This week, the Soccer Nation Six Pack gets popped open in Columbus, Ohio. It’s the USA-Mexico special edition, as we look at six of the biggest storylines to emerge from Friday’s historic 2-1 win for El Tri.
1. Rafa’s Revenge
As the only man to play in all five of the Columbus based USA-Mexico affairs, and as the closest thing American Soccer has to a true villain, Rafa Marquez was the perfect man to score the winning goal on Friday night. Marquez’s near post header off a Miguel Layun service was a delicate yet powerful glancer that was aided by a couple of U.S. shortcomings. There was no man on the far post, something that would have easily prevented the goal. Perhaps more egregious was Jozy Altidore, the man who was supposed to be marking Marquez, seemingly falling asleep, standing almost motionless with his hands on his hips as the corner came in to the area. Still, take nothing away from the Mexican Captain and national icon. It was the type of run he has made countless times in his career, with none being more crucial than the heads up dart to the near post at Mapfre Stadium in November of 2016.
2. The end of “dos a cero”
Four times consecutively, the United States defeated Mexico in a World Cup Qualifier in Columbus. In 2001, Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart gave the Yanks a precious 2-0 win. Four years later, Steve Ralston and DeMarcus Beasley gave U.S. fans another 2-0 victory, in doing so clinching a spot in the 2006 World Cup. In 2009, a Michael Bradley brace and a Rafa Marquez straight red card (his second lifetime against the Americans, the other of course coming for a despicable aerial challenge on Cobi Jones in the waning moments of the knockout round match at the 2002 World Cup, a game the U.S. won 2-0) led to an improbable third straight Columbus “dos a cero”. When it happened a fourth time in 2013, logic was dead and gone. It was pure folklore, and those three syllables were like salt in the wounds of Mexican fans. When Miguel Layun opened the scoring in the first half, after El Tri had already come agonizingly close on a couple of occasions, the monkey had been lifted off the collective back of the Mexican National Team. However, they still had to do a lot more to win the game. The 2-1 result was Mexico’s first win in a World Cup Qualifier against the U.S. on American soil since 1972.
3. Klinsmann’s Tactical Faux Pas
In this week’s edition of “broken record”, it’s Jurgen Klinsmann exhibiting to the world that he is perhaps the most tactically inept manager in the modern history of the U.S. Men’s National Team. The first half was an utter domination, Mexico running circles around the Americans and finding ample space with which to engineer attacks. Some of the blame must go on the players themselves, but when you saw the dramatic shift in energy and quality in the second half, you couldn’t help but pin much of the blame for that first half debacle on the manager. Rumor has it that Klinsmann was essentially cornered in the dressing room at halftime, multiple players pleading with him, begging him to alter the 3-5-2 / 3-4-3 / WTF formation he inexplicably designed for this encounter with the arch-rival. Some of the players in the starting eleven were rather surprising. Timmy Chandler was horrendous and a liability for much of the match, Chandler perhaps at the top of the “players only Jurgen seems to like” list. Klinsmann’s final substitution was questionable at best, inserting Michael Orozco for a seemingly good-to-go Matt Besler with less than ten minutes remaining in the game. The final result was a fitting bestowal. Jurgen Klinsmann did not deserve a single point for the way he managed this game. It was a managerial performance that will go in the same box as Steve Sampson’s infamous 3-6-1 debacle against Germany at the 1998 World Cup. Is it weird to mention that Jurgen Klinsmann scored against the U.S. in that game in France?
4. Pass the ball Michael!
With all the possession and the lion’s share of the chances, Mexico were actually the slightest pendulum swing away from trailing 2-1 midway through the second half. After Bobby Wood’s determination drew the Americans level, U.S. Captain Michael Bradley had an opportunity to give his side an improbable lead. All he had to do was lay the ball off for Wood in the simplest of 2-v-1 situations. Instead, Bradley panicked and from the top of the box rolled the tamest of shots straight into the body of Mexican goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera. Wood was understandably incensed, as were thousands of fans in the stadium and millions watching around the world. There is no guarantee that the Hawaiian striker would’ve finished, but considering his confidence and current form, there’s a pretty good chance he would’ve found a way. The play was a microcosm of Bradley’s night, poor and lacking any real bite, let alone the visionary qualities we have so long associated with the midfielder. Bradley needs a bounce back game as much, if not more than any other individual. His performance can have a trickle down affect on the team. And how much longer will these types of performances be acceptable from the man wearing the captain’s armband?
5. Layun and Osorio, the keys to victory
Miguel Layun was the best player on the pitch on Friday night. Not only did he score the curse-breaking opener and assist Marquez’s late winner, but the FC Porto man played a complete game of soccer that should be the envy of most anybody. Positioned as a left-back, he was the heartbeat of the Mexican attack, the porous American tactical set up offering Layun ample space with which to work. He took full advantage on a number of occasions, most notably the first half goal.
At the helm of this Mexican National Team is arguably the most criticized international manager in the region (yes, even more than Klinsmann). Juan Carlos Osorio was the perfect man for this job (By job I mean this game against the U.S., not the job as a whole. That’s another story entirely.) and his professor like temperament was the asset Mexico had been missing in Columbus for all these years. The more Mexican players, coaches, and fans got wound up about “dos a cero”, the more they fell victim to the psychological trap of Columbus. Blood boiling, muscle flexing, testicular fortitude soccer had been the approach for years. It never worked, which made the repetitive 2-0 losses all the more agonizing. Now, it’s not as if that Mexican team on Friday night was playing with less passion than previous sides. It was simply channeled in a different way. There was a calm about El Tri this time around, something people had never seen in this venue. It paid dividends. Whether Osorio’s Spanish psychologist friends helped out in this regard is up for debate. What is certain is that Osorio himself is owed a massive amount of credit for his role in extinguishing the Mexican demon known as Mapfre (Crew) Stadium.
6. A pre-game picture worth about thirty-five million words
In the wake of Donald Trump winning the American Presidential Election, the timing of this game was almost surreal. Many wondered how the current social climate in the country would rub off on the match itself, more importantly the atmosphere in and around the ground in Columbus. With the rhetoric of bigotry and superiority being steadily infused into the American population in recent months, Friday’s match represented a powerful opportunity for a showing of solidarity specifically with the Mexican people, and the millions of Mexican-American immigrants living in the U.S., so many being plagued with fear fueled by an overtly racist agenda.
Just before kick-off, there was a moment of unforgettable solidarity. In an impromptu gesture, all twenty-two starting players from both sides gathered for a photo, the players arm-in-arm as a message of hope and togetherness. Make no mistake about it, those players were then ready to go kick the crap out of eachother within seconds of the cameras clicking. But for one brief moment, competition froze. It was twenty-two men setting aside their competitive desires for something much more important. This moment was bigger than soccer. It was a gesture of love in the face of hate.
U.S. international and current Club Tijuana defender Greg Garza tweeted his thoughts on the pre-match photo, illustrating, in less than 140 characters, what the picture meant to him as a footballer and as a Mexican-American.