August 12, 2009

Looking forward to CONCACAF qualifying

Spoiler alert--if you are planning on watching a recorded version of the USA @ Mexico game from today, don't read further because you'll see the result, which was of course a predictable travesty. And if you choose to read on, be prepared for a good old-fashioned rant. Insert two profanities between every pair of words, and you'll understand what my house sounded like during the second half of this game.

With the regularity of hurricanes destroying trailer parks in Florida, the US lost yet another soccer game on Mexican soil. On the field were 11 good American soccer players, 6 good Mexican soccer players, 5 cheating hacks, two officials on the take, and one official who apparently missed the payoff meeting. The game followed the CONCACAF prescribed script: Have the US show promise, then have the referees take away their win, then hope the Americans get so befuddled that the Mexicans score a late goal to send the 90,000 fans into a fit.

Sour grapes? Sure, I admit utter bias, and bitterness whenever my teams lose. But once again, Mexico proved they are classless cheap-shot artists (for the most part). The US players showed they are not yet ready to win a World Cup. And CONCACAF proved that they do not want to see a World Cup that excludes Mexico.

In the opening minutes, a clear penalty for the US was
not called. Time and again, particularly in the final 30 minutes, the referee appeared not to see blatant fouls and cheap shots by the Mexican players. At one point, three Mexican players surrounded and bullied an injured American lying on the ground; another time, one player ran 20 yards to push an American without reason... the ref did nothing when shortly before he'd given a yellow card to one of the Americans for a basic foul. Ultimately, the US missed out on a goal because the linesman called an offside which clearly wasn't. In replays it was clear; at full speed it was clear.

Mexico deserved their two goals. The first was a blistering shot amid truly abysmal defending. The second came again from sketchy defending that allowed too many green jerseys to be open in the box. But the US deserved three goals, not just the one they got. I guess Donovan could have missed the penalty. And perhaps Davies might have failed to score on his breakaway that was called offside. But I'll bet any amount that at least one of those is scored, resulting in a draw instead of a loss for the US.

I hear you: Stop whining, bad calls are part of the game, the referee was bad both ways, yadda yadda. Here's the thing: The ref was not bad both ways. He let some pretty bad behavior go by the kids in the green shirts while handing out yellow cards to the Americans like he got them on a special sale.

And I hear you again: The US should have played better, worked their way through this adversity. Definitely the US should have defended better; their midfield was porous at best and absent at times. Steve Cherundolo was left in deep two-on-one situations about half the game. Mexico had an open range up to about 20 yards from the American goal. That was Bradley's game plan, and it would have worked for a tie or a win if not for the refereeing crew. The officials exist to keep the game fair, to stop cheating. That's not what they did tonight.

Finally, here's why I think the rest of CONCACAF qualifying will be fun for American fans: As much as CONCACAF does not want a World Cup draw that excludes Mexico, they can't imagine a 2010 World Cup that excludes the United States. Can you imagine the money lost if the USA does not participate? The long term damage done to the sport in this most lucrative of countries? Yes, I feel bad for Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras, El Salvador. Barring a complete meltdown that referees can't fix, the US will qualify. So will Mexico. CONCACAF can't afford otherwise.

It's too bad, really, but quit your whining, smaller Central American and Caribbean countries. That's the way the game goes. The refs are bad both ways. When qualifying is over, you'll just be left to contemplate the sour grapes.

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