EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.
When Orson Welles started showing up in ads for wine and frozen peas — and, more famously, in blooper reels for ads for wine and frozen peas — it officially became time to question Orson Welles’s judgement. And when he popped up as a voice in 1986’s low-budget and lowly regarded “The Transformers: The Movie” (which is still arguably the best Transformers movie), then it became undebatable: Orson Welles was a man with suspect decision-making skills.
To me, Juergen Klinsmann’s decision to include Alan Gordon on the U.S. roster instead of Chris Pontius for the team’s friendly this week against Mexico was his frozen peas moment. How could Klinsmann possibly think that Gordon is a better player than Pontius? For that matter, how could he think that DaMarcus Beasley or Brek Shea are in better form than Chris Pontius? That decision was just baffling to me. And I say that as someone who likes Alan Gordon; he ended up looking good in “The Beckham Experiment”. I mean looking good as a person. David Beckham always has a knack for looking good, though in a very different way.
I hope I’m wrong, but I foresee bad things tonight. When I was 10, I broke my Mom’s crystal candy dish and had to wait two hours for her to get home, knowing that the wrath was coming. I have a similar feeling right now. Bad things are coming, and I just hope it’s not too brutal. Mexico has lost only 8 of 119 games at Estadio Azteca, and it’s 23-0-1 against the United States. Those are Harlem Globetrotter-type numbers. Mexico beat the United States convincingly in the Gold Cup. Some of our best players are with their clubs in Europe. I foresee bad things.
Tonight’s lineup: Howard | Castillo, Edu, Cameron, Johnson | Torres, Beckerman, Jones, Williams | Donovan, Gomez. Klinsmann has named a midfield comprising four central midfielders. You know who could provide some width? Chris Pontius.
Here’s kickoff . . .
1’ — Right away, Jones commits a ticky-tacky foul at the top of the box. Welcome to CONCACAF refereeing, Jermaine Jones. You’re not going to like it.
4’ — Gomez was maybe pushed down in the box, but you’re never going to get that call. Here’s something to remember: most countries in CONCACAF hate us. Tonight’s referee is from Panama; we were kind of knobs to Panama about the canal and a host of other things a couple decades ago. I’m sure that when Nixon, the CIA and United Fruit Company were sticking their noses in Central America’s business back in the ’70s, nobody at the table said, “Hey, this is going to cause some really anti-U.S. officiating in soccer matches 40 years from now,” but that has been one of the effects.
13’ — Now Edu gets a yellow for a run-of-the-mill foul. The Mexican players collapse like the Euro the minute you breathe on them.
14’ — Once again, the wall stops the Mexican free kick. I would make a joke about a wall being effective at stopping the Mexicans, but the statement underlying that joke isn’t one I want to make.
18’ — We’re playing like a team that doesn’t want the ball. We’re not executing simple passes, and there are a lot of lazy giveaways. It’s as if when we get the ball we think “this isn’t going to last” and freak out and give it away.
23’ — Possession is 63-37 Mexico.
26’ — Why is Tim Howard dressed like the White Witch of Narnia? I like the new uniforms, but the goalkeeper uniform is a little too Good Humor Man/Ernest Hemingway in Cuba for me.
32’ — I say this every time there’s a U.S. national team game: Stuart Holden will make a huge difference. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that Bolton got relegated and I won’t be able to track him and Tim Ream.
34’ — I half expected Castillo to be torn to shreds, but he is holding his own.
Halftime: 0-0. Well, we hung in there. I’m very happy with the defense; for all its possession, Mexico didn’t have many chances. Mexico’s gold medal-winning soccer team will be honored with a ceremony at halftime, but any American Olympian can tell you: the only honor that means anything is a lucrative endorsement deal.
46’ — Donovan and Torres come off, Boyd and Beasley come on. Some people speculated that Beasley is on the roster partly because he plays in Mexico. Really? Is proximity a consideration? Next time the national team plays at Red Bull Arena, should I expect a call-up? I only live three PATH stops away.
47’ — Jose Torres is subbed off a halftime yet again. Torres reminds me of Lewis Black’s joke about candy corn: We keep going back, only to be disappointed.
