USA-Mexico Takeaways: Darkest day in U.S. history?

A ticket to Russia was on the line -- how enticing does that sound? -- as the USA hosted Mexico for the Concacaf Cup at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. Mexico won, 3-2, following a dramatic overtime session that produced three goals. El Tri brushed off a history of collapses against its rivals, setting off a debate on the American side about the future of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

1. Much-hyped game lives up to its billing.

USA-Mexico was hyped up to be the biggest U.S. game in a generation. Forget that it was for a trophy that had never previously been presented -- the Concacaf Cup -- or that only a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup -- a World Cup dress rehearsal dismissed as useless -- was on the line. A crowd of 93,723 at the Rose Bowl -- the second largest crowd ever to watch the USA on home soil -- endured an autumnal heat wave for the Concacaf Cup.

The game was not as good as the last time the USA and Mexico met at the Rose Bowl -- a 4-2 Mexico victory in the 2011 Gold Cup final -- but it was certainly entertaining with its share of twists and turns. The crowd was predominantly pro-Mexico but the split was certainly less than 90-10 split of four years when the crowd urged on El Tri after it rallied from a 2-0 first-half deficit. After Bobby Wood's tying goal to make it 2-2 in the 108th minute, the pro-USA supporters were in full voice.

USA-Mexico Knockout Games:
1934: USA 4-3 (World Cup playoff)
1991: USA 2-0 (Gold Cup semifinals)
1993: Mexico 4-0 (Gold Cup final)
1995: Tie 0-0, USA 3-1 on PKs (Copa America quarterfinals)
1998: Mexico 1-0 (Gold Cup final)
1999: Mexico 1-0 (Confederations Cup semifinals)
2002: USA 2-0 (World Cup round of 16)
2007: USA 2-1 (Gold Cup final)
2009: Mexico 5-0 Gold Cup final)
2011: Mexico 4-2 (Gold Cup final)
2015: Mexico 3-2 (Concacaf Cup)

2. USA faded badly after halftime.

There is no doubt who is the better team, who has the better players, who plays the better soccer: Mexico. But the USA held its own in the first half, quickly getting back in the game on Geoff Cameron's goal after conceding a goal to Javier Hernandez in the 10th minute when El Tri tore apart the U.S. defense with its best piece of skill all game. Mexico had the edge in play but could not create many opportunities. The best chance either team had for the rest of the half was Michael Bradley's free kick stopped nervously by Moises Munoz at the near post.

That changed immediately after the break. Any notion that the USA would take a proactive approach -- Klinsmann's famous catch phrase -- was quickly thrown out the window. The USA kicked off, it passed the ball around 10 times in its own half, and Cameron launched a 40-yard pass to no one. It wasn't until the 5:20 mark that the USA even ventured with the ball into the Mexico half. It was all El Tri, which almost scored when Raul Jimenez was stopped by Brad Guzan with his best save of the game.

3. Mexico didn't collapse after conceding second equalizer.

Mexico has a history of collapses against the United States, in particular second-half collapses. If ever Mexico should have folded, it was after it conceded an equalizing goal to the USA for a second time, on Wood's goal, which came out of nowhere just as it seemed Mexico was going to pull away with a third, fourth, perhaps fifth goal.

Afterward, Klinsmann felt the USA was closer to getting a third goal than Mexico was -- yes, momentum shifted to the USA and, yes, Wood followed up with another good chance -- but at the end that meant nothing because Mexico scored the third goal, not the USA, on Paul Aguilar's shot in the 118th minute and capture the Concacaf Cup.

4. Saturday wasn't American soccer's darkest day.

There was a lot of debate before and after the USA-Mexico game whether Saturday was the darkest day in the history of American. Saturday began with a totally depressing display by the U.S. U-23s, 2-0 losers to Honduras with an Olympic berth on the line.

The darkest day in the history of American soccer? On May 31, 1985, the USA lost to Costa Rica, 1-0, in Torrance, California. The USA, needing only a tie to advance to the next round, was eliminated from contention for a berth in the 1986 World Cup. Two days before USA-Costa Rica, 39 fans died at the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool played at Brussels' Heysel Stadium.

Fans should be thankful they will have three MLS games to fall back on Wednesday and nine more to follow this weekend. In 1985, there was no pro league as the NASL had folded two months before USA-Costa Rica.

And only a berth in the Confederations Cup was on the line Saturday night. Just imagine how dark the day will be when the USA fails to qualify for the World Cup.

5. Klinsmann 'totally fine' with having critics -- and not answering them.

After the game, Klinsmann was asked what he would say to critics who suggested he should be held responsible for the loss to Mexico and the USA's recent decline in form.

