Lessons from USA-MexicoNothing beats playing the role of buzz kill
by Jeff Maurer | Friday, August 17, 2012
Like most Americans, when Michael Orozco-Fiscal scored in the 79th minute of Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico, I quickly ditched the “it’s just a friendly” mantra I had been repeating all day. Sure: it was just a friendly when I was expecting a beating. But when we started winning, my platitudes of choice quickly shifted to ”there are no friendlies between these two countries!” and ”this is history!”. A night I was sort of dreading ended up being a lot of fun; it was like my cousin’s wedding, except nobody lost their damage deposit.
Here’s what I learned:
Procrastination pays. Like every soccer writer, including the one from whom I stole this “what we learned” format, I planned to publish a “the US is way behind Mexico now” column after Mexico won gold at the Olympics. But I didn’t actually WRITE the column. Instead, I procrastinated long enough for the US’s historic win over Mexico in Azteca to happen. Phew! Events contradicted my pre-planned narrative, so I couldn’t just continue forward with that narrative in light of new facts - I’m not Fox News. My “Mexico is unbeatable” column would have gone to waste. I believe there’s a saying about this: the early bird gets the worm, but sometimes after early morning worm-eating they serve crepes suzette, which the late bird then gorges on while the early bird is all full of worm.
It’s fun to ruin other people’s fun. Mexico celebrated their gold medals at half time. I’m sure they expected to celebrate yet another win over us at full time (Mexico were 23-0-1 against us at Azteca - those are Harlem Globetrotter-like numbers). But we got to ruin all that tri-color feel-goodery. There’s something inherently funny about crashing a party (I imagine a child’s birthday party), stepping on the cake and popping the balloons. Maybe you take the cake knife and poke a hole in the bouncy castle. That’s basically what we did Wednesday night.
Winning the Olympics doesn’t translate to success for the full national team. Nigeria won in Olympic gold in 1996, then went out in the round of 16 in World Cup 1998, then went out in the group stage in 2002, didn’t qualify for 2006, and went out in the group stage again in 2010. Cameroon won Olympic gold in 2000, then went group stage, DNQ, group stage in the next three World Cups. Argentina’s gold medals in 2004 and 2008 didn’t usher in a golden (no pun intended or desired) age of Argentine soccer; they went out in the round of eight in 2006 and 2010. So, take that, Mexico. I metaphorically smash your birthday hats and have PETA commandos kidnap your birthday pony.
Jose Torres reminds me of Lewis Black’s candy corn joke. No matter how many times we’re disappointed, we keep going back. In one way, he’s the only player of his type in the pool: a foot-on-the-ball, possession-oriented midfielder. In another way, we have many players of his type in the pool: players who aren’t quite good enough to play consistently at the international level. We have lots of those guys.
The fact that Stoke seem to have signed Geoff Cameron for defensive cover is a problem. It will forever be known to US fans as the Onyewu: a move to the bench of a better team that derails your career. Cameron has moved to Stoke City, who have Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth entrenched in central defense. This makes me nervous, especially since Cameron showed Wednesday night that he’s part of the equation for the US at center back. If karma ever catches up with Ryan Shawcross - who has broken more legs than the mafia - then an injury will sideline Shawcross and Cameron will slide into the lineup. But karma doesn’t always catch up with people - Fidel Castro just turned 86.