By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Nov 9, 2016) US Soccer Players – Every four years, Mexico and the United States battle it out on a grand stage. The chance to show the region who the better side always brings out the best in the rivalry and makes for intense moments.
This time around, it is different. For one, the last time Mexico visited the US in a World Cup qualifying match was three years ago, not four. Also, this match along with Tuesday’s slate of qualifiers are followed by more than four months of inactivity before qualifying ramps up again. Another, and perhaps bigger, difference is this. As much as Mexico fans want to win, the result does not really matter for Mexico.
El Tri will play to win, of course. No Mexican player is going to give it less than their best effort when playing the Americans. If that best effort is not enough to get past the US in a World Cup qualifier – and that has been the case for more than two decades, on American soil at least – so be it.
Mexico’s focus for the first two matches should be to play well. Mexico has not played well since early summer. Back then, Mexico looked strong in the group stage of Copa America. The debacle against Chile was stunning. Mexico has allowed it to linger and affect the team’s play even months after the fact.
That needs to change. If Mexico play well against the US and Panama, it should be enough for at least one point. Is that something El Tri should aim for, a true standard for the reigning Gold Cup champion to set? Perhaps not. The Hexagonal is not about showing strength and proving dominance or superiority. This is all about qualifying for the World Cup, nothing more.
Mexico has played with fire for three of the last four World Cup cycles. They struggled to qualify for the 2002 and 2014 World Cups. It needed a complete turnaround to get to the 2010 tournament. In trying to reach those three World Cups, Mexico has had eight different coaches guiding the team. Technically, it was seven but Javier Aguirre was a rescuer in 2001 and 2009. There has been a revolving door of not only coaches but players, lineups, schemes, tactics, approaches, philosophies, etc. The only constant has been instability.
If strong play leads to a draw, a pair of draws, or a victory, that’s good for Mexico. Should they pla well and lose two games, then El Tri should let the work define the team rather than the results and to build on the positives.
Mexico’s qualification is down to what happens over their five home games. If Mexico can get maximum points at home, then picking up a few more on the road should be enough for qualification. This qualification process is a long one. It extends well beyond this November international window.
If history has taught Mexico anything, it is that these results are not the only things that will matter. Mexico needs to play with intensity and passion. They need to show growth from the uninspired and frankly boring games that closed out the semifinal round. That alone will be progress whatever the result. The problem will come if and when Mexico does not get the desired results. For many, that means two wins. Should that happen, then the cycle of instability will start all over again.
With four months between matches two and three, the pressure will be on the Mexican federation to run Juan Carlos Osorio out and start over. If that’s what waits. Mexico may regress and find themselves in another tough World Cup qualifying cycle.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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