When I called my cable company to order the soccer channel, the operator said: “No problem, let me connect you to a Spanish-speaking operator.” “Um...” I said, “I’ve been speaking English to you for the last five minutes.” The answer came back in broken Spanish: “Te transferencia. Un momento, por favor.”
Central America loves soccer more than the United States. That’s indisputable. No matter the outcome, this U.S.-Mexico match will be recapped ad nauseam on Spanish-language television for the next several days. They’ll talk about it constantly on that one show, what’s it called...you know, the one with the ridiculously hot woman and the guy with the slicked-back hair? Let’s hope for the Ridiculously Hot Woman’s sake that Mexico wins; if they do, she’ll be spared the impossible task of conducting a sobering tactical analysis while wearing a glittery halter-top. In the States, win or lose, this match will be the third highlight on Sportcenter, after NFL draft coverage and a guy catching a foul ball in his beer.
They’ve announced the starting lineups, and there’s a big surprise: Freddy Adu is in the eleven for the U.S. This is a pretty big gamble on Bob Bradley’s part. I’m going to level with you: I don’t catch a lot of Rizespor matches; if I’m watching Turkish second-division soccer, I’m a Gungoren Belediyespor man all the way. So I don’t know what kind of form Freddy is in. All I had to go off of was the 25 minutes he played against Panama. He looked pretty good, but you know who else looked pretty good in 25 minutes against Panama? Eddie Johnson. He scored a hat trick against them in 2004. So, 25 minutes against Panama is what scientists would call a “small sample size”.
The full lineup: Howard | Lichaj, Bocanegra, Goodson, Cherundolo | Jones, Bradley | Donovan, Dempsey, Bedoya | Adu. That’s the eleven; I honestly have no idea how they’ll line up. I think maybe Donovan and Adu will be up top.
Here’s kickoff, and that gentle nausea that accompanies big national team matches is bubbling deep in my stomach. Why do I consider this fun?
1’ - Because this match is being played in the Rose Bowl, it has the look of the 1994 World Cup Final or the 1999 Women’s final, except with fewer rat tails and sports bras.
5’ - Bradley gets his pocket picked, and Dos Santos fires just wide. Giveaways are never good, but against a team like Mexico they can cost you the game in a flash.
7’ - GOAL USA! Bradley off a corner kick! We knew we had an advantage on set pieces, and there it is! Adu with a well-taken corner, and Bradley makes a near post run and flicks it in! Didn’t Mexico watch any tape? That’s the same corner kick we’ve been running the entire tournament.
10’ - Uh oh...Cherundolo is injured and is coming out. This is bad. Bornstein is coming in. Oh, man. That’s a downgrade. I don’t love this move, but honestly: I don’t absolutely hate it either. Because look at your options: you could put Ream in the center and slide Bocanegra left (that’s what I’d do), but Ream hasn’t set the house on fire recently and Bocanegra isn’t a good match for Barrera on the right. You could also do a one-for-one with Spector on the right, but Spector seems like the type of player who would get eaten alive by Mexico’s speed. Is Timmy Chandler somewhere in the crowd? Paging Timmy Chandler...
12’ - My feelings on Jonathan Bornstein can be paraphrased by what John Wayne said about President Kennedy: “I didn’t vote for him but he’s my President, and I hope he does a good job.”
14’ - Chicharito in alone on goal, but narrowly called offside. Mexico look dangerous; I seriously doubt one goal will be enough.
17’ - We see a closeup of Lichaj, and he already looks gassed. He’s done a lot of chasing.
21’ - I would describe the U.S.-Mexico fan split in the stadium this way: if Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) were in attendance, he would have a panic attack.
23’ - GOAL USA! Donovan! Very, very well-worked goal: Adu keeps possession and finds Dempsey, who slots in Donovan, and Donovan shows again why he’s the most hated non-drug lord in Mexico. 2-0! Mexico dominate possession, but we strike on a set piece and a counter. This is every U.S.-Mexico match in the last 10 years.
27’ - Torres coming on for Salcido...maybe someone who knows the Mexican team can correct me, but isn’t this basically like-for-like? In the 27th minute? Has Salcido (someone I’m very familiar with at Fulham) really been that bad?
29’ - GOAL MEXICO! 2-1! It felt like that was going to come, but I wish it hadn’t come so soon...and in such a stupid way. That was just a throw in, a long ball, and a finish. Not hard at all. Hate to say it, but Bornstein was at fault there — he completely lost Barrera.
32’ - Donovan gets an “I haven’t given a yellow card yet” card from the referee. Very soft.
35’ - GOAL MEXICO! 2-2! Ugh...I don’t want to describe this one, except to point out that the move that beat Bornstein wasn’t a stepover or the elastico, it was a slight touch to the side.
38’ - Adu just got kicked in the head as he slid in for a tackle. Unfortunately, Cobi Jones was not on hand to provide a first-hand account of what it’s like to receive head trauma from the Mexican team.
41’ - Now Marquez is going off with what looks like a hamstring problem. Four goals, three subs...this is a crazy first half.
45’ - Dos Santos shoots just wide. Lichaj keeps playing people onside.
Half time. Mexico had the better of play in the first half, but psychologically it’s the U.S. who will feel that they should have done better. I hate to say it, but this feels like the match against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final: when we went up 2-0, my feeling was “I guess there’s a 50-50 chance that two will be enough.”
46’ - How intense is this match? No honey shots from Fox Soccer yet.
49’ - GOAL MEXICO! 3-2! It’s Barrera with an excellent finish. Nearest U.S. player...you guessed it: Jonathan Bornstein. Now is a good time to point out that Bornstein played well in the last World Cup. So...yeah, remember the good times.
