By Jeff Kassouf
For many American, Mexican and worldwide observers, the United States’ 2-0 victory over Mexico in Columbus on Wednesday (Ring a bell?) symbolizes the official shift in power of the region’s best team from Mexico to the U.S.
The win means that the United States Men’s National Team is now 9-0-2 at home against Mexico since 2000, with many of the results being by the familiar score of 2-0, or “Dos a cero,” as some U.S. fans tauntingly chant. It also means that Mexico has all but given up its right to claim supremacy in the CONCACAF region.
It should not be overlooked that Mexico, a team who has qualified for four straight World Cups, almost did not even make it to the final round of qualifying. In the third round of qualifying, the supposed regional powerhouse finished with ten points in Group B, two behind Honduras and tied with Jamaica. With only the top two teams from each group advancing, Mexico advanced over Jamaica on goal differential – not exactly the most convincing way to do so.
Meanwhile, the United States cruised through qualifying with a 5-1-0 record, second only to Costa Rica (all be it in another group) who went undefeated in its six games.
With Wednesday night’s win, the United States basically wrapped-up the claim of being the best team in CONCACAF right now and gave Mexico and Sven-Goran Eriksson several worries about the future of their program. Before this claim can truly be factual, the United States must finally win a game in Mexico (where the team is 0-22-1 all-time), which it has the opportunity to do on August 8.
However, there are two things that came out of Wednesday’s game that are equally important. Firstly, the United States actually played attractive soccer, with one-touch passing and possession. Secondly, Columbus Crew Stadium proved that it could just be something of a national stadium, a quality that U.S. Soccer has lacked in the past.
In years past, the United States has been known to force a very physical and at times, ugly, style of play on opponents. Such a tactic brought about wins against teams within CONCACAF, but it ill-prepared the Americans for other international fixtures, the most important being those in the World Cup (with the exception of 2002).
Even recently, Bob Bradley has been criticized for his very defensive 4-5-1 formation. Clearly, it is more of a grind-it-out style than it is an attacking one, and it has proved insufficient in games against better opponents – or at least those outside the region – such as England, or Argentina, Paraguay and Columbia in the 2007 Copa América. The 2006 World Cup is a whole separate story of disappointment.
However, the United States team that showed up for Wednesday’s fixture was quite different. There were many familiar faces, but the style of play was one that was not only more attractive, but more affective.
It is not that the players on the field changed significantly. Many were familiar faces such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, and the man who had two goals on the night, Michael Bradley. This time, though, there seemed to be a general chemistry and cohesiveness amongst the players.
Throughout the game the Americans possessed the ball with crisp, one-touch passing that made them look calm and organized. From the kick-off, they looked to set the tone with a fast-paced, attacking game that produced solid flank play, particularly the left side combination of DaMarcus Beasley and Heath Pearce – even if the deliveries were not always of the highest quality.
It is an attacking, creative, possession-oriented game such as the one the United States played last night that will get them results against more prestigious teams, which will come in abundance when the U.S. faces Brazil, Italy and Egypt in group play of the Confederations Cup this June.
The addition of attacking players like Jose Francisco Torres (who did not see action Wednesday) to already creative midfielders such as Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will only continue to add to this attractive and more importantly successful style of soccer. Perhaps this is finally the transition that the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and its fans have been waiting for since the successful 2002 World Cup run.
Finding a National Home
The United States is much too large of a country to designate one stadium as a “National Stadium.” Such a maneuver would isolate millions of fans who are not within traveling distance of or do not have economic means of getting to the stadium. It could also saturate a market by playing too many games there.
However, the USSF may just want to start considering Columbus Crew Stadium as its destination of choice more often. While it may not hold the same prestige, Columbus has proved to hold the type of psychological advantage that Estadio Azteca has for Mexico after three-straight World Cup Qualifying victories over Mexico there (2001, 2005 and 2009).
The idea is not a new one. Mexico plays many of their games at Azteca and England almost always plays at Wembley. Again, the infrastructures are not comparable, but the ideas certainly are. Columbus is proving to be an actual home-field advantage for the United States, which is now 5-0-3 all-time there.
In CONCACAF, the big question lies in how terrible the conditions will be on the road in places such as Costa Rica, Cuba or Panama. The lighting is poor, the fields are sometimes unplayable, and the hotels and security are sub-par. Not to mention, most of the countries in the region are situated near the equator, making every game a hot and humid one.
For a team like the United States, Columbus presents the opportunity to create its own home-field advantage. Instead of playing critical games in southern parts of the country such as Phoenix, Houston, or Nashville where the heat or humidity is similar and the U.S. can almost be considered a road team based on the fan allegiances in the stands, put the game up in the colder, damper state of Ohio that has shown it can produce a pro-American crowd.
The United States can still play in all of these other great stadiums around the country such as the Home Depot Center, Rio Tinto Stadium, or even a larger place like Reliant Stadium, but can do so in friendly matches. When the game has more importance, place it where the United States can actually have an advantage at home.
The importance of the United States’ win over Mexico on Wednesday is quite important in the shifting of power within CONCACAF. However, the way in which the victory was put together should not be overlooked and neither should the fact that the United States plays well and wins in Columbus Crew Stadium.
Jeff Kassouf is a a freelance writer who also hosts a weekly radio soccer talk show, The Global Game, on WPNR 90.7 FM out of Utica, NY, which can be heard at http://jeffkassouf.podbean.com/. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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