Thursday, February 12, 2009

Otra Vez

So...I'm amusing myself this morning reading the Spanish language newspapers for their take on last night's US-Mexico tilt, yet another drubbing by the Stars and Stripes. 2-0. Again. I don't speak a whole lot of Spanish, but can fake my way through most of it. What I can't grasp, I run through Babelfish, which, as anyone who has used Babelfish knows, is awesome in its consistent silliness. I give you the lede of a La Opinion article, run through two different translations:

Total loss. That is the balance. Red balance. Themselves does not treat only of the rout, neither of the three points that were an illusion for gullible.

Total loss. That is the balance. Balance red. It is not just the defeat, nor the three points were a mirage for dreamers.

"Total loss" is correct. "Balance," I think, is more properly "problems" ("red" refers to, of course, Rafa Marquez's sending off; that guy has serious problems for someone of such prodigious talent). The second translation has the fourth sentence about right, but I prefer "illusion for the gullible." Must be the writer in me.


The US were dominant in the first 45 with the wind at their back. Confident, composed. Bradley sent out a positive lineup, using Sacha Kljestan in the center of the park, instead of the more defensive-minded Ricardo Clark, eschewing his usual 4-5-1 (or 4-4-1-1) with two holding mids. Kljestan's relative inexperience didn't show, though he was never a real threat going forward, he and Michael Bradley did an effective job of disjointing the Mexican midfield and getting forward. Mexico were clearly wary of the speed of Donovan and Beasley, which allowed for space stepping in behind those players when they made runs. While the Nats didn't take great advantage of that, it's a trend that should pay dividends down the line as this group moves forward.

Sadly, all that good work went to crap in the 2nd half when the US took their foot off the pedal. It may have been the soggy conditions, some out-of-season players lacking full fitness, being against the strong winds. Or parts of all three. Regardless, with a one-goal lead, with the goal coming at a momentum-changing time right before half, the home side should have stormed out of the tunnel and continued to impose their will. They did not. They sat deeper, instead of challegning in midfield, the very tactic that had served them so well in the first 45. Even when Marquez was dismissed (at first, I didn't think it was a red, but the replay clearly showed he led with his studs, a karate kick to Howard's knee that Roy Keane can appreciate), the US played passively. That might be a useful skill on the road, but, at home, you're playing with fire.

Still, they got the result. Mexico were poor in nearly every aspect of the game. Eriksson has them playing a conservative brand of futbol and that's never been their style. It's a poor fit. Their "flair" players, Nery Castillo, Gio, were reduced to playing one-on-one due to lack of support, due to the defensive mind-set of the Mexican midfield. Yes, they were short-handed, missing Guardado, who terrorizes the US and Torrado, the rock in midfield. But it's hard to imagine them flourishing in the Swede's set-up.

Going forward, the US has to be more cynical, adopt some swagger and killer instinct. The team, as comprised last night, won't scare anyone in the World Cup final round, but some pieces are in place for improvement. Bradley the Younger was a revelation, aside from the two goals. Kljestan provides some color to go along with Beasley (surprising strong last night considering his lack of playing time at Rangers) and Donovan. Pearce was strong at left back and Hejduk was equally impressive on the right. Clint Dempsey seems to disappear at times and, like my friend Jorginho says, he gets frustrated by poor service and his body language is obvious. But he seemed to work hard last night.

With a clogged fixture list this summer (Gold Cup and Confederations Cup in addition to qualifying), players currently outside the Starting XI should get lots of opportunities to state their case for inclusion. Jozy, Marvell Wynne, Jose F. Torres, Jonathan Spector, Gabriel Ferrari, Danny Szetela and, I suppose, the erstwhile Freddy Adu. Some of those guys are more creative than what we've currently got and I think "creative" is what we need more of. Steel and industry, on the other hand, is not in short supply.


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