If losing to Barcelona 5-0 wasn’t bad enough, the news got worse for Deportivo La Coruña. Andres Guardado, their star winger, and Mexico’s best player, sustained a ruptured tendon in his left leg and will be out 6 weeks. Bad news for Depor, who need Guardado to solidify their precarious position in the La Liga table, and they also are poised for a run at the UEFA Cup. Worse news for Mexico. They lose their most consistent and dangerous player a few weeks before the Hex fires up in Columbus.
Add Guardado to the growing list of no-shows. Carlos Vela is out because of a very infantile red card he received vs. Honduras. Ditto Gerardo Torrado, who got two yellows in the same game. Jonny Magallon, who had played in every tri game since Hugo’s debut, is still recovering from a broken arm he sustained in the Súper Clásico. Hector Moreno broke his foot while helping AZ in Holland reach the top of the table in the Eredivisie. Omar Arellano, Chivas’ bright young star, is out injured. Rafa Marquez has been slowed by injuries and has not played as much since the Christmas break. The European expats are busy tearing it up on the bench.
So when the inevitable happens, and Mexico loses, are the excuses already pre-ordained? Our stars are injured. Our guys aren't seeing enough action in Europe. It was too cold. The field conditions were less than ideal. The ref, the ref... again with the ref. My favorite: we deserved to win, we just didn't score.
Even if Mexico was at full strength, they would have a hard time beating the US in Columbus. The US has clearly shown over the past decade that when they play Mexico, the US is the better side. Meanwhile, Mexico stubbornly clings to the notion that they are the Giants of Concacaf, and no one in the region, including the US, is worth their time, effort, or respect. That attitude has cost Mexico several tickets to the Olympics, and nearly cost them a spot in this Hex. Their excuses seem to place blame on everyone and everything else but themselves.
Personally, I think Mexico and the US are very evenly matched. The US, however, holds a huge psychological edge over Mexico because they know that beating Mexico, while it barely registers in the US, resonates through Mexico like a powerful earthquake. The country’s psyche falls over like a house of cards, and the players have yet to show that they can handle that pressure. This time around, there is no question that the US will be fielding a stronger side and should be heavy favorites to win. That might just work in Mexico’s favor.
Mexico inconsistent play over the years has driven their fans absolutely loco. They are the classic case of playing to the level of their opponents. But one role that Mexico does relish, much like the US, is the role of underdog. Mexico is at its best when they have to climb the mountain, not defend it from invaders. Getting a result in Columbus is a tall order indeed. But if the hunted has indeed turned into the hunter, then Mexico may be able to scratch out a result.
Mexico will not have Andres Guardado for their first three crucial games. But they only need to look toward his team for motivation. He was injured last right about at this time last year when Depor was flirting with the relegation zone. His team did not fold up their tents and descend; they went on a roll, climbed out of the drop zone and ended up qualifying for Europe. Perhaps it is Mexico's turn to bottle up that lightning. But if they don't, the noise you hear sure won't be thunder.