"I don't need to say anything to them," he said. "Everybody can express his opinion, and not everyone likes you. That's totally fine. I'm not here to be liked. I'm trying to do a good job and I'm privileged to have that role and represent the U.S. soccer program. It's a privilege for me. I do my best, to my capabilities, and leave the judgment out there for you guys and for people who want to express themselves."

20 comments about "USA-Mexico Takeaways: Darkest day in U.S. history?".
  1. David Trapp, October 12, 2015 at 8:13 a.m.

    Good for you Klinsmann. Just stand your ground, who cares if the entire U.S. soccer program is going straight down the just keep doing your "good" job.

  2. Gus Keri, October 12, 2015 at 8:56 a.m.

    What was the relation between "the darkest day" in American soccer in 1985 and the Heysel's disaster?

  3. Bret Newman replied, October 12, 2015 at 10:25 p.m.

    I know, right! And hardly anyone cared about the USMNT in 1985.

  4. F B, October 12, 2015 at 10:04 a.m.

    This needs to go higher than JK. Blind leading the blind leading the old/washed up. Only ray of light were the young guys Wood and Yedlin. All business/ no heart doesn't win when it counts. We can throw all the money we want at it in our country, but it can't make up for pure desire. Chicharito said it best. To paraphrase, in Mexico, futbol is everything.

  5. Bret Newman replied, October 12, 2015 at 10:39 p.m.

    That is such b.s.! It has nothing to do with heart, or desire. The US Mens team has always had that. They have comeback from being down in almost every game, despite being less talented in most of those games. If you think that, then you haven't been paying attention. Even in this game, the US came back twice. Its the defense that has let them down. Why? Because they are out of position and confused. JK, keeps tinkering with the defenders, and they haven't been established.

  6. Kent James, October 12, 2015 at 10:15 a.m.

    While there was a lot of tension, and there were certainly exciting times when Mexico scored and the US came back, after the first US goal and before the 2nd Mexican goal was probably 75-80 minutes of very pedestrian soccer. It was not an exciting, end to end game. The US dropped back, and Mexico knocked it around, and created few chances. The Mexicans were certainly more creative than the US, but they were not Barcelona. I was also somewhat surprised at how often, under little pressure, the Mexicans made bad passes that gave us possession (we gave up possession probably more than the Mexicans did, but it was usually because they were pressuring us more, so it was somewhat less surprising). So while the first 15 minutes was good, as were the overtime periods, a lot of the play in between was forgettable.

  7. Alberto Mora, October 12, 2015 at 10:35 a.m.

    The process of building a National Team takes years,(it took 50 years to France to became World Champion) Klinsmann is doing a good job with he has and the average USA fan doesn't know that, also Mexico finally are playing better since they have going to play in South America as guest in Copa America something that the US rejects even if has been invited several times. Don't blame Klinsmann he knows that is very difficult to "make chicken soup out of chicken sh..."

  8. Santiago 1314 replied, October 13, 2015 at 12:12 p.m.

    Yeah, Albert, Were just Dumb "UnEducated" Gringos, Like Klinsmann said...

  9. johnny c, October 12, 2015 at 11:26 a.m.

    Yesterday I went to see a U12 team in a predominantly Latino area. The kids wore a USA national team knock off uniform and were playing in a local league that cost $35 dollars a season. I saw 11 INCREDIBLE American players. US Soccer Federation, where are you??? We need to scout and find these kids, we need to completely revamp our entire administration!

  10. Dan Murphy replied, October 12, 2015 at 2:58 p.m.

    Yes, I have seen this talent too at the U13 level. The problem is though, they'd all rather play for Mexico than the US. Or lack the necessary papers to play legally for either team.

  11. James Froehlich, October 12, 2015 at 11:58 a.m.

    "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear"
    And, you can't make a good possession team out of players who cannot consistently make accurate passes under pressure! Unfortunately that is exactly what JK has been tasked to do. Everyone wants the US to make the jump to the next level -- beyond pure athleticism and guts. However, without the raw material that task is currently impossible. Yes, there are games when with minimal pressure we can actually execute a quick passing game but as soon as pressure is applied our weaknesses pop out! (Please don't use some of Bradley's or YEdlin's incisive passes into the box as contrarian examples, midfield possession requires an entirely different skill set). Soooo, in my scenario we don't have a player pool with the necessary skills, what should we (JK) do? Because the highly intelligent US soccer blogosphere demands dramatic change for the better, obviously, and a winning record NOW, we must try to win using players w/o the necessary talent and force them to TRY to play as if they had the necessary skills. Sometimes it works, many times it doesn't! An obvious solution is to give up the pretence of even trying to play skillful possession soccer and fall back to the good old fashioned American style. A less obvious, but maybe, just maybe the best long run option is to say the hell with the record for the next few years, bring in young players with the skills and let them sort things out! No, sorry, gotta win now! Better to complain about selections, formations, playing out of position (even if it's the only way to get the 11 most skilled on the field at the same time) and picking on the egos of our delicate professionals. Despite the horrible state of the US coaching and player development system, the real problem is with the naive and often ignorant fans and media. Good luck on changing that JK!!!

