Mexico sings the same old story
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was supposed to be different this time. It was to be the beginning of a new era in the CONCACAF region.
Instead, for Mexico's many eager fans in the stands, it wasn't just the score that was distressingly familiar after the U.S. defeated Mexico 2-0 in Arizona.
Despite a fresh coach and some inexperienced faces in the squad, the southern neighbor to the U.S. trotted out well-known refrains after the result. In a nutshell, the line is basically that the Americans don't play a true game -- they kill attacks and strike back opportunistically, getting lucky even when Mexico has the better of play, while Mexico is cursed by poor finishing.
That customary excuse was rolled out again in the aftermath of another U.S. win.
"It was a match in which Mexico had all the control," Guillermo Ochoa said. "We had more clear chances, we had more attacks on goal, we did everything, but we failed in the final shot."
Forward Francisco Fonseca agreed: "We had opportunity after opportunity; we just couldn't put the ball in."
The major problem with the recurring theme is just that -- the U.S. continues to defeat Mexico using the game plan that has worked before, while Mexico seems unable to adjust tactics. One would think it wouldn't be possible for the Americans to continue to get lucky in every match on U.S. soil in this century. A 7-0-1 record at home can't happen by mere accident.
But that's apparently what El Tri has convinced itself to believe.
Adolfo Bautista was closest to the truth with his assessment.
"We wanted to win the game, but we couldn't do it," Bautista said, though he didn't care to elaborate.
At times, credit was given to the U.S. effort in the game.
"It was intense," Andres Guardado said of the match. "The U.S. did a good job of shutting us out."
What the U.S. squad was able to pull off against the Mexican team was a textbook case of effective soccer. It wasn't fancy or creative, and it certainly wasn't anything new. That's why the excuses for why the Mexican squad failed to meet its objective came back to the habitual default.
"We had opportunities, but we didn't finish them," Guardado said. "They had two, and they did."
To a certain extent, the players seemed unwilling to place blame practically anywhere near themselves.
"We played well," Gerardo Torrado said. "There was one set play [in which the U.S. scored], and then the referee caused the second goal, and that was it."
After discounting that the U.S. tactics, though inelegant, had worked to perfection, many of the players noted that the match was merely an exhibition, an unimportant game in the larger scheme of things.
"Everybody is calm," Ochoa said. "It's a friendly, a practice game."
In this instance, though, actions spoke loudest. The new jerseys of Mexico were not exchanged with those of the U.S., as is traditional, and the players of El Tri hustled off the field without shaking hands with their opponents.
It was also easy to see the frustrated resentment the loss caused among the Mexican players. Goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez took a swipe at Eddie Johnson after Landon Donovan scored his second goal and ran off to celebrate.
"It hurts a lot to lose to the U.S, because they enjoy it and they take pleasure in it," Sanchez said. "But one day, it's going to be us celebrating and enjoying the moment when we beat them."
That's not going to happen, though, if the Mexican team continues to believe the outcome is decided mostly by chance.
Yet a realistic and tough look at the lack of bite in the Mexican attack isn't going to come from the top, unless coach Hugo Sanchez is saying one thing to his team and another entirely to the press.
"The result was unjust," Sanchez said. "This is a unique game in that you can deserve to win and still lose. We deserved to win and they did not."
The party line had little deviation among both the experienced and the new blood of the roster, suggesting that the self-deception runs deep throughout. It's a blind spot of sorts, one that the U.S. can probably continue to exploit.
Although Mexican fans like to claim that the U.S. team is hapless, the hard facts show that the U.S. has not allowed the Mexican team to score on American soil for nearly 800 minutes.
In some ways, the U.S. team has found a groove against Mexico, becoming something of a one-trick pony in killing attacks and striking back quickly via counters. Other teams, such as the Czech Republic and Morocco and others, have figured out that the U.S. is less accustomed to building up an attack, relying instead on counterattacks. Instead of playing into the hands of the Americans, smarter squads have mixed things up by sitting back and forcing the U.S. to seek out the game and move out of its comfort zone.
Those teams were effective because they changed the game plan against the U.S. Yet as long as Mexico continues to blame its losses on fickle fortune and refuses to vary its tactical approach against the U.S., one can expect that it might be a while before Mexico manages to obtain a positive result on American soil.
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com, lasoccernews.com, soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.