I choose not to learn any lessons from what’s happening to the Mexican National Team right now. A year ago, Mexico was riding high, having won the Olympics, the U-17 World Cup, and the most recent Gold Cup. They thrashed the US in a Gold Cup final that prompted several “the gap has never been wider” articles from journalists who don’t remember the entire period of soccer history prior to 1998. Today, the Mexican team is riding low (which, unlike “low-riding”, is a bad thing), having underwhelmed in World Cup qualifying, disappointed in the Confederations Cup, and floundered in the Gold Cup. And even “underwhelm”, “disappoint”, and “flounder” are euphemisms for the much harsher though more accurate word that I would like to use but can’t in a family newspaper. None of us watched that first Panama match and thought “Wow – this Mexican team really underwhelms.”
The lesson should be: fortunes change quickly. That is the lesson I choose not to learn. The U.S. national soccer team is cruising (one could say “low-riding”) right now, and I love it. I will ignore the fact that if the pendulum swings the other way in one year, that means it will underwhelm at the World Cup. No: I choose to adopt the mentality of a late-20s stock broker or the captain of the Titanic. We are invincible! Full steam ahead!
Tonight’s lineup of unimpeachable golden gods on whom I will definitely not turn after even one mediocre performance: Rimando | Beasley, Besler, Goodson, Parkhurst | Torres, Beckerman, Holden, Bedoya | Donovan, Johnson. A few changes from last match; Coach Juergen Klinsmann likes to keep players fresh. In standup comedy competitions, there’s always a dilemma: Do you burn your “A” material in the early rounds, or do you save it for the final? Klinsmann would be the guy reading from his notebook in the early rounds and saving the killer What-if-a-Dog-Was-Your-Dentist? bit for the final.
Here’s kickoff from the Jerry Jones Thunderdome, which is the perfect evil lair for an evil franchise …
5’ - U.S. men wearing their “Stoke City Sideways” unis tonight. I just realized that Brek Shea only wears red and white striped shirts (Dallas, Stoke, U.S. national team).
10’ – GOAL USA! Eddie Johnson channels his blonde ambition into an excellent run and finish! I sometimes criticize Johnson for mostly scoring poachers’ goals, but that one was big-time: nice run, two good touches and a nice finish. Great flick by Donovan to start the move.
16’ - Disco Stu (can we please start calling him Disco Stu for no apparent reason?) gets a forearm in the face while dribbling in the box, but there’s no call. Honestly, I agree with that call; it looked like the arm was incidental. Soccer is like sharing a bed with someone: Sometimes you just take a forearm to the face. Roll with it.
18’ - If this were a soccer camp, you’d take Donovan out of this group and say, “Okay, we’re moving you up an age level so that you can be challenged.”
22’ - Yet another less-than-ideal playing surface. It turns out you don’t need to have grass to host a Gold Cup match. I look forward to future matches on the Cordilleran Ice Shelf and on a barge in the Mississippi River.
25’ – GOAL USA! It’s 2-0 as Donovan finishes a Bedoya knock-down! The fact that Mexico is eating its team meal and watching this makes it that much sweeter.
29’ - Donovan can’t quite reach a cross – it was almost 3-0! If we go up by three or more I’ll bet you a large sum of money that Najar spikes somebody. I love the kid but he does not like to lose.
Halftime: 2-0 USA. They continue to sail like a yuppie on a nice day.
49’ - Bedoya gets behind the defense and forces a good save. Honduras is in the same mode I was in the day the day the zipper on my pants broke while I was at work: making every effort just to keep things respectable.
51’ - Goal Honduras! Well, that was out of nowhere – it’s 2-1. Beasley needs to commit fewer fouls in bad places, and the Americans need to mark better (or mark at all) on set plays (see: the Belize goal, which was identical). Do we have a game here?
52’ – No! No, we do not! Goal USA – Donovan again! It’s 3-1 and Honduras’s metaphorical zipper is still broken.
57’ - EJ won’t shake a Honduran player’s hand after getting hip-checked into the boards. I agree with that; if you really want to be my buddy maybe just don’t hip-check me into the boards.
61’ - Donovan’s beard works. Guys with iffy hairlines often look good in a beard because it brings their overall hair-to-head ratio back into balance.
67’ - It’s 3-1, they’re bossing this like a big sister, and who does Klinsmann bring on? Mix Diskeruud, an attacking player. Klinsmann does not bunker; I guess Germans have a natural aversion to bunkers.
69’ - Rimando reacts quickly to snuff out a chance. One of the less-noted outcomes of this tournament is that Rimando has probably played his way onto the plane to Brazil.
84’ - Wondolowski gets fouled twice in the box but doesn’t go down! He also doesn’t get the penalty. But he does get some good soccer karma.
Full time: 3-1 USA, and we’re through to the final! By the time this is published, we’ll know that our opponent will be … Panama! That’s right: The tournament’s two best teams will meet in the final. It’s a shame we won’t get to pay Mexico back for that 5-0 beat-down in 2009, but maybe we can pay them back by edging them out for a World Cup seed instead.
Rimando: 8. He continues to be excellent. Rimando is only 34, prime goalkeeper age. Are teams in Europe paying attention?
Beasley: 5.5. This summer has convinced me that Beasley is a decent left back option but that Fabain Johnson should still be the first choice.
Besler: 7. He’s one of those athletes that looks like an ordinary dude — if you put him next to John Stockton and my optometrists I couldn’t tell you who was who. He’s also a quiet, sound player, which is a good thing for a center back. What I’m saying is that he is notable for his blandness.
Goodson: 5. It may have been him who lost his mark on the goal (it was either him or Bedoya). I think for the final Omar’s a-comin’.
Parkhurst: 6. No team in this tournament has exploited the idea that Parkhurst might be the weak link. Maybe he’s not the weak link.
Torres: 6.5. I’ve generally not been too high on Torres but this tournament is making me think he might be better than I realized.
Beckerman: 6.5. Like Besler, Becks (taking that nickname back now that the other guy is retired) is a quiet player, though he does not look like every other guy. Unless you live on a hemp farm.
Disco Stu: 6. He was on the ground in the 60th minute, but it wasn’t too tense because it was obviously his side, not his legs. It’s weird to have the attitude: “Oh good — just a little internal bleeding.”
Bedoya: 7. Good game — he made the most of the open space. I still hope to see Carona in the final.
Donovan: 8.5. He’s only on the b-team because of his sabbatical. He’s too good to be here. The best analogy I can think of is when major leaguers do rehab assignments in the minors, so for one game you have, say, Felix Hernandez in West Moonshine, Tenn., mowing down guys who should be in junior college.
Johnson: 7. It’s not the blonde hair — it’s the lightning bolt shaved into the blond hair that really reminds me of Djibril Cisse. Also MC Hammer. A little Kris Kross is thrown in there, too.
Shea: 4. Couldn’t capitalize on some good opportunities.
Diskerud: 4.5. The game got a little ragged when he came in. I think you need Beckerman in there as a stabilizing force.
Wondolowski: 6. That play in the 84th minute demonstrates exactly why strikers always fall down easily in the box: because you usually don’t get rewarded for staying up. But I still respect him for not flopping.