Porques Mexico jeuga como chicas este ano. Or something like that. Three custodial things before a final game preview:
a. The game is on Mundo 2, as noted before. If you would like a link to a live stream b/c you are at work, or because you found that finding Mundo 2 on your cable company’s channel guide is like trying to find Sasquatch– here you are:
b. If you haven’t read Kristian Dyer’s piece about Landon Donovan’s immense summer, which dives into his otherwordly form at the moment and his immense leadership and performance for the USMNT this summer– you can do so here.
c. If you haven’t seen Landon’s golazo volley against the Rev last weekend, which propelled the Galaxy to yet another victory, stop what you are doing, hit the boss button on the computer and view that here. That goal was just stupid.
Now to the game– and if you aren’t excited for this one– you have ice water veins or no soul. I bet even Skeletor himself is excited for this one. First, note that no team in CONCACAF has failed to qualify for a world cup since the 1997 qualifying session when they’ve achieved 15 points. This means what you probably already knew– if the United States does win today at the Azteca, you can finally book the plane tickets to South Africa. If they lose– the Yanks are still in good shape– with maybe a point on the road at either Honduras or Trinidad and Tobago, and with 3 available at home against Costa Rica and El Salvador, respectively. The T and T road game just got a bit more difficult, with the additions of Fulham Striker and Duece’s pal Bobby Zamora and Bolton Wanderers strong man Jlloyd Samuel, but a point is there for the taking nonetheless.
What does this mean ? It means the game is huge– but only realistically enormous if you are a Mexico fan. If Mexico fails to win three points– the campaign for them because immensely more difficult, even with two home fixtures remaining. Even a draw leaves Mexico with only 7 points with four to play (meaning they fall 8 below the 15 point magic number)- and that means they would need nothing short of a miracle to not finish fourth. If you finish fourth– that ensures a two-leg tie with the Fifth place CONMEBOL team to determine who goes to the World Cup. Normally, you are talking Columbia (difficult but not insurmountable), Ecuador (difficult, especially on the road but not insurmountable), or Uruguay (not as difficult). Yet with Diego Maradona’s Argentina side struggling terribly– the fact is that it is very likely at this point that a fourth place finish in CONCACAF means a two-leg tie against the Argentines for the final berth to South Africa from our side of the world. And my money is on Leo Messi. So today’s match is huge for Lady Gaga backup dancers Guillermo Ochoa and Andres Guardado.
Now- much has been made of the U.S. decision to not travel to Mexico until the day before the match. Many talking heads feel this is bad, given the fact that the air quality in Azteca is about as good as a Hartsfield International smoking room and the altitude is 7,600 feet (about what you experience on an Aspen ski trip). I don’t have as many problems with it. While training in the heat of Miami might not have been optimal (a trip to Salt Lake City would have made more sense)– it kept the travel down and made the Americans deal with oppressive August Florida heat. Couple that with the fact that the South Africa matches were all played around 5,000 feet of altitude, and you understand why Bradley feels comfortable with his choice. Add the fact that there’s a decent chance the game will be played in a driving rainstorm, and I think the Yanks are more concerned about flying bags of urine, flares and batteries than they are the air quality or altitude.
and I are confident the Yanks will show up, and the real questions I think are whether the more fit Brian Ching starts in place of Charlie Davies (giving the Yanks a real threat off the bench), and whether Bradley opts offensive and utilizes Benny Feilhaber in the starting 11 rather than the defensively sound Ricardo Clark. Containing the ever dangerous Andres Guardado will be a key, and with Guardado carrying a bit of a knock, there is hope that Rico Clark can stay with him in terms of pace– but we will see.
Two other things. First, much has been made of the inclusion of Jose Francisco Torres to the lineup. I think he’ll be in the Gameday roster b/c he’s played at Azteca before (with his club Pachuca against Club America, Azteca’s home side). What I don’t know is whether or not he’ll play in the match. Remember that Torres is a pure attacking midfielder, a Latin flair player who is the first of his kind to actually don the Red, White and Blue. The problem with Torres is that in a traditional 4-4-2, it is difficult to include a player who plays his style. As such, I’m inclined to think no Torres unless the U.S. are in trouble. Remember when Torres did play, it was in an experimental 4-3-3 against Costa Rica. This formation better suits a player like Torres whose pace is blinding even with the ball directly at his feet. The problem is that the Americans don’t have mids particularly suited to this style, and it leaves defensive gaps and decreases the emphasis on the counterattack, which suited the Yanks so well in South Africa. For more on the Torres dilemma, which is a good dilemma to have, see Jonah Freedman’s column here.
Finally, it has been very interesting to see all the talking heads, whether it be “Around the Horn”, “PTI”, Sportscenter, or Sports Talk Radio shows– talking about this game and the national team. I have some musings on this. First, it is quite funny to hear. Hearing Woody Paige, or better yet Tim Cowlishaw, or even Kornheiser or yep– the Jungle Master himself Jim Rome, stipulate things about the USMNT as if they were experts sounds about as good as I would if I were to give an oral treatise on thermodynamics. No good. Most of them have said we have no chance, which I also like. Lastly, it does prove that the summer in South Africa, and the success of the reserves in the Gold Cup, has really elevated the presence of the game in this country. People care now. You can see it in facebook statuses and you can see it on cable television. You can see it in articles that are all over the various sporting websites. A victory today would be immense for that growing momentum– but a loss I don’t think would be devastating– partly because the talking heads, outside of me and Minka Kelly, don’t really think we are going to win anyway. Just fascinating that an ESPY upset of Spain can really make you matter. The boys have always mattered to me.
My take: United States 2-1, though a draw wouldn’t surprise me. Vamos a Ganar !!