50’ — Terence Boyd recently completed a move to Rapid Vienna, occupying a spot vacated by D.C. United’s Hamdi Salihi. So if Boyd succeeds at Rapid Vienna, he’ll be equal to Salihi, who is currently behind Pontius on D.C. United’s depth chart. There, Juergen: I proved it mathematically.
54’ — Mexican fans are shooting laser pointers into Howard’s eyes. I’ve never been to Azteca, but from the reports I’ve read, take the world’s most obnoxious Red Sox fan, catch him on the day after his divorce, deprive him of beer, cigarettes and Denis Leary albums for three days, and you’ll have created a fan about half as ornery and obnoxious as the average Estadio Azteca patron.
55’ — Great last-ditch header from Cameron! He’s been outstanding this match, the best U.S. player.
59’ — Graham Zusi comes on for The Invisible Danny Williams. I learned last week that Zusi’s dad sometimes reads this column. I’ll admit: Knowing that a player’s parents might be reading makes me less likely to criticize. The whole point of the Internet is to allow us to hurl anonymous insults at one another. ANONYMOUS! Humanizing the players makes snark more difficult.
68’ — If you had the 68th minute in the Jermaine Jones Yellow Card pool, you have an astounding amount of faith in Jones, but tonight you win.
75’ — Hernandez sends a header just wide! Of course, he was seven yards out, and Chicharito only scores from inside the six-yard box.
78’ — This game is over. We’ve won. Mexico might still “win,” but we didn’t get blown out and we were able to evaluate some performances (including some good ones: back line, take a bow). If they score one or even two, it doesn’t really matter: we were okay tonight.
79’ — GOAL USA! Orozco Fiscal gives the United States the lead in the 79th minute, just like we all predicted! It started with a weird, disjointed-but-effective fun from Shea, followed by nice work from Boyd to keep the play alive, and Orozco-Fiscal was in the right place at the right time! Wow . . . maybe tonight is the night we finally break through at Azteca!
84’ — Howard makes a save off a deflected shot! Now is a good time to mention that Howard’s 2011/2012 Everton team gave up more deflected goals than any team I have seen in my life. Silvain Distin surely won the golden shinpad last year.
88’ — Another great save from Howard! I’ve ditched the “it’s just a friendly” mantra that I’ve been repeating to myself all day; now that we might win, I suddenly care about the result.
Full time: 1-0 USA!
We finally did it: we won at Azteca! The only thing that feels better than winning is winning while being a huge buzzkill during your rival’s celebration. We are the turd in Mexico’s punch bowl.
Howard: 8. Always remember: You don’t get any points for possession, and goalkeepers are part of the team, too. So save me the excuses, Mexican fans.
Castillo: 6.5. I am shocked by how well he played. I did not think he was up for the challenge.
Cameron: 7.5. Great game, breakout game. I just hope he gets playing time at Stoke.
Edu: 7. My beef with Edu has always been his hit-and-miss distribution. But as a center back, his distribution is above average.
Johnson: 6.5. He is becoming Gallant to Timmy Chandler’s Goofus.
Torres: 3.5. We’ve had a lot of looks at him. We know who he is. He should not be a candidate for the starting 11.
Beckerman: 5.5. Klinsmann and I agree on this: Beckerman is part of the equation in central midfield.
Jones: 5. Between Jones, Bradley, Edu and Williams, we have plenty of candidates for the “bad cop” role in central midfield. But who provides the offense?
Williams: 3. As usual, he was played out of position, but that excuse is starting to wear thin.
Donovan: 5. Amazing: we finally won against Mexico, and the worst thing to hit Mexico since the Chupacabra was barely part of it.
Gomez: 3.5. Gomez needed to summon his inner Jack Shephard and find a way off that island he was on.
Beasley: 5. Not bad, though he usually puts in a better defensive effort.
Boyd: 5.5. He still goes good play, bad play, good play, bad play, but that’s normal for a young player.
Zusi: 10. You get 4.5 bonus points if your dad is a reader.
Shea: 6. Of course the guy who everyone thought shouldn’t be on the roster creates the goal.
Orozco Fiscal: 6. If that goal re-ignites Klinsmann’s Orozco Fiscal obsession, then it wasn’t worth it.
Corona: No rating.
Twellman: 7. We finally have a quality American color commentator.