US-Mexico games that count for something, even the CONCACAF Nations League, usually are more than just a result. They are a comment on where each program is at that moment, and most of the time where each is heading. Thursday night’s semifinal may have been the most definitive statement on both, including some things that had nothing to do with the game itself. We’ll get through it all, I promise, no matter how long of a road that might be.
We’ll start with Mexico, who were atrocious both on the field and in the stands. It’s not exactly clear what L Tri (that’s their name now until they prove otherwise) was trying to accomplish, both small and big picture. The team on the field never looked threatening, had all of one shot on target that was more of a suggestion, and had no ideas on how to break down a US team that should have been broken down. The US had no defensive midfielder in the lineup, and all of Gio Reyna, Yunus Musah, and Weston McKennie rotated into the deepest midfield role. But none of them are No. 6s, and there should have been, and were, gaps. Mexico couldn’t find any of them with a team of search dogs and a chopper. This was a team without a GPS or any sense of direction.
Big picture, this wasn’t even a transitional Mexico team, which at least would have been an excuse for being completely outclassed. It was not as if Mexico showed up ready to take their lumps as they move to a new generation who at least would get some experience and lessons for the bigger battles in 2024 and 2026. Only two of the 10 outfield players were under 25. Where is this going in three years?
Of course, the one tradition this Mexico side was able to carry on was acting like Veruca Salt on a coke binge (the character, not the band, though the band could very well have been anything on a coke binge too back in the day) when it was clear they were getting their ass kicked up and around to their chin. César Montes kicked off the pants-pissing with the most petulant kick-out at Falorin Balogun in recent memory.
From there the rest of the Mexican team spent half an hour kicking and shoving and yelling at anything that moved, because they certainly couldn’t accomplish anything that involved the ball. They were lucky to only lose by three and finish the game 9-on-9 because CONCACAF REFEREEING dictated that the US had to get two red cards as well simply for vibes. Had this match been reduced to 11-on-9 in the US’s favor, which it should have been, Mexico could have lost by a touchdown and deservedly so.
But as is also Mexican soccer tradition, the only thing more deplorable than the team’s performance was that of the fans in the stands. Not only did they repeatedly throw objects at US players once the game was gone, but they insisted on continuing their decades-long fascination with a homophobic chant after every goal kick. This caused the ref, Ivan Barton, to pause the match once near second-half injury time, and then call an end to it eight minutes later (and five minutes early) when it was clear the Mexican fans that were left weren’t going to stop.
This is Mexico now, and has been for a while. A giant in the sport only in their own mind, having accomplished exactly nothing and yet unable to come to terms with the fact they need a complete rethink. Yet another manager, Diego Cocca this time, has been unable to control their players once things go sideways nor provide any ideas on how to keep those things from going sideways. That’s all mirrored by a fanbase that refuses to learn anything, and a federation that refuses to control them, meaning they never get properly punished in a fashion that might cause any changes. It’s all ass.
As for the USMNT, it’s been a long while since they simply outclassed an opponent, as they did here. Christian Pulisic might have gone down with the worst miss in recent USMNT history, but was able to make amends only a few minutes later when Mexico decided to play him through themselves.
The US weren’t particularly great in the first half when Mexico was employing a straight back five, but nor did they ever look out of control. Once that plan didn’t work for Mexico, they came out in the second half pressing. Well, pressing exactly once, because once they did, the US came up with this:
How easy was that?
Certainly the US showed a togetherness and flashes of some real tidy and occasionally glitzy football, while also more often than it should have getting too cute by half. Falorin Balogun made his national team debut, and showed a couple nice touches and intelligent runs while still very much looking like he has some fitting in to do. Tim Weah was a menace, Pulisic was probably the best player on the field, and Miles Robinson was able to settle seamlessly back into his centerback spot after his Achilles injury. All good news. As this team has always been, capable of wonder while being too splotchy to ever consistently put it together.
Gregg Berhalter getting his job back?
As was the theme of the night, there was major news for the USMNT off the field too, as US Soccer did something of a Friday afternoon news dump with reports leaking out that Gregg Berhalter is in fact getting his job back.
It would be high comedy if not so predictably moronic for US Soccer to spend six months and the cost of a search firm to only land on the guy who already had the job when the process started. Certainly the bar I was in contained a fair amount of groans as the news spread during the first half. Berhalter isn’t an inspiring choice, but he’s also not an awful one. He has the players’ backing, he has his strengths (and weaknesses). He also provides an easy out, if US Soccer was ever in the mood to pay a coach to go away. If Berhalter presides over a complete fuck up in next summer’s Copa America, chucking him would be far more explicable and easier than someone who was hired only a year before. That tournament is a prime opportunity for Berhalter to show some tactical growth, as the US should only really be losing to Argentina or Brazil. If he doesn’t the path should be clear (rhymes with Rep Fartiola).
Boy, that’s a lot to cram into 90 minutes, huh?
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate to watch him crow about how Luca de la Torre is actually better than McKennie anyway.
Original source here
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