Soccer Outsider: USA vs. Mexico match diary

March 28, 2013

Team USA refused to back down in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Mexico City. (Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Of all the stories about the difficulty of playing in Azteca, there’s one I can’t get out of my head: the one about fans throwing bags of urine. Yes, that’s right: fans have been known to throw bags filled with urine at players. According to former national team player Rick Davis, it was gallon bags of urine. Gallons! As a comedian, I’ve seen most things thrown at my fellow performers: water bottles, ashtrays, votive candles, the drink specials (any club that puts its drink specials in those hard, plastic, stand-up casings should be cited for reckless endangerment). But let me say this: if anyone ever throws a bag of urine at me, I am out. I could be filming my HBO special the next day; it doesn’t matter, one bag of urine – or bottle of urine, box of urine, sourdough bread bowl of urine, anything – and I am done.

But the urine is only one obstacle the USA need to overcome at Azteca: there’s also the altitude (7,200 feet, which is 89,000 pesos), smog, heat, and noise. And also a pretty good Mexican team. But here’s the thing: the smog has improved in recent years. We’ve been training at altitude. The game-time weather isn’t bad (temperature at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1,800 pesos). This Mexican team isn’t in great shape. The conditions are right for the USA to succeed at Azteca.

Tonight’s lineup: Guzan | Beasley, Besler, Gonzalez, Cameron | Gomez, Edu, Bradley, Zusi | Dempsey, Altidore. Edu comes in for the injured Jones, which I’ll complain about later. The big story is Matt Besler getting his second cap in place of the injured Clarence Goodson. Besler went to Notre Dame; let’s hope the thing about the Irish not showing up for big games only applies to the football team.

Here’s kickoff from a “sold out” crowd at Estadio Azteca. Sold out? Um…I guess a lot of fans are in the bathroom filling up those bags of urine.

6’ - Good start from the U.S., which we need. I strongly suspect Mexico wants to score early and take the pressure off themselves.

7’ - Beasley picks up a yellow card and gives away a free kick right outside the box. We should be able to dominate set pieces. In the history of this rivalry, we’ve done exactly that. We have such a huge height advantage that we should win everything in the air.

9’ - The linesman flags for a penalty for Mexico, but the ref doesn’t give it! I agree with the ref: it was off the ball, and Chicharito was looking for contact (which Bradley provided…not smart, Mikey). Here’s a twist: the linesman is the referee’s brother. Did the referee’s Mom say “Let your little brother be the linesman. Don’t give me that smart look, mister! Take your brother and give me one minute’s peace!”

19’ - Besler picks up a yellow for a professional foul, or as some call them: a “foul of the night.” It’s bad to have two defenders on yellow cards this early.

26’ - Mexico with a completely free header, but it’s right at Guzan! You know, our height advantage isn’t worth much if we leave people wide open.

27’ - Chicharito gets his head on a cross but sends it over the bar! That’s a bad miss; if he gets that on frame, there’s not much Guzan can do. If Chicharito suddenly stops finishing chances inside the six-yard box, he’s going to be the most useless player on the planet.

31’ - I don’t think Edu is the right man for this match; he’s too prone to sketchy passes in his own half. I would have preferred Beckerman. Alright: let me have it, Terps fans.

35’ - After a good spell for Mexico – and I’m condensing every minute of this match so far except the first five into a “spell” – the U.S. have seized some of the initiative back. This is exactly what we need; the longer this stays 0-0, the more the pressure builds on Mexico, and the higher the potential for self-destruction.

37’ - This is by far the tamest crowd I’ve ever heard at a U.S.-Mexico match at Azteca. This match has the tepid murmur of an office birthday party.

38’ - The U.S. with a good move that fizzles out. Good to see the U.S. occasionally getting forward; if they don’t, Mexico will gradually shift to a 0-0-10 formation.

40’ - If Jozy had Chicharito’s positioning and movement, he’d be the best striker in CONCACAF.

42’ - Guzan comes out and punches! As Ian Darke points out: that was the exact same spot where Maradona’s “hand of God” goal occurred.

Halftime: 0-0. The crowd boos, which is the first noise they’ve made all night. Good first half for the U.S., but I think Klinsmann needs to sub out Beasley. I know it’s an unwritten rule that you don’t make like-for-like switches on your back line (why?), but Beasley is on a yellow and is being eaten alive out there.

