A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
EXTRA TIME
EDGAR ZUNIGA - Wednesday, August 12, 2009
For the opportunity to do the impossible.

For the embarrassing loss in the 2009 Gold Cup final.

For the opportunity to add another chapter to this embattled rivalry...

If ever the US needed to beat Mexico in Estadio Azteca, the time is now.

Things are very strange between the US and Mexico right now, and, to be honest, no one knows what to expect when they meet head-on. Mexico's 5-0 thrashing of the US on American soil in the Gold Cup final gave an insecure program a shot in the arm and the Mexicans are bursting with confidence.

However, that confidence is a double-edged sword.

While it was uncomfortable to watch the US get whipped like that at home, it might serve as some modicum of consolation to remember that it was our C squad that got destroyed. The guys heading into Azteca are the same fellas that were able to overcome daunting odds to make it to the final of the Confederations Cup, which gave the US a huge boost of confidence.

Some feel that all the accomplishments of the US National Team went out the window with the massacre at Giants Stadium, but that is foolish thinking. Nevertheless, to return the favor, in the heart of Mexican soccer - Azteca - ah, that would be perfect.

What a way to exorcise the ghosts of Giants Stadium and Mexican dominance at home.

Moreover, the US might actually have the edge in this encounter. The pressure is all on Mexico - to produce the expected result and beat the US again; to win or else sink into deeper anxiety over World Cup qualification; and prove that the Gold Cup championship marks the return of Mexican supremacy in CONCACAF.

For the US, on the other hand, a loss would not be earth-shattering. They would remain in contention for a spot in South Africa 2010 with a match against El Salvador next month, in Sandy, Utah, while Mexico would have to deal with the monsters in Saprissa.

Anything else, however, would be crushing to the Mexican team. A draw would mean two "automatic" points lost at home, and more hand wringing over qualification drama, and, you can bet, a lot of criticism flung at the Mexican federation and coaches.

What about a loss?

Let us just say that hospitals better be on stand-by, because a Mexican loss in Azteca to the US would be equivalent to a massive heart attack to the nation's soccer program and fans. And, of course, a win for the US means their ticket for South Africa is all but booked.

However, when it comes to World Cup qualifying, nothing is ever easy for Team USA. Despite rising to the top of the region and being ranked among the world's best, the US still has a hard time south of the border.

We have the technology to build nuclear bombs but we still cannot figure out a way to enforce regional dominance on the road on a consistent basis. And, if you thought, the US had a hard time in Costa Rica's Saprissa Stadium, they're just as bad (or worse) when they venture into cavernous Azteca, where the US is 0-22-1.

For Mexicans, that alone, is a huge source of pride. To them and the Mexican soccer program, Azteca is more than just a cavernous stadium; it is where visiting teams come to die - an elephant graveyard of sorts. It is Mexico's safe haven and where the team comes to lick its wounds and recover from tough losses on the road.

And, although Mexicans might begrudgingly admit that the US is their greatest threat, they will never concede the US is the best in CONCACAF until they beat Mexico in Azteca.

However, every World Cup qualifying cycle brings about the opportunity to finally break through and seize this feat, which has become the holy grail of US Soccer.

It is a tall order for tall men, and the US has not stood tall in a while.

What about Bob Bradley?

Has Bob learned from the last two tournaments?

The US did make that impressive run to the Confederations Cup final. However, in the eyes of Europeans and other soccer nations, it was just two wins. What about the US C squad reaching the Gold Cup final? That team was doomed from the start, and we all had a feeling deep in our gut that the US probably was not going to be the team hoisting the Gold Cup in the end.

Granted that, in the eyes of many, the US should not have reached the finals in either tournament, they did so powered by the trademark of US Soccer - grit and determination. While Bob gets some credit for finally figuring out the correct formula to send out to the field, one thing has becoming glaringly clear from watching his schemes and formations: He is hesitant to change.

While Brazil made the correct adjustments and suffocated the US defense in the Confederations Cup, Bob made some decisions down the stretch that had us scratching our heads. Then, the same thing happened in the Gold Cup final, with Mexico making the necessary changes, but Bob was clueless as to what to do to stem the tide.

It raises the question again if he is qualified to take this team to the next level.

However, a win over Mexico at Azteca and you can bet Bob gets his own wing at the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

In recent years, we have been expecting better of the US. Forget what you saw at Giants Stadium. That was a fluke.

When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought that they could always be worse. And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad they have to get better.

The rivalry between US and Mexico is one for the ages, and you can expect a fiercely-contested match between two great teams ready to tear each other apart.

For the US, it is time to win.
ICEMANofALFRED
Wednesday August 12, 2009 6:54 pm
Well we lost... OK, reasons we lost: Too much long ball to "somebody" up top, referee cards our entire defense, so they have to be thinking of just who will be the first to be sent prematurely to the showers, and (to paraphrase a well known movie) Forwards...Forwards, we don't have to show you no stinking forwards! ...Hey, it's not the end of the world, but it does bum me out.

Overall, I don't think the selection was all that bad, but the WAY we have tended to play on the road has continually put us in a bind, even when we get a lead we need to realize that, unless it's very near to the end of the match, we must continue to attack and apply pressure to the other team... when you take your foot off the gas, often it's very hard psychologically to restart the attack.

It's clear that our forwards are NOT world class, and this will likely continue to be a problem regardless of just who is coaching the team. But we really must start to hold on to the ball better than we've been doing of late... there just have been too many turn overs and long home run passes that are not over the long hall going to work.

