US Glitters, But Is Not Gold

Posted on August 16, 2012 1:58 am

Well, Landon Donovan did say it was easy to win in Mexico.

So, interesting week in CONCACAF.  Mexico is now pretty much the world leader in youth soccer, which is bad enough – but the last thing the US needed was Mexico winning the Olympics.  Mexico was dangerous enough, but I liked them better when they didn’t believe they could win an important tournament.  Self-confident Mexico makes me a sad fan.

And the US, so recently an afterthought after ten years of dominating the rivalry – well, out of pretty much nowhere they win in the toughest road gig west of anywhere.  Turns out the US women’s team aren’t the only ones with hope.  (I should be shot.)

Before the game, Keller and Lalas made a great point – why DID Mexico give the US this game?  They couldn’t have known the US was going to be greeting the Olympic gold medalists – that was just a fortunate coincidence.  The US wasn’t supposed to be getting anything out of this except cash – and, seeing as it wasn’t a sellout, not as much as they had hoped.  And in theory the US could have gotten its second-string some incomparable experience.  There’s nowhere on earth that can replicate the Azteca atmosphere, since the LA Coliseum is at sea level.  [Corrected a misleading term - plenty of stadiums are high, man, but only Azteca combines heat, smog, and number of raging fans on top.]

I’m sorry – apart from that insight, Keller and Lalas were flailing.  Greatest rivalry in the hemisphere?  To say Mexico-US is better than Brazil-Argentina is pretty much insane.  You don’t really need to oversell this rivalry, let alone by insulting our intelligence.

And all this “Gap?  What gap?” nonsense is fanboyism that would be laughed off these forums.  Alexi and Kasey have earned the right to say “we” when it comes to the USMNT, but that still doesn’t make knee-jerk rah-rah into proper analysis.  ”We’re behind Mexico” is a perfectly valid thing to admit, what with all those nasty facts, and Taylor Twellman shouldn’t have been the only one to say so.

I didn’t even know what color the Azteca’s seats were before this – turns out they’re red.  And oh, look, the Club America logo.  If Mexico has to lose to the US, this was the game to do it.  A mere blot in the Olympic afterglow, in a game that meant nothing to the home team, with the US wearing stupid shirts that they’ll have to see on video clips for all time.  Hell, it wasn’t even a real game, “just” a “friendly.”  Had this happened three years ago, it would have probably come close to costing Mexico its first World Cup berth since 1990.  This week?  Shiny gold medals, five rings.  There isn’t much that overcomes winning in the other guy’s citadel, but the Olympics are on that list.

Which I suppose is marketing for you – I would have nodded at a U-23 World Cup in, but for some reason adding the Olympic prestige makes it a significant trophy, in the way that the 1999 Confederations Cup really doesn’t measure up to.  Yes, the Olympics are largely a steroid-fueled literal and figurative orgy – no wonder the US was disappointed to miss it – that does not count in the larger FIFA picture.  There’s still a cachet to “Olympic gold medalist” that no mere youth tournament can approach.  They don’t just hand those things to, I dunno, Kim Kardashian’s stepdad or something.

Also…bad game.  Especially from Mexico, obviously, but the US looked like a team that – well, had won exactly no times in Azteca before this.  Because this wasn’t Mex in the Hex, we saw players who…you hate to say holding back, but, this is the first time, probably ever, that the Mexican team would have been tempted to worry about club form, not getting injured and screwing up their season, and so forth.  Chepo isn’t going to make random substitutions at halftime when it matters, either.  And if we care to take on Mexico in real games with none of Bradley, Donovan or Dempsey on the field, I’m sure they’d be delighted.  Or if we’re tempted to give Orozco Fiscal a starting gig based on this game, Mexico will soon have a reason to be ecstatic.

The real significance of this game is psychological – the US can win in Mexico.  There are more asterisks to that statement than in a Beetle Bailey-Sarge fight, but the US knows they can do it.  Can they do it in a proper game?  Why not?  We broke into Fort Knox, and got away with it.  So what if we only looted the gift shop.

Okay, because Mexico is still a lot deeper and better, and this game was a fluke among flukes.  That stadium is still going to be a hundred miles high and full of a million bloodthirsty Aztecs demanding beating hearts for their sun god…but from now on, we will go in knowing Everest can be climbed, the mile can be run in four minutes, and the US can win in Azteca.  The gap hasn’t been closed, by any means.  The US now simply has reason to believe, or at least hope, they can leap over it.

And that’s great.  That really is.  I’d trade today’s win for Olympic gold in a millisecond…but not an Azteca Hexagonal win.  And this game made an important win seem attainable.  I’m not going to dismiss the psychological importance of the US win.

Which may not be as much as we think, but it’s a lot more than the US had, and it’s an awful lot more than I thought the US would get out of this game.  Lalas, Keller and Twellman were right; Mexico should never have scheduled this match.

Hey, you know who might end up being useful?  This Geoff Cameron guy.

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