Trecker, Mexico “last chance for the USA”

Our old friend Jamie Trecker is back at it,this time claiming a win in Mexico is a must.  A win would obviously be fabulous for the reasons highlighted in Trecker’s article, among others, but I’m with reader Josh (see comments in our last Trecker response) when he says he’s a little tired of people expecting a win in Mexico, as if some dramatic shift has occurred in American soccer, now making us favorites when we travel to Costa Rica and Mexico.  No way.  Optimism is nice, but realism is necessary.  Approaching tomorrow’s qualifier with a realistic set of expectations not only makes the likely lows more bearable, but the potential highs more exciting.  We’re not Brazil, and I would argue not even the giants of South America could waltz into the Azteca expecting to win.  Here we go–Trecker, Round Two:

Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier at the Azteca would be special in any calendar year.

In fact, a Mexico vs. USA game hasn’t needed any extra hype since the Americans started taking qualifying for the World Cup seriously back in the late 1980s.

Nevertheless, Wednesday’s showdown between the region’s powers is bigger than usual.

Only because of articles like this.

Bluntly put, it’s a last chance for the USA this year in three significant areas.

I don’t even need to read the reasons to see this is an overstatement.

First, it’s the USA’s last chance to influence FIFA powers before the 2010 World Cup draw.

I hate to say it, but this ship has probably sailed.  Had we won the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup, then a win in Mexico City could have given us an argument for seeding.  Since we’ve failed on the two former, there’s no argument to be made.

Also, and I hate to downplay the significance of what should be a fun match to watch, Mexico aren’t highly ranked.  Unfortunately for us, a road win in Mexico city wouldn’t reflect as strongly in our ranking as it probably should.  It doesn’t take into account our history at the Azteca.  It doesn’t take into account the smog or altitude.  It reads as #12 team beats #30 team on the road in a World Cup qualifier.  For better or worse, FIFA has *attempted to* remove subjectivity from these sort of assessments.

Let’s be honest — FIFA saw the United States’ meltdowns this summer. Sepp Blatter and co. were in South Africa to see the USA cough up a 2-0 advantage in the Confederations Cup final against Brazil and they were at Giants Stadium for that humiliating 5-0 loss against Mexico.

I know this was kind of addressed with my last comment, but I just think it’s funny that Trecker thinks “Sepp Blatter and co.” sit around, judging every game.  Yeah, they probably watched the Confederations Cup final.  If anything, I’d say they were more impressed by the fact that we could take the game to Brazil than they were displeased at our inability to close it out.  Even after the Spain win, I’d be very surprised if “they” expected us to come as close as we did in the final.

If the Americans don’t get some help in seeding they will likely be drawn with the rest of CONCACAF and the Asians. Effectively that means you have no chance to face one of the weaker nations in the 32-team field. It offers the disheartening possibility of landing in a group with, say, Argentina, France and Ivory Coast.

This is actually pretty funny–you’d think Trecker would do a little more research before publishing this stuff.  You know, there’s a reason the USA has been drawn out of the same pot as the rest of CONCACAF in years past, and it’s not because “they” decided we were all equally good (or bad).    Perhaps you noticed that every team in Pot B for the 2002 draw was European.  And in the 2006 draw, every team in Pot C was European.  And the USA is always grouped with CONCACAF and teams from either Asia (2006) or Africa (2002).  This is because FIFA does not seed teams beyond the first tier (unless they changed this policy this year).  They do this because if you put the USA in Pot B, Mexico in Pot C, and Costa Rica in Pot D, you could potentially wind up with a group (however unlikely it may be) with all three CONCACAF teams.  Similarly, you could wind up with a group (or groups) that are 100% European.  I believe this makes Trecker’s first point completely irrelevant.

The best you can hope for in the bottom row is to be drawn against the host South Africans, and that will be no picnic if it happens.

I don’t think the game against the seeded team in any group in any World Cup is a picnic.

Second, it’s the last chance to catch and hold the attention of the U.S. sports fan.

This is a valid point–a win against Mexico would grab the attention of some of the casual American soccer fans.  Hold it?  I doubt it.

The women’s soccer bubble has burst as well. A team that drew a capacity crowd to the Rose Bowl in 1999 has virtually disappeared from the public mind in 10 years. Success in Pasadena did not create a groundswell of interest in soccer, after all.

This is part of the reason I doubt it.

A win at the Azteca and there will be reason to think some momentum exists to carry into the World Cup next summer. A loss, especially a bad one, will consign soccer to its usual position as an after-thought among Americans.