46’ - I like the throwback crest on the U.S. jerseys. Is this a permanent switch? I hope so. Our current crest stinks: having U.S. soccer being represented by the letters “U” and “S” plus a soccer ball is slightly lacking in creativity.

47’ - My only problem with the new (old) crest: it makes it look like we’ve won 13 World Cups (13 World Cups = 2.2 million pesos).

53’ - Gonzo with a crucial intervention (of the “sliding tackle” type, not the “you’re not here for a surprise party, Doug. Sit down…we need to talk.” type)!

54’ - Johnson comes in for Altidore, and this is an immediate candidate for my least-favorite substitution of all time. For starters: Jozy is a much better player than Eddie Johnson. Also, we need a hold-up player, and that’s not Johnson’s strength. But moreover, Beasley is on a yellow, Mexico are going right at him, and his hamstring and his arm have been hurting. And I would still rather see Beckerman than Edu.

62’ - You’d expect Besler to be nervous; he’s inexperienced at this level, and this is a huge match. And sure enough: every time they show a close-up of him he looks like he’s having that dream where you show up to school naked. But he’s playing very well.

68’ - Mexico with a chance off a corner but they can’t scramble it in! The pressure is being ratcheted up. It must be excruciating if you’re a Mexican fan. They’re feeling right now what we felt during the U.S.-Algeria match.

71’ - Zusi makes a great run into his own box to head away a Mexican cross! The Klinsmann hiring was supposed to be about positivity and attacking soccer, but right now we’re relying on work rate and grit.

74’ - Mexico have one strategy right now: give the ball to Javier Aquino, have him run at Beasley. If Mexico think Beasley is the weak link (probably because of his card and because he’s not a left back), why don’t they switch Guardado or Dos Santos to that side?

75’ - Mexico want a penalty, and they should probably have one! Edu took down Aquino in the box, and…man, that’s a penalty. Even if Edu got the ball – and I don’t think he did – he’s going right through Aquino. I would not have guessed in a million years we would be saved by a favorable call in Azteca.

83’ - The U.S. is so bunkered right now that we should get a survival score from Doomsday Preppers.

86’ - Did the Mexican government crop-dust the stadium with Quaaludes? I can’t believe this crowd hasn’t turned on the Mexican team.

90’ + 2’ - More chances, more blocks, more corners, more saves…the USA are on the verge of a huge point. Who says a 0-0 draw can’t be exciting?

Full time: 0-0! We did it (we = the guys busting their lungs at altitude and me eating Cheetos on my couch)! Even with the altitude and the smog, the U.S. team are breathing much easier than they were two games ago.

Player ratings:

Guzan: 7. Didn’t have to make any of the unbelievable saves we assumed he would have to make, but he was active and strong all night. We all need to hope Villa stay up so Guzan stays sharp.

Beasley: 4. He got beaten up pretty badly, but let’s recognize the enormity of the task he had in front of him. All things considered, not a terrible match.

Besler: 7.5. Played so well that I’m going to learn how to pronounce his name: it’s “BEES-ler”. Mnemonic device: he plays defense like a swarm of bees.

Gonzalez: 8.5. Another very strong match. I assume he’ll get interest from European teams assuming that Timmy Chandler doesn’t Nancy Kerrigan him again.

Cameron: 5. Time for Cameron to move back to center back. To be honest: he’s not lighting it up at right back for Stoke, either.

Gomez: 4. Did a lot of defensive work but couldn’t help the U.S. break out of our own zone.

Edu: 4.5. Let me point out again that the player the USA really need in this position is 2011 Stuart Holden.

Bradley: 7.5. Did everything on both sides of the ball; a huge match. Was the only midfielder who consistently navigated the transition from defense to offense.

Zusi: 6. Very active, didn’t do much in attack but also didn’t give the ball away in bad spots.

Dempsey: 7. The only times we looked dangerous were when he was combining with Jozy.

Altidore: 6.5. I don’t know why he came off; I thought he was playing well. He didn’t get much service but he was doing well with what he had.

Johnson: 4. You think after I slam the EJ-for-Jozy substitution I’m going to give him a good score? You underestimate how petty I am.

Davis: 3.5. I’m not sure why Klinsmann subbed him in…set pieces maybe? A strange choice at a time when we weren’t even getting the ball past the midfield stripe.

Shea: 4. Another strange offensive substitution at a time when we were only playing defense.

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