Thursday, February 8, 2007
This third millennium has been a tough one for Mexicans, as a formerly enjoyed one-sided rivalry between the long time CONCACAF kings of the hill and the United states has swung the other way over the last seven years.
In what was the eighth meeting between the teams since June of 2000, Mexico pushed their road streak in scoring futility one game further as they again failed to notch a goal on an American field.
The difference between the United States and Mexico, however, came not in the 2-0 scoreline, or in Carlos Bocanegra and Jimmy Conrad teaming up to shut down a Tricolores attack from memory lane in the form of Jared Borgetti and Cuatehemoc Blanco.
Nor did it come with Landon Donovan's nail-in-the-coffin, Michael Jordan-Larry Bird, off the expressway, off the street sign, off the referee, off to the races goal that sealed the victory for the home team.
It came when in an extraordinary show of class - or lack thereof - keeper Oswaldo Sanchez took a sliding swipe at Eddie Johnson as he followed after the Galaxy forward in celebration.
Then, after Canadian referee Mauricio Navarro blew his whistle to signal time, Los Tricolores could be seen refusing to shake hands or exchange jerseys with US players in what seems to have become a tradition.
Instead, Hugo Sanchez's Mexico headed to their team's locker room to contemplate over seven years without a goal on US soil.
While actions such as these no longer seem shocking coming from Mexico, this time, the first incident was from the player who so recently had epitomized stoicism in sport.
Prior to the last World Cup in Germany, Sanchez lost his father. Were it not for the urging of his teammates and his own family, the 33-year old keeper might have missed out on his and his father's dream.
Watching Mexico play during last year's World Cup, I found myself doing something I thought I would never do - I was cheering for our southern neighbors to win. Anyone who was paying attention had heard about Sanchez' loss and I found myself hating Portugal a lot more than Mexico in that final group game.
When Argentina midfielder Maxi Rodriguez pulled a knockout winner out like the proverbial rabbit from a hat in the 98th minute, I remember being quite deflated at seeing such a valiant team sent packing in such a manner.
It only takes a game like tonight to realize that all bets are off and any illusions of sportsmanship are just that when Los Tricolores are pitted against the Red, White & Blue.
It certainly didn't help matters that it was Donovan, of all players, who sealed the game.
The former Bayer Leverkusen recruit is always doing something to rankle Mexico. Whether it be heading home a cross to put the game out of reach at World Cup 2002 or simply relieving himself on their vaunted Guadalajara field, he is certainly the gringo they love to hate.
The fact is, the United States had exactly three chances to score on the evening and converted on two of them, while the Mexicans seemed to have an opportunity every time down the field from the moment of Conrad's first international goal.
Speaking of Jimmy Conrad, as my high school football coach used to say, I'd take that guy into jungle combat with me. How many shots did he block and how many times did he come up big?
A guy who less than a year ago was referring to a friendly versus Germany as the 'biggest game of my life' has forced his way into consideration for a central back role for the near future.
Yet from the time of that header that, incidentally Conrad didn't even have to leap for, Mexico dominated the United States.
Wave after wave of attack was sent into to the US end, and notoriously ornery Mexico head man was making every attack substitution to put as much pressure as possible on an inexperienced American team.
If Mexico were harboring any ideas of respectable behavior, they were certainly thrown by the wayside when Donovan - AKA Mexico enemy numero uno - doubled the United States tally with a superbly taken one-on-one with Sanchez in stoppage time.
I hadn't noticed Sanchez' swipe until ESPN's absolutely amazing tandem of one-time sparring partners Bruce Arena and Eric Wynalda pointed it out to the viewers, hoping that FIFA might take a look at keeper's lunge.
The two commentators had even spoken highly of the 33 year-old earlier on in the game and mentioned his family ordeal last year. Doubtful that any American will ever make that mistake again after seeing the way Sanchez tried to take Johnson out.
Luckily for Johnson, Sanchez had just as much trouble stopping him as he had the speedy Galaxy forward whose run on goal had beaten him so cleanly; the Mexican keeper was certainly out for blood.
Hopefully, FIFA will go after this clear act of cowardice that seems to underline the major problem with what so many people refer to as "The Beautiful Game."
What it has evolved into more closely resembles the "Where people fall down untouched while others take cheap shots when the referee is not looking" game.
The quotes coming out of the Mexican camp before the game signaled the intensity with which the visitors would be coming into the game.
"It's more than a game to me," Blanco said prior. "I don't have friendly matches, much less against them."
Midfielder Gerardo Torrado added that 'losing to the United States is not permitted' and most comments from the Mexican players did not seem to come from players getting set for a friendly.
And even though the clashes with Mexico as long as I can remember have been notably bad blooded - Rafael Marquez' head-to-head contact with Cobi Jones in Jeonju comes to mind - for some reason I still expected that a classy team would show up.
Games like these make you wonder if Mexico just wants to beat the United States a little too much. Life is like that sometimes. It seems actually that life is always like this, unfortunately for Mexico. The more you want something to happen, the lesser the likelihood of said thing actually coming to pass.
With each passing victory, the thorn in the Mexican side that is the United States continues to irritate. Each victory becomes even more humiliating that the last, in the eyes of the searching Mexican fans.
The trend figures to continue, since in order for Mexico to come out on top versus the United States, they'll have to first admit that the US are capable of beating them - which was certainly not the case judging from the comments after the game.
"We can beat the US playing exactly like we did today," Sanchez the keeper said after the game.
Rafael Marquez refused to grant any credit to the Americans and inferred that the better team had gone into the clubhouse as losers.
"Considering the tactics that they utilized, I think that is the credit I would give them considering the fact that on the field, they were not superior to us," said the Barcelona defender.
Though Donovan and Sanchez were on opposing sides, and went head-to-head at one point in the match they were both able to agree on one thing: the US were a little bit fortunate.
Said the US star after the match: "I think mentally we do have an edge, but we were also a little bit lucky and there were times when they could have scored."
"We had a number of opportunities that we couldn’t convert and their goalkeeper was lucky on a number of occasions in which the ball landed right into his hands," offered the petulant keeper.
But no amount of transparent pride will change the facts. They shouldn't even be worried about winning in America until they manage to score here.
The worm has turned big time, and Mexico acted like they were caught unaware on Wednesday, like it was just another fluke that happened to them. And they went home to, I suppose, avoid pondering the errors of their own ways again.
You live, you learn. Well... some do, anyway.