Aguirre: U.S. against Mexico is a dangerous cocktail
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mexico coach Javier Aguirre isn't touching one very volatile subject among his countrymen: How poorly his nation has done recently in games hosted by the archrival Americans.
When asked Saturday how he broaches the record of no victories in the United States this decade, Aguirre shakes his head and frowns.
"I don't tell that to my players," he said. "Or how important this game is to their country or the history of this (series) or about the United States. That's a very dangerous cocktail."
Instead of feeding such material to his players as they prepare for Sunday's sold-out CONCACAF Gold Cup final against the hosts, Aguirre emphasized the positives. And he's seen many from his players, and from the Americans.
"It's been a generally very positive experience, more because of the continual progress of my players," he said. "There have been ones who have surprised me very positively; I won't mention any names here.
"Physically, we are good, better than ever. Mentally, we are our best ever. Thirty-five days ago in Mexico, I told them we'd get to the final, so we've been progressing mentally for being in the final and winning it."
Winning it would erase a whole lot of pain for the Mexicans, who are 0-9-2 on U.S. soil since 2000. That includes a 2-0 loss in February in frigid Columbus, Ohio, to open World Cup qualifying. And while the United States used that victory as a boost and stands second in qualifying behind Costa Rica, Mexico has struggled and is fourth overall -- the top three countries automatically advance to South Africa 2010.
Aguirre wants to completely separate any World Cup news from the Gold Cup, even though the Americans visit Mexico City for a qualifier on Aug. 12.
"It's 90 minutes of soccer for the Gold Cup," he said of Sunday's match at Giants Stadium, where as much as two-thirds of the 70,000-plus fans figures to be cheering for El Tri. "On Aug. 12 it will be a different U.S. team, a different Mexico team, a different circumstance."
Mexico has won four Gold Cups, as has the United States, and lost to the Americans States 2-1 in 2007 for the crown. The Americans seek their third straight regional championship, and despite bringing an inexperienced squad to the tournament, they have grown and improved throughout the event.
The top U.S. players finished a stunning second in the Confederations Cup earlier this summer, upsetting top-ranked Spain before falling to powerful Brazil in the final. Coach Bob Bradley allowed those players to skip the Gold Cup for a variety of reasons, and what he's seen from their replacements has been eye-opening.
"This is a good group, and you could tell they are very proud of what the players did in South Africa, and they are excited about the opportunity they've had," Bradley said. "A number of guys have taken advantage of playing in several games in a row. Hopefully, this experience will help them in future games."
As for this game, there's always extra juice when the Mexicans and Americans meet.
"There are no friendlies against these guys," said Brian Ching, the only true U.S. veteran of major international games like this. "Mexico vs. the U.S. is Mexico vs. the U.S.
"It's another game to prove ourselves, but doing it by continuing to do what we've been doing."
What they've been doing is distributing the scoring throughout the roster: 10 players have gotten the 12 goals the Americans have put into the net. And avoiding early-game mistakes, something that plagued the 'A' team at times this year. And keeping opponents far away from close range of goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who has played well when tested.
The names will be different in 2½ weeks at Azteca Stadium, of course. Bradley will have his top players there. So will Aguirre.
But the Gold Cup final adds a little spice to the buildup for that qualifier.
"In any great rivalry around the world, the emotions come out," he said. "I'm sure that will be the case here."