By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 20, 2015) US Soccer Players – “We can beat them without problems.”
You might’ve thought a statement like that would be coming from the winning team after the USMNT‘s 2-0 friendly win over Mexico on Wednesday night. But it came from the wisecracking mouth of charismatic El Tri coach Miguel Herrera, doing his best to restore some spark to a rivalry in which his country is winless since 2011.
It wasn’t that Herrera was being a poor loser. He was mostly reminding a probing Mexican media, with good reason, that this was likely just the first – and least important – border battle in a busy year for both teams.
“This is not the team you’ll see in competition,” he said. Herrera was talking about his own experimentation, something not reserved only for the USMNT. Still, he recognized what he saw on the field.
“We don’t have an excuse,” Herrera admitted. “They were more convincing. They finished their chances. We didn’t do that.”
An ex-player who remembers well the old days of Mexican dominance in this matchup, “Piojo” didn’t point out Mexico’s last win over the Yanks. That was in the 2011 Gold Cup final. Mexico’s rampaging 4-2 comeback victory earned El Tri a trophy, booked their place in the vaunted Confederations Cup, and helped bring the tenure of USMNT coach Bob Bradley to an end.
They pulled a similar trick in the 2009 Gold Cup championship, thumping a primarily domestic-based USMNT squad 5-0 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. So amid all the deserved “dos a cero” crowing from Wednesday’s winners in San Antonio, Herrera had reason to let his revenge cool and prioritize the summer rematch that will decide so much more than bragging rights.
“We will play them in the [Gold Cup] final,” he predicted. “We’ll see them in the CONCACAF final and the story will change there. You’ll see.”
Both programs place a premium on the Confederations Cup, a rare opportunity to face off against the world’s best in a global spotlight. And with CONCACAF having tweaked its qualification rules to head off the marginalization of “off-year” Gold Cups, that carrot dangles well within the reach of both nations.
Mexico winning the 2015 Gold Cup means yet another clash with the Yanks. This time, it would be a winner-take-all playoff with the associated hype of a game that counts plenty for both teams. Obviously, this duo can’t be totally confident of waltzing to the final of this summer’s tournament, as Panama’s semifinal upset of El Tri proved two years ago. Still, there’s no downplaying their chances.
As much joy as they take from this century’s litany of 2-0 wins, USMNT fans and players also remember the losses. When there’s a trophy on the line, the punches land that much more heavily. Set aside the one-sided recent history. The other shoe can drop at any point in this rivalry.
To be sure, Wednesday featured influential instances of the slack defending that’s a recurring El Tri weakness. Mexico’s first-choice squad is all about attacking. Herrera will be keen to let his first choice squad play their game if his vision of a Gold Cup final meeting comes to pass.
From their manager on down to their youngest fans, El Tri’s irritation with the status quo of this rivalry is clear, especially given that they fielded such an unproven 11 at the Alamodome. Losing to public enemy No. 1 never feels good for either side. Yet for the short term, Mexico are more than happy to wait for another meeting on a bigger stage this summer.
Charles Boehm is a Washington, DC-based writer and the editor of The Soccer Wire. Contact him at:email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at:http://twitter.com/cboehm.
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