EDGAR ZUNIGA - Monday, July 25, 2011
In a clear cash-grab, the US Soccer Federation announced shortly after the forgettable CONCACAF Gold Cup final that the US would be getting another taste of Mexico in August...or is it the other way around?
Seems that way, since Mexico devoured the US-shoes, shin guards and Tim Howard's gloves, as well.
This time, instead of being diced up in enchiladas and street tacos in Los Angeles, the US is gonna be the key ingredient in a Philly jalapeño-cheesesteak with some Bob Bradley Soft Pretzels and Sunil Gulati Dipping Sauce on the side, as the best rivalry in CONCACAF heads to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia.
Makes you wonder how much love the Mexican fans are willing to give the home team-not Mexico, of course, but the actual home team.
Giving the recently repaired YA Magic 8-Ball a shake, it reads, "Outlook not so good."
Ah, Magic 8-Ball, what about the USA's chances against the hungry Mexican team?
"Better not tell you now."
While Mexico is sure to give Bob & Co. another difficult time, this time around the result, really doesn't matter. Even if the US manages to win at Lincoln Financial Field, it really won't mean much since Mexico owns the region and the Gold Cup.
Nevertheless, the US could benefit from playing Mexico again. The players get another opportunity to see a decent opponent display creativity and finesse in an effective manner. Bob can once again stand stoically by the bench and stare off into nothingness, as usual.
Meanwhile, in between stroking their bruised egos, the members of the US Soccer Federation should be pressed to take notes on how to put together a good program and get results by making good use of all the resources available to you.
As long as our players don't follow the example set forth by the Mexican U-22s and their foolish philandering, it should be a great learning experience for the US, overall.
With Mexico back atop the CONCACAF mole hill, it doesn't hurt to pay attention to what the Mexican Football Federation is doing right.
It also wouldn't hurt to pay attention to the Mexican Primera Division, where you can find several Americans toiling, including a few that are quite the big deal south of the border.
The league isn't as foreign as you would expect and there are some similarities to Major League Soccer.
Unlike most professional soccer leagues, the Primera Division season is split into two championships every year. However, beginning with the 2011-12 Apertura season, the league will switch from three groups of six teams to a single table. At the end of the season, the top eight teams qualify to a two-legged playoff format (including the final), to determine the champion.
MLS has done well to grow since its foundation in 1996, but it still falls short of matching the level of play in Mexico. Some MLS pundits want to believe that our league is up to par with Mexico's, but it is not quite there yet-as Jason Kreis and Real Salt Lake learned in the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Although there are some MLS teams that have enjoyed varying degrees of success against Mexican teams, that supremacy is short-lived and Mexican teams always come back, hungrier and more determined to defeat the American squads.
Once again, it doesn't hurt to take a peek over the fence and check out our neighbors' yard. Don't let the loud music and carne asada fool you, the league is serious business and there is quality soccer played in Mexico.
Also, as mentioned earlier, there are a few Yanks to follow, including some future hopefuls.
First up, for the masochists out there, you can check out Jonathan Bornstein as he tries to reclaim a spot in the starting 11 with Tigres. At one point a starter, Bornstein has had some competition at midfield and has been struggling for minutes. But I thought he was a left back? Never mind...he still has Bob in his corner. Shrug.
On the flip side, you'll find Herculez Gomez, whose 10 goals for Puebla in 2010 tied for the league lead, marking the first time an American led a foreign league in goals. Since then, Herc has gone from Pachuca to Estudiantes Tecos, where he currently plays.
Of course, you'll notice that he wasn't on the US roster in the Gold Cup. Way to go, Bob.
One of the most storied teams in Mexican soccer, Club America also has a pair of Americans on the roster. Well, sort of.
On one hand, you have Edgar Castillo, who was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico but somehow ended up playing for (Old) Mexico from August 2007 to May 2009. None of those were senior-level international matches, however.
Funny, though, when Castillo was actually called up to play World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica in Mexico City and against Honduras in San Pedro Sula, in both cases, he was unable to travel to either game because he had somehow misplaced his Mexican passport.
Later that year, Castillo suddenly had a change of heart, proclaiming he would rather represent the nation where he was born and lives, switching to the US National Team, eventually making his debut in a friendly against Denmark on November 18, 2009. Except it was a sub appearance. At midfield.
In doing so, Castillo became the first player since Martin Vasquez to earn caps for both Mexico and the US.
On the other hand, there is teammate Isaac Acuña, who was born in Calexico, California but has played for the Mexican U-22 squad and is listed as a Mexican international. But, with Castillo by his side, you never know, and Acuña might follow his example and end up playing with his country of birth.
Another Yank worth noting is Pachuca's Jose Francisco Torres who has not seen any playing time with the US since a dreadful performance against Slovenia in the group stage of last summer's World Cup. Despite that particular game, Torres had otherwise played well for the US, so it was a bit of a surprise he didn't get a call-up to the 2011 Gold Cup squad.
Then, there are other Americans trying to make their mark with their respective teams, such as Adrian Ruelas and Frankie Lopez with Jaguares de Chiapas, Joe Corona with newly ascended Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles De Caliente (try saying that fast three times in a row), Michael Orozco Fiscal with San Luis F.C. and some fella named DaMarcus Beasley who recently made the move from Hannover 96 to Puebla.
It's the latest stop on the Beasley World Tour and Puebla will be looking for him to be a major player this season. While Beasley is no stranger to US Soccer fans, it'll be interesting to see how he does in the Primera Division. So far, he's off to a good start, having scored a goal in his unofficial debut against Monterrey in the Copa Tijuana and looking fresh against Atlas during this past weekend's opening match.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can dig deeper to the Liga de Ascenso (second division) and seek out Marco Vidal with Club Leon and Joaquin Alonso with Indios de Ciudad Juarez.
So, there you have it. A group of brave YAs playing in "enemy territory," worth watching.
If you do get around to watching them, you'll notice that the Mexican league is pretty strong. This is a league where you either swim hard or sink fast, but, with two championships per season, allows room for improvement within a moderate amount of time. Not to mention possible Copa Libertadores action.
While you'll find the usual suspects vying for the championship season after season, there are no clear favorites and the competition is brutal.
With Mexico on top, it's time to take notes.
It would be foolish to expect US Soccer to magically rebound from the last 12 months and challenge Mexico for the CONCACAF mole hill, but at least the US can try to emulate Mexico's example and try to catch up before Mexico takes a further step into international glory.
In case you missed it, Mexico just won the Under-17 World Cup - their second in the past six years. If you paid close attention, you'd have noted that several members of the 2005 edition just schooled our veterans for the Gold Cup. So you can expect Carlos Fierro, Arturo Gonzalez and Giovani Casillas to be kicking the USA's butt in the 2017 Gold Cup.
But, if you're the US Soccer Federation, you just gotta stay the course and everything will fix itself and work out just fine.
Now, who wants some of Bob's Soft Pretzels and Gulati Dipping Sauce?