Sports

USA vs. Mexico International Men's Soccer Friendly Preview

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Welp, might as well close up shop.

Time to sell the deed on the U.S. Soccer House in Chicago for some property on Baltic Avenue.

Time for Nike to send all its surplus jerseys to the nearest "Where's Waldo" reenactment society.

Time for the U.S. to stop playing soccer in its entirety and have the youth of America focus on important stuff ... like MMA fighting and fragging noobs on "Modern Warfare."

Yep, in the wake of Mexico -- the haaaaaaaated El Tri -- winning the Gold Medal at the London Olympics, the sky is all but assuredly falling on the U.S. National Team. The sun is setting over the stars and stripes. Abandon all ye hope.

This is grim. Real grim.

Before delving in the crux of today's rambling essay, a sincere tip of the cap to the youngsters of El Tri for their performance in London. Olympic soccer is a bit of an outlier -- call it the marsupials of international soccer genus -- hard to put a ton of stock into it.

Hell, without consulting Wikipedia, which country won goal in Beijing? Or Athens? A neutered U-23 tournament is nice, but hardly a barometer of any sweeping, declarative judgments especially when you have nations like Belarus and Gabon in the mix and powers like Germany and Argentina missing out. That said, Mexico did beat Brazil, which happened to feature the world's second most expensive defender -- Thiago Silva as its captain -- as well as the anointed one himself: Neymar. So that's a nice win, especially since the entirety of Mexico's starting XI in Saturday's final in Wembley played domestically, as marquee overage player Gio Dos Santos (and U.S. killer) sat out with an injury.

As John C. Reilly's character from "Cedar Rapids" would say: not, too, shabby.

Throw in Mexico's recent success at the U20 World Cup and other recent underage tournaments, as well as the 4-2 win in last year's Gold Cup final that ultimately cost Bob Bradley his job and it's a good time to fan of El Tri on either side of the border.

Granted, it's not like Mexico has ever proven in it's history to be a world-beater once it gets out of the shallow end of the pool that is CONCACAF(*) (or in major tournaments not played on Mexican soil), so again, winning the Olympics doesn't amount to much more than bragging rights in the grand scheme.

(*) Pardon me if I couldn't get wrapped up in a CONCACAF victory lap at the Olympics considering a) the rampant corruption and mismanagement of the federation and b) it's utterly incompetent pool of officials. 

How this all applies to the current status of the U.S. National Team vis-a-vis Wednesday night's usual "friendly" at the Azteca -- where ESPN will be sure to mention the U.S. has never won about 400 times during its broadcast -- is kind of an open-ended question.

For one, let's remember in the biggest U.S./Mexico game in history -- the 2002 World Cup Round of 16 -- the United States won 2-0. The win kicked off about a decade of dominance in the rivalry for the Gringos. It didn't spell the end for Mexico or the amount to much more than (another) false spring for the Americans.

Like anything, this rivalry ebbs and lows.

It wasn't too long ago -- 2009 to be exact --  when Javier Aguirre was kicking Panamanian players, as he did during the 2009 Gold Cup and Mexico looked like an utter mess. Hell, in a minor miracle, Sunil Gulati never tried to shove the bespectacled face of Sven Goran-Eriksson down American fans throats, right, as Mexico did briefly.

And until Mexico comes up to a place like Salt Lake, Columbus or Kansas City and walks away with three points in a World Cup qualifier, it's not really time to out-and-out panic about the U.S. being phased out like CD players in cars.

Realistically, the time to start worrying is when the U.S. slips closer to the level of teams like Honduras, Costa Rica, etc., on a constant level than in tournaments across all age levels. That's an issue, or if, in a worst case scenario, Klinsmann isn't able to properly reinforce the old hands of the U.S. team with some new blood and it fails to qualify for Brazil 2014 -- seemingly not as a longshot as it once seemed.

Still, anyone who cares deeply about the U.S. team, it's a bitter pill to watch Mexico parade around Wembley Stadium with a gold medal around its neck, while Caleb Porter's American team couldn't even qualify. Maybe that, though, underlines what will always be the main difference on either side of the Rio Grande in this rivalry. When the U.S. team was knocked out by Honduras in an epic final minute collapse, who even noticed? Who even cared? By the time the Olympics rolled around, most Americans probably were surprised the U.S. team wasn't there. In Mexico, let's assume that failure to qualify for a tournament -- even the Olympics -- wouldn't go down as a smooth as an ice cold Tecate on a hot summer day. Heads would roll around the offices of the FMF.

While the Olympics, or other youth tournaments are all well-and-nice, but they fall below the World Cup, the Copa America, the Confederations Cup or even the Gold Cup. Still, the young Mexican players -- who won't feature in Wednesday's friendly -- all got a taste of winning, whereas the U.S. players got a big ball of nothing. Ultimately, that's what's going to count from this process more than anything. Mexico have the winners label, the U.S. have the losers and it's going to take some time to shake it.

More worrying that that, as Jurgen Klinsmann(*) tries to lock up and poach players like Joe Corona who have Mexican ties and tap into that ever elusive Hispanic American market and transform the U.S. national team, more prominent wins by Mexico could end up having the "Giuseppe Rossi" effect. The Mexico gold-medal team featured Sacramento, Calif., born Miguel Angel Ponce. You'd have to think young players with both American and Mexican ties would have to think long and hard about which CONCACAF power provides them with a better chance to place a winner's medal in their trophy case.