Yes, a win at the Azteca would allow the hype machine to roll on–it, along with the Confederations Cup, would probably be the center piece of all the pre-World Cup shows.  But to pretend that a win–one game–would change anything in a dramatic fashion is just naive.  The growth of soccer in America is not something that can be accomplished overnight, let alone over 90 minutes.  It’s going to take years, decades, probably a couple generations.  Yes, it will get US Soccer on SportsCenter.  Yes, casual sports fans will talk about how the US Soccer team is kind of good now.  But when football season rolls around, US Soccer will be only slightly more relevant than it was last year, win or lose.

Third, it’s one last exam for the current squad and staff.

Yep, one last exam until the next last exam on September 5th…then the next last exam on September 9th…

Bob Bradley is apparently fireproof. He’s a nice man, to be sure, but you know by now how we feel about his team prep and squad decisions.

Haha…OK–Jamie and I aren’t totally dissimilar.

If Bradley is smart, he’ll play a virtual 5-3-1-1 with a three-man triangle in front of Tim Howard. He’ll also have to remind his wide backs that they need to stay at home because every lung-bursting run in the Azteca takes its toll.

For those who don’t remember, Jamie’s argument for a five-man back line centers around our 5-0 loss to Mexico.  This back line included Chad Marshall, Clarence Goodson, Heath Pearce, and Jay Heaps.  Because of their dismal performance, Trecker believes we should play a back line of Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit.  My response: Huh?  How are the two groups related?

Does Mr. Trecker not remember how poorly our team played with a lone striker?  1-3 to Costa Rica.  1-3 to Italy.  0-3 to Brazil.   What happened we started playing with two strikers?  3-0 against Egypt.  2-0 against Spain.  2-3 to Brazil.  So how do we win in Mexico?  Let’s not do what got us the three most impressive attacking performances of recent memory.  Let’s do the thing that got us two goals in three blowout losses (both of which were penalties).  In fact, let’s take one of the midfielders from those losses and replace him with an extra defender–that should keep the goals rolling in.  Lord knows Brazil didn’t put three in on us because we were struggling to hold possession–it was because we needed a fifth defender back there.

Up front the team can rely on Landon Donovan for a big game.

I don’t think any game plan that requires one of the players to have a “big game” is a very good one.  A good game plan is one by which if all players play at their normal capacity, the team should get a result.

So, a win can take this team to a place where many fans have argued it has long belonged. A loss means many will write off this summer’s high points as another example of American soccer over-selling and under-delivering.

Articles like these are what’s responsible for the over-selling of American soccer.  Articles like these that not only claim a win should be expected going into the Azteca–a stadium in which we have never won, located in a country in which we’ve never won!–but anything less would be a failure that would inevitably doom American soccer to bad Cup draws and obscurity.

Here’s my proposal:  Let’s go into Wednesday’s qualifier with realistic expectations.  Let’s not hype it to the point that anything less than the improbable is completely unacceptable.  Let’s ask for a strong performance.  Let’s be happy with a point.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree with your points. To say this game is a must win for the US is completely laughable for so many reasons. Here are a few, which you mostly covered and I will try to expand on:

    a. This game is not must win for us to qualify. We are in good qualifying position. When the draw was announced, we were never looking at this game and thinking that we would need and expect to get points out of this game.
    b. This game will not help us get seeded. I was reading an article about the US’s seeding chances (I believe on SI) pre-Confed Cup semis that said for the US to have a reasonable chance at seeding it would need to win the Confed Cup and be ranked around number 5 or 6 by FIFA. Neither of those did/will happen, so this game will not go toward us getting seeded.
    c. The only point that comes close to being true is the idea that a win here would continue to build momentum with the casual fan and build a bigger following. But, what you pointed out, football season is about to start. This is a country that largely ignores baseball’s end of season and post-season because of football season, and baseball is “America’s pastime”. Soccer has no chance of making any in roads to the casual fan with football season fast approaching. Also, this game is on Telemundo and Mun2. The casual sports fan who only has a small interest in the US team will not watch the game.

    For the US to really make any kind of headway with the larger American public, it just needs to do well next summer. It doesn’t matter if we sweep the rest of qualifying and go in on a high, or if we limp through and barely make it in. That may matter to the greater soccer world and the European press and what they think of us. But, to America at large, next summer’s performance is the only thing that they will pay attention to. We strung together five great halves of soccer at the Confed cup. If we can do that next summer and get out of group, the rest of the country will take notice, and by that time they will not even remember what happened in this game regardless of the result.

  2. all great points. Thanks for the response

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