57’ - Freddy is fouled, giving the U.S. a set piece from about 30 yards out. Nobody will criticize Bradley’s decision to start Freddy — he’s been our best player.
58’ - Freddy takes the free kick well, but Talavera makes the save.
59’ - Dempsey off the crossbar! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! We deserved a goal there! I hate this game!
62’ - Agudelo is coming in for Bedoya. We’re so thin up top, that’s just about the only move that could have been made.
66’ - Dempsey is up top with Agudelo, and Donovan (the right-footer) is playing on the left while Adu (the left-footer) is playing on the right. Neither are serving crosses into the box. Inverted wingers are to the 2010s what feathered hair was to the 1980s: 20 years later, we’re going to look back and have absolutely no idea what we were thinking.
73’ - U.S. having a better spell but not creating any great chances.
76’ - GOAL MEXICO! Ooooohhhhh...this one’s a heartbreaker. I’m not going to describe it — you saw the clip. That image of Lichaj jumping for that softly floating ball will probably stick in my brain for decades.
79’ - Bradley laces a volley just wide! That was it — that was exactly what we needed, except on the other side of the post!
80’ - I hate when referees do this: he awarded the free kick, but then delayed the quick restart so that he could give the player who committed the foul a yellow card. Gee, thanks...now the defense is set up. Couldn’t that be considered advantage — I’d rather have the quick restart than the yellow card.
85’ - Kljestan on for Adu. Adu is gassed because this is the first full match he’s played since the 2006 MLS Eastern Conference semifinal (that’s only barely hyperbole).
86’ - Goodson can’t redirect a set piece on frame! This feels like the end of the 2006 U.S.-Ghana match: it’s hard for me to get excited about one because somehow I just can’t see us getting two.
90’ + 1’ - Donovan centers, but no-one’s there. It’s over.
90’ + 2:50. The referee proves once again that stoppage time is made up by blowing the whistle before the amount of time that he himself said would be played has been played. I admit: a pretty slim reed for an argument, but that’s all I have left. That’s what I’m going with: we would have scored two in that missing 10 seconds. We got jobbed.
FULL TIME. Bottom line: Mexico won because they’re a better team right now and they played the better game. When we were beating Mexico in the early 2000s, I felt it was because we were the better team. But right now, I think that Mexico are the better team. Dos Santos and Barrera were outstanding. Chicharito didn’t have his best game, but he was still good. Guardado was good. The defense was good enough. Mexico are a quality side. We, on the other hand, are fine, but I don’t feel like this team is in a high ebb at the moment. Our lineup tonight was basically the same team that we had at the World Cup minus Jozy (who is clearly our best striker), and Bocanegra and Cherundolo are a year older. Bradley isn’t in his best form — he hadn’t played in months before this tournament. Donovan, for whatever reason, did not play his best. Jones in place of Clark is the only clear upgrade. And I hate to say it, but when Bornstein came in for Cherundolo, that was a pivotal moment in the game. Let’s be realistic: the Mexican team is basically the Primera Division all-star team. Bornstein currently rides the bench for Tigres. When LeBron James schools the 10th man for the Toronto Raptors at the Olympics, nobody acts surprised. Let’s not be so shocked about the way this turned out.
Tim Howard: 4.5. Didn’t distinguish himself on the play that led to the fourth goal, and I wonder if he could have done better on the third one. Did a good job a couple of times not giving up rebounds.
Lichaj: 3. Kyle Martino kept saying that Lichaj was “out of position” at right back, but he’s right-footed and plays right back at the club level. His main problem was staying behind the line and keeping players onside, which has nothing to do with which side of the field he’s on.
Bocanegra: 5. Was solid defensively; Mexico eventually gave up trying to beat him in the air. But his clearances were poor. Here’s a disturbing thought: when you’re putting together a back line for the U.S., the first names you pen in are Bocanegra and Cherundolo. They’re both 32.
Goodson: 4. Had trouble coping with the speed of Mexico’s attack. In 2009, we were all dreaming of a pre-injury Onyewu/pre-Serbia Subotic center back pairing, and it’s a bit tough to accept that fact that that was only a dream and a solid-but-not-spectacular guy like Goodson is our reality.
Cherundolo: 50. He looks really good by comparison.
Bornstein: 2. I don’t want to pile on — you saw it. He seems like a good guy, and he’ll bounce back. But he needs to show well at the club level before he gets another look.
Jones: 3.5. Far from his best game; he didn’t get forward much, and he didn’t provide enough cover for the back four.
Bradley: 5. Showed lot of initiative — as usual — and took his goal well, but his defense was uncharacteristically spotty.
Donovan: 5.5. Mediocre game, but when he got that ball in space, we all knew it was a goal, didn’t we?
Dempsey: 5.5. I felt that Mexico were keying in on him and Donovan; they would let Adu have some space, but Dempsey had to drop very deep if he wanted to turn. He really missed Altidore out there; Jozy’s presence usually frees up some space for Dempsey to operate.
Bedoya: 4. Didn’t provide the offensive spark the U.S. really could have used. After this tournament, I’m intrigued but not sold. I’ll be interested to see what kind of a 2011/2012 he has.
Adu: 8. If Freddy Adu turns into a legitimate asset for the national team, than that’s probably a bigger boost to our prospects in 2014 than playing in the Confederations Cup. But here’s the bad news: from what I’ve observed, good performances at the international level don’t usually translate into playing time at the club level.
Agudelo: 4. Give him credit: he plays the role he’s been assigned, in this case back-to-goal striker. Unfortunately, he just didn’t play that role very well.
Kljestan: no rating.