(*) Beyond locking up some German-Americans to play for the U.S. -- not even Timmy Chandler, officially, either -- it doesn't feel like Klinsmann has done anything revolutionary with the U.S. in his first year on the job. Rome wasn't built in a day and it's a little early to call what he and Gulati said upon his hiring last August a "bill of goods," but beyond taking the names of the jerseys and tweaking the numbering system what has the German exactly done noticeably different than Bradley? Just saying. 

In truth, if you're trying to devise a perfect system to improve and perfect youth soccer development in American --- as Klinsmann said a year ago when he became coach -- you might as well devote your time to building a perpetual motion machine or figuring out cold fusion. Good luck as it seems nearly that Herculean a task,, though not impossible like turning lead into gold. 

If there's one tangible, concrete conclusion to be drawn from Mexico's recent ascendance, it's the Mexican League is head and shoulders above MLS, but we probably already knew that, didn't we? Just look at all the CONCACAF tournaments and MLS's perennial shortcomings.

The one big knock on the Mexican league is its about as insular as it gets out there. Outside Mexico -- and America via television -- nobody in the soccer world much cares about it. Yet many of its teams have deep pockets, enough to bring in quality foreign players while nurturing its homegrown players. There's enough respect for it, too, that it can send clubs to the Copa Libertadores, something MLS can only pine for.

Put it this way, a young talented player might see what Chicharito is doing at Manchester United -- sort of the exception to the rule of Mexican players in Europe at the moment since El Tri players track record isn't all that impressive soup-to-nuts -- and want to try his hand across the Atlantic, but the staying in Mexico is a viable option. It's not looked down upon, whereas it seems all the identified American prospects seem hellbent on playing in Europe since MLS seems like a step down from that mythical "atmosphere" in Europe. (MLS isn't the Premier League, nor will it be, but it's still should be looked at as a better place to play than the relative backwaters of Scandinavia, oh but wait, there's that whole salary cap thing and players wanting to make a decent living -- a story for another day.)

However you slice it, Mexico's Olympic win over the weekend did add a little juice to a rather meaningless friendly, despite it's high-altitude setting among the Mexico City smog.

Miscellania:

* We all accused Bob Bradley of having "Bob's Guys." Klinsmann certainly has his, and it's two decided cliques he's relied on: the Mexican League guys, for whatever reason, Michael Orozco Fiscal and the Bundesliga contingent led by Jermaine Jones.

* Why FIFA decides it needs a friendly plum dab in the middle of August right as every European league starts is typical FIFA baloney. It's why we end up with this hybrid lineup which lacks Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, among others prominent U.S. names.

* If only Chris Wondolowski could dye his hair a lighter shade toward blond. Then, if I was still drinking, I could maybe talk myself into thinking he can be the next coming of Brian McBride. That's actually meant to be a compliment to Wondolowski.

* It definitely makes sense for Klinsmann to reward in-form guys from MLS with national team call-ups, like Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Steven Beitashour, yet all three are 25 years old. Not exactly young in soccer terms, but two years from a World Cup it makes sense to turn over every leaf. However, unless you're Grant Wahl it's hard to make a compelling argument for 30-year-old Alan Gordon being in the mix, but again, good for him to get a chance to play for the U.S., I guess.

* If you know what to make about the last 12 months of Brek Shea's life, let me know. He was, at times, a sure-fire European prospect, then a MLS marketing mainstay and then a guy dropped from the lineup by FC Dallas. Is it all because Klinsmann used him so much in meaningless games in 2010? His potential and physical tools seem there, but is his head?

* Geoff Cameron hasn't been over with Stoke City very long, but if he's learned some of the dark arts from Ryan Shawcross, Rory Delap, Robert Huth, et al, using them against Mexico would be a quick way to endear himself to American fans.

* Four, five years after the fact and we still don't know what to make of Jose Francisco Torres and his fabled first touch. It's almost to the point he's got his true believers, like a baseball player beloved by the SABR community, yet in real application on the diamond he comes up short in the eyes of managers and player personnel men. For all the good buzz Torres has generated, when -- albeit in limited chances -- has he ever produced in the U.S. shirt? And doesn't it seem like Klinsmann using him as a wide player in a 4-3-3 is setting him up to fail via his lack of pace?

* The story might be boring and maybe there's not a lot there, but I'd like to have read something good about Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu's spell as Rangers collapsed down the financial wormhole. Granted the club will likely sell him off, but never good when the U.S. national team captain is playing in the Scottish Third Division.

* As usual, with American forwards we love to hype everybody up. The latest in that line is now Terrance Boyd. Not sure how much was made about this, but going from Borussia Dortmund, albeit the club's reserve team to Rapid Vienna in the Austrian Bundesliga seems like a step down. That said, he's 21 and playing -- and scoring. Guess we'll wait and see. He's got the physical tools to dominant CONCACAF, it seems.

* Just writing all this, how confusing must it be to monitor and track every player with American soccer ties. Calling it a hodgepodge might be an insult to both hodges and podges.

Lineup Guess:

Realistically, beyond Tim Howard and Klinsmann's adoptive son, Jones, starting the U.S. XI is as good a guess as anyone's, especially with reports Edu is being tried out as a center back yet again. Seems likely Fabian Johnson gets the nod at right back, too.

GK -- Howard

DEF -- Johnson -- Cameron -- Edu -- Beitashour

MID -- Jones, Zusi, Torres

FOR -- Donovan -- Wondolowski -- Gomez