By Sean McElroy
Fox Soccer Channel might not have aired the matches, but my friends at Telemundo and Galavision provided excellent (and high definition) coverage of the affairs of Group A. In my preview, I considered Group A to be the CONCACAF version of a group of death. I had originally planned to write a summary of Group A. Such an endeavor would be of little use—because to be honest, only one team in Group A really matters. Upon watching the group stages of this fine tournament, one thing (and to better writers than I, for what it’s worth) has become evident after the completion of Group A. Mexico is going to win the Gold Cup.
Even with their team depleted by tainted chicken—a claim about as believable as Lance Armstrong’s statements that he never doped—Mexico skated through their three matches, scoring fourteen goals while only conceding one. They then received a generous ruling from FIFA allowing them to replace the alleged cheaters. As if they needed any help? That one mark on their record (the only team to go through the first round unscathed at the back was Jamaica, who will face the United States on Sunday) an excellent strike from Marco Ureña. Mexico has shown they are adept at creating chances, and they are putting away a fair share of the excellent chances the create. They have shown their superiority to the cannon fodder of CONCACAF, something which has escaped the United States at this point.
Mexico started out the first match very slowly, only able to manage a nil-nil in the first half against El Salvador. It was a tale of two halves, in perhaps the truest sense of that term, as led by Chicharito’s terrifying finishing prowess, Mexico stormed to a five-nil victory.
Against a poor Cuban side, Mexico managed another five-nil victory. It was the kind of simple, powerful victory that American fans now can only dream of—if Dempsey had put away his chances the United States could have had a similar victory against Guadalupe, for example. Chicharito added another brace to his tally, showing his abilities against weak CONCACAF foes.
Their final group match—against the stronger Costa Rican side, offered some potential in raising a significant test for the Mexican team. Having just watched the Americans play out a pathetic loss against the United States, I certainly hoped the Costa Ricans would push the Mexican side, perhaps grab an early lead. Judging by their last match against the United States (the theoretical and factual, recently, “Giants of CONCACAF”), which occurred in November of 2009 at RFK Stadium, where the Yanks will take the field on Sunday against Jamaica, Costa Rica should have put up a significant fight against the Mexicans. Quite simply, they did not. Mexico stormed out to a four-nil lead. Costa Rica won in the second half, yet Mexico never took it out of second gear in this match, and barely got it in first in the second half. Scared yet, American fans?
All things considered, I feel justified in drawing my dark conclusion from Mexico’s first three matches. Given what I have seen so far in this Gold Cup, I do not believe the United States is good enough to beat this Mexico side. I do not think anyone in CONCACAF is. They possess the ball (with an eye towards intent and attack, not just possession for its own sake) extremely well, they create opportunities, they don’t turn the ball over. They seem to be defending well on set pieces, something which the United States must exploit if they hope to beat this side. They have been well disciplined, are well coached, and are clearly determined to win this tournament. They are almost the real deal, a bit weak on defense but extraordinarily adept at tearing apart defenses who give them time on the ball and at dominating lazy midfields.
The United States, on the other hand, has been impotent at best. Poor build-up, poor tactics, poor finishing: this is the weakest full-strength American team in five years. Many on this fine site have analyzed who is to blame, but what is clear is that the Americans are not up to par right now. I can only hope that this changes before we play quality opposition—which truth be told, and with all due respect to a likely World Cup 2014 qualifier, Jamaica, might not be until the final. But if we want to avoid an embarrassing scoreline, the team must prepare for truly world class opposition. I certainly hope that we rise up to this challenge, and win this tournament, for which now we must certainly be considered underdogs. I hope I am wrong in my prediction. It’s time for the Yanks to prove me wrong. Perhaps this is but a replay of South Africa in 2009, where a tepid early start blossomed into one of the most successful runs in American soccer history. But that game saw the end of group play start the charge, not cause doubts to fester into open wounds. So all we have, and it is fleeting, is hope.
One brief side note—my prediction for Cuba was spot on with regard to points, and I was only off by one on defection—a thirty-year-old striker named Yosmil Mesa was the solitary defector, who apparently climbed down a fire escape in his hotel to find freedom to pursue professional futbol in the United States. Bravo, good sir, and the best of luck to you.
Sean McElroy is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com and you should follow him on Twitter at @fulhamerican.