As I've said, this isn't the end of the world, but it's still very disheartening... Sigh!!!
ewm76
Wednesday August 12, 2009 6:15 pm
what a terrible game in all aspects, referee was the worst choice for this game he was bad in the gold cup and bad here, what happened to donovan had no legs, inspiration, creativity, more importantly no heart. bradley again with his questionable choices for the starting lineup, puts boca on the side, demerit in the middle whats he thingking, spector should have been in there with boca in his usuall center, spector played a good confed cup should have continued to keep him. then ching in place of jozy is he trying to lose? jozy played a good confed cup ching not as good against secondary opponents in the gold cup yet he starts? this is ridiculous lets fire him and get an international coach already time is ticking.

im pissed.
Jose
Wednesday August 12, 2009 6:06 pm
I know this going to happen ,, please ,, change de coach now ,, we got first claas players ,, we need first class coach ,,, USA got everything to win today but BB after the goal put everybody next to Howard to early to soon ,,he has no plan,,and don't tell me to educate my self Football is the same everywhere,, why it has to be different here ,,
dave
Wednesday August 12, 2009 3:20 pm
all good things(for mexico)eventually come to a end just like spain's win streak.our boys are riding on a wave of confidence that they never had before.i see a victory usa1-0
Walter
Wednesday August 12, 2009 2:20 pm
Talk about a missed oportunity! Why no television in english? We can watch Germany in english but not one of the biggest games of the year. Yes, we may lose but if we win who will even know it? We have an exclusive soccer channel that will not carry it. IT MAKES NO SENSE!
ICEMANofALFRED
Wednesday August 12, 2009 1:04 pm
Chris, when you say we wouldn't do better with a foreign coach, well... that would really depend on WHICH foreign coach, wouldn't it!? As far as Bob Bradley is concerned, He is our coach... I'm not sure he SHOULD BE, but HE IS OUR COACH. But, he has to improve HIS GAME to remain our coach.
His plan for playing Spain was excellent, I give him full credit for it, but...

His insistence on using players like Beasley when they are clearly "off" their game is a weakness that he has shown... as is his reluctance to use his bench in a timely manner... his 4-3-3 in Costa Rica was a disaster... while his christmas tree formation was too conservative against El Salvador... we had a 30 man roster available for the Gold Cup and still found ourselves short of players in the knockout rounds... these are all things that can be attributed directly to the coach, American or not... I'm not happy to see us rely so much on long ball play, and his tendency to go more for size than for touch, see Conor Casey or Sascha Kljestian over Jose Francisco Torres or Benny Feilhaber, has me deeply concerned.

At least he finally had the sense to include Stuart Holden on his roster, but I'm still not sold on him as our best option as coach... and I fear a repeat of our recent Steve Sampson debacle if we continue, like pollyanna to say that everything will work out for the best... he has been out coached twice in a row in two finals and if he wants the job, well then he should expect some flack coming his way like any other coach of a top level team.
tkm
Wednesday August 12, 2009 12:53 pm
My main concern is WHY is this game not on English language television?? I know it is on Telemundo, but what about the ESPN networks, FSC, even ABC? I emailed US Soccer but didn't receive a response...

Any insight would be appreciated!
Scott
Wednesday August 12, 2009 12:34 pm
I think the guys who were in the Confed Cup don't really care that a bunch of 2nd and 3rd rate guys getting their first few caps got trounced at the Gold Cup final. They may use it as motivation to open a can of whoop-#$% on El Tri as they have faced much tougher squads a couple months ago and are brimming with confidence themselves.

The desire to beat up the bully who whomped on their little brother last month, may help them gut it out when breathing gets tough in the mid and late stages of each half.

Would love to see these teams duke it out in a truly neutral site, I think it would be a game for the ages. Azteca may prove to be too much for the US, however, even though they have the better squad on paper right now.

I agree with any point taken by the US, will cause apoplexy South of the Border.
Bobeto
Wednesday August 12, 2009 10:45 am
I applaud BB for leaving Beas and a few other under-achieving players at home. We have our backs against the wall in Mexico. Will BB approach this game as being happy with a tie? If so...expect another 4-5 goals from Mexico. We have to be aggressive and attack as we have in the recent past vs Mexico. If we put Mexico on their heals early and not roll over, we have a slim chance. Stupid fouls will just slow down the game and he has chosen players that are capable of doing that.

This will be a true test of BB to play intelligent soccer and choose the correct line-up that believe we can win, stay on their feet (offense and defense), don't dive for cheap fouls (for free kicks) ....we are not going to get the calls so don't try... and keep the ball moving (one touch)! I think Klinsman would agree......not sure BB does....
i like tuesday
Wednesday August 12, 2009 9:34 am
@Jose: The program apparently took advice from altitude specialists on how to approach this fixture. It takes longer to fully acclimatise to this altitude (4-5 days) rather than the 2 days the team has available. The biggest problem at altitude is recovery, so the team decided to arrive late instead of training at altitude and having no legs by matchday.

The US needs to start well, play patiently and with composure. However, do not forget that many of Mexico's players also play abroad and have had minimal time to acclimatize. Bob Bradley will need to use his substitutes far more effectively than he has in the past.

Longer term, US Soccer should be lobbying FIFA to enforce minimum acclimatization times at lower altitudes than the current regulations which exempt Mexico City.
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