  12. Philip Friedman, October 12, 2015 at 12:17 p.m.

    So, I see. It isn't the players or coach at fault, its the ignorant fans and media, I get it.

  13. Pasco Struhs, October 12, 2015 at 12:40 p.m.

    Well, I agree that JK has limited talent to work with. I'm not sure what else he could do other than put on a uniform himself. You can train a team 24/7/365, but at the end of the day you are left with the talent you are training. What makes it even more difficult is that JK only gets to train the US National Team sporadically, one to two weeks at a time before specific matches.

    I'm a dad (not a soccer player or professional) who has been heavily involved in youth soccer for the past 5 years in NJ, and I think the future for US soccer is bright. I'm sure it depends on where you train in the country and who your coach is, but I see very talented kids playing very controlled football with tight and fast passing and an emphasis on possession. Of course this will not solve our immediate or even next World Cup problem but I think you will see a different US National Team come WC 2022.

  14. James Froehlich, October 12, 2015 at 1:53 p.m.

    ECC - regarding what JK can and can't do: I have been under the misapprehension that with his two titles, coach and Technical Director, JK had considerable authority to meddle with player development etc. However, recently, someone whose opinion I value highly has corrected me. This individual who is positioned to know has informed me that JK's remit is pretty much limited to the various MNT age groups. Sorry about the anonymous source which obviously weakens my case. However this would mean that he can pick MNT coaches and tell them how to play but he can't fix pay-to-play or the awful state of US coaching, college, youth, MLS.
    There are obviously exceptions to the awful coaching label (check out Louisville vs Clemson on ESPN3) but in general, whenever a coach has his livelihood bet on his record, don't look for much creativity or player development, especially when creative, skillful players are in short supply. Note that an extremely high number of the skill positions in college and MLS are filled with foreign players. But don't discuss that in front of soccer media or MLS executives or you will be dumped on like they have done to JK. Just for a test listen to any of our esteemed media and see how many times the say: "OMG, what an awful trap", "That was a terrible pass!", "Too much time on the ball!". Instead we get Professor Taylor Twellman's technical discussions. It's difficult to educate US soccer fans on the beauty of individual skills in soccer when we have "X's" and "O's" discussions that would make John Madden go pale!

  15. Walter Burenin, October 12, 2015 at 2:52 p.m.

    "Just imagine how dark the day will be when the USA fails to qualify for the World Cup". That is exactly what I fear. Over the last 4 years the rest of CONCACAF has gotten stronger and we have
    shown no improvement. The time for a total revamp of the program is now....from top to bottom. New leadership, new philosophy, new coaches. We might not qualify for the Olympics and I fear for our World Cup Qualification. As a 62 year old US soccer fan believe that with the right leadership we can develop a world class program. In order to do so we need to start now.

  16. Jeffrey Organ replied, October 12, 2015 at 3:28 p.m.

    I have been watching US Soccer for as long as you have Walter, and believe you are absolutely right. It is absolutely clear that we have been unable to develop players capable of playing against a good opponents despite understanding and discussing the issue for many years. We have too many people at all levels in US Soccer who have gotten too comfortable in their positions. There is little accountability because everybody is able to operate in the shadows with little pressure. Look at the Board of Directors...they are mostly old insider lifers or people who wouldn't know a soccer ball if it hit them in the face. The current and future soccer fans in this country are 30'years and younger. It is time we turn the US Soccer over to a younger generation, led by younger US retired National Team players, that is much more open to fresh thinking. Gulati is one of the old generation that needs to step aside. He will have his hands full sorting out the mess in CONCACAF and FIFA anyway.

  17. Joey Tremone, October 12, 2015 at 7:41 p.m.

    Darkest day in the history of American soccer is still the day the NASL died. That set us back about 20 years. Not just the 12 where we didn't have a league at all, but several more where everybody financially influential was dead certain that MLS would fail because soccer is a failure in this country. It took MLS a long time to climb out of the NASL's shadow.

  18. Santiago 1314 replied, October 12, 2015 at 11:14 p.m.


  19. R2 Dad, October 13, 2015 at 1 p.m.

    Hyperbole much? Come on. Imagine if we were on the cusp of failing to make it to the World Cup, only for our nemesis to save our bacon at the last moment. THAT would be serious, crow-eating misery. And it happened to El Tri two years ago.

  20. Kevin Leahy, October 13, 2015 at 5:51 p.m.

    It isn't lost on me how much the CONCACAF teams have improved. Many of those players have been playing in MLS. Say what you want about the league but, this is where they are learning to be professionals. It is also the place where many of our best players have plied there trade at one point or another over the years.

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