“In My Opinion……….”

Ray Alley

The message sent out on Twitter from US Soccer was a simple one. #YoureWelcomeMexico. It went out after the U.S. had scored a pair of extra time goals to beat Panama 2-1 in the 10th and final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
That victory knocked Panama out of fourth place in the final CONCACAF hexagonal standings. At stake was a home-and-home series against New Zealand. The winner will advance to the 2014 FIFA World Cup next year. With that loss, Mexico finished fourth despite losing 2-1 on the road against Costa Rica. Mexico qualified for the play-in series with 11 points in 10 games, winning only twice.
Some Mexican sports announcers who were watching the games on split screen got caught up in the moment and declared, “We love you! We love you forever and ever! God bless America.”
We’ll see how long that lasts!
Until Graham Zusi tied the game two minutes into extra time, and Aron Johannsson won it a minute later, Mexico was out of the World Cup.
Yes, by winning, the U.S. men gave Mexico a lifeline to earn their way into the World Cup. But they didn’t set out to do their biggest regional rival any favors. They did what they had trained to do. Win t[show_disconnected][show_to accesslevel=’Subscriber’]he game.
None of Mexico’s players or coaches echoed the announcers’ love for their Northern neighbors. Certainly, their fans must have been relieved.
At the very least, perhaps they won’t boo our national anthem quite as loudly in Mexico City the next time we play in Azteca.
There was a time when fans of El Tri tossed batteries from the stands at the U.S. players when games were scheduled in California. They threw worse. Balloons filled with…….well you can imagine.
They don’t throw those things any more at games between the two rivals in California, where a pro-Mexico crowd always filled the stands. We no longer play Mexico in California. Columbus, Ohio, is the venue of choice.
Certainly, there are fans of the U.S. men’s national team who would have just as soon Mexico not qualify. Actually, they didn’t do enough to earn their way in. Surely, they realize they backed into the play-in series.
Mexico hasn’t failed to qualify since 1990, and it is said that they could lose as much as $600 million if they don’t advance to Brazil.
And there is no guarantee that they will qualify. New Zealand, which drew 1-1 with Italy in the 2010 World Cup, is no pushover. And Mexico’s team at the moment is a train wreck.
After losing to Costa Rica, the Mexican federation made another coaching change. Miguel Herrera became the fourth national coach since the hexagonal began in February. Victor Manuel Vucetich lasted only two games.
No guarantee that Herrera can turn things around. The players will have to do that.
But enough about Mexico.
The U.S. has qualified for its seventh consecutive World Cup, and finished first in the CONCACAF standings. Ranked #13 in the FIFA World Rankings, the U.S. is just outside consideration for a World Cup seed.
Seven teams, plus host Brazil, will be the eight seeded teams when the World Cup draw is held Dec. 6 in El Salvador.
There is no way to predict if we will get a good draw or be drawn into what is likely to be more than one Group of Death. We will wait and see.
But at least after the draw, we will know what we are facing in Brazil. Either way, the road through any World Cup draw is difficult.
It looks like U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has changed the attitude and personality of the national team. No so long ago, it is unlikely that the team would have scored twice in extra time to get the win. Maybe this group is more driven, and with continued improvement, perhaps they can grind out games to get a positive result.
That is what it takes to win World Cup games. You earn no points for close losses. There are no trophies for moral victories.
Klinsmann has a deep pool of players who understand that no one is going to give them anything. His message is to be hungry and earn the right to wear the jersey.
Against Panama, most of the U.S. players on the field were not regular starters. And it showed as they appeared disjointed…..but they won!
In the runup to selection time for the U.S. roster, much will depend on who is playing well with their respective club teams, and the health of the players. Also, injuries can impact roster selections.
But winning breeds confidence, and confidence is very important.
There was a time not so long ago that Mexico was “the big cat” in the region. Now it is the U.S. MNT.
We often joke about “siete Vidas del gato” (a cat’s nine lives). In Mexico some say a cat has only seven.
Whatever the number is, it would appear that the cat called El Tri has used up all but one.
We’re in the World Cup. They are not yet there. Can they beat New Zealand in the series?
There will be no help from the U.S. this time.

Author: ray@southernsoccerscene.com

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