border, where apparently Mexico feels another 5 or 10% of the crowd rooting for them will make all the difference.

Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't be particularly happy about it. Once every four years, there's a game Mexico absolutely, positively has to win: the qualifier in Mexico City, where they really DO have a huge home field advantage, and one reason for this is that many if not most of the US players haven't ever had to face a game in Mexico.

Which, incidentally, is a lot more foreign to, say, Jozy Altidore than Houston is to Rafa Marquez.

So I wouldn't be so enthused about the prospect of the US team getting more games in Mexico. The more they play there the less intimidated they're likely to become.

If I were a Mexico fan, I'd rather keep them away.

Either way, Sunil Gulati has said that this is the last friendly the US and Mexico will play until at least 2010.

Finally, In the winners and losers column for the night, you'll need to put a big old "W" next to "MLS Owners".

Because being the owners of MLS means they are also the owners of S.U.M. (that means "Soccer United Marketing" for you San Jose fans). And S.U.M. has a contract to promote Mexican team matches in the US, guaranteeing them five games a year through 2010.

And of course they are also the exclusive promoter for US National Team games held in the US.

So when they're divvying up all that lovely money from Wednesday night (over $3 million in ticket sales alone - reportedly the biggest single payday in USSF history) Don Garber's bag man is right there with his hands in the till.