Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Team USA Does It Again

24 times, the United States Men's National Team has entered Estadio Azteca (or other facilities in Mexico) for a match against Mexico.

24 times, the Americans -- or, if you are from south of the border and prefer, "gringos" -- have left Estadio Azteca without a victory.

Every time, fans are left with reason to believe the team can recover and win the next time. Four years later, that next time comes, and the U.S. fails again.

The latest "next time" was Wednesday, as the United States waltzed into Mexico City with some confidence, thanks to a stirring performance in the Confederations Cup. Mexico, meanwhile, had all the pressure. There was talk of another coaching change, which would have been something like the ninth of their World Cup qualifying effort. A loss, and the Tri Colores would have been in serious danger of missing the World Cup next year in South Africa.

A Charlie Davies goal in the tenth minute gave the Americans a 1-0 lead. Bob Bradley's bunch then proceeded to fall into the same trap they fell into against Brazil in that Confederations Cup final.

In the altitude of Mexico City (over 7,000 feet), it was apparently too much to ask the Americans to play well for more than ten minutes, and that won't be enough against a highly-motivated team that absolutely needs to win.

(More on the altitude excuse in a moment, because it's sad how many people are falling for that line of crap.)

Mexico dominated possession for the last 80 minutes, tied it just more than ten minutes after Davies' awesome goal, and won it in the final eight minutes as Miguel Sabah stood in the box and lined up a shot while a bunch of Americans stood and watched him.

There are plenty of people to call out for this one, namely Bradley, but we'll start with others.

Carlos Bocanegra. Simply a poor effort on the first Mexico goal, as he allowed Israel Castro to line up a long shot that beat Tim Howard high. Even from a 30-yard distance, an unmarked opponent is very dangerous.

Landon Donovan. Absolutely disappeared after setting up Davies for the first goal. This might have been Donovan's worst national team performance since the 2006 World Cup. High up on the list of American players who need to train a lot more diligently before next summer.

Brian Ching. Did virtually everything but score an own goal for Mexico. Not effective with the ball, worse without. Never should have started the second half, and it can be argued he never should have made the trip.

Bob Bradley. It can't be said any differently: Bradley is just another Bruce Arena. He might be worse. Besides the unconscionable decision to leave Ching in the match as long as he did, dynamic youngster Jozy Altidore played all of 15 minutes. It wouldn't be totally wrong to say that Altidore deserved to start the match, but it was practically a crime to only let him play 15 minutes when no one was generating anything positive up front outside of Davies.

Moreover, Bradley's strange substitution decisions could make you think he started the second half playing for a 1-1 draw. It was bad enough that the Americans didn't play with the same energy after taking the lead, but for them to try to draw out the last 45 minutes of an intense road match against a rival team that absolutely needed to win ...

Words don't even describe the stupidity of this.

U.S. Soccer. Even the well-respected Grant Wahl fell into the trap.

The altitude did affect the U.S.'s strategy. Mexico dominated possession, and the U.S. midfielders stayed farther back than usual, as though they were entirely willing to let the Mexicans come to them. I don't think that would have happened if the U.S. had been able to train at altitude for any period of time before this game.

Why, exactly, did this team not train in the high elevation of Colorado? Denver is known as the Mile High City, and Colorado Springs sits at over 6,000 feet.

Instead, the final training took place in the rolling hills of Miami.

Yes, this team had heat to potentially worry about, but heat comes and goes. Mexico City's elevation will never change. It's absolutely pointless to blow off the possible effects of the high altitude, only to use it as an excuse when you lose.

At the end of the day, Team USA is still going to make the World Cup. They'll still have a reasonable chance for success there. However, a golden opportunity was lost on Wednesday, and it's another backwards step for the national team program in this country.

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