Commentary

Time for world soccer -- especially the USA -- to start taking Mexico seriously

The Mexicans have been very, very patient. Far too patient, I think, in trying to establish their right to belong up there with the top soccer countries, with Brazil and Germany, Italy and Spain.

At this moment, there is something approaching astonishment in the soccer world: Mexico has beaten Germany! Unfancied Mexico has beaten the world champions!! Has, actually, outplayed the Germans!!!

It comes, apparently, as a surprise. This is a major upset, we’re being told. Is that so? Not around here it isn’t. For decades now the Mexicans have been playing their soccer -- skillful, speedy, artistic, really a pleasure to watch -- winning a top game now and then, but totally failing to make any impression in the corridors of soccer power. I mean, particularly, in Europe.

I first realized that something was amiss in soccer’s treatment of Mexico in 1988. Mexico had been found guilty of using over-age players in the qualifying rounds for the under-20 World Cup. We waited for FIFA to announce its punishment. When it came, it was massive, and out of all proportion. A ban from the U-20 World Cup and a fine was expected. But FIFA banned Mexico from all international soccer activity for two years. Which meant that Mexico could not play in the 1988 Olympic Games and the 1990 World Cup.

No nation had ever been so harshly treated. The first sign (it took me some years to recognize it as such) that Mexico did have a place in world soccer: as a fall guy.

Had this been a small country like Honduras or El Salvador, such a ban would barely have been noticed. Who would have cared? Had this been a major power -- Brazil or Germany say -- no such FIFA World Cup ban would have been declared.

But Mexico, a large country but not a soccer power, was the ideal victim for FIFA to show the world it meant business. Mexico had played in nine of the 13 World Cups - indeed, had just staged the 1986 tournament. Putting the Mexicans in their place made FIFA look good without upsetting any of the major powers.

The underlying problem for Mexico was that its team had never accomplished anything exceptional. In World Cup play, it usually failed to get out of the first round. Mexican soccer was not taken seriously.

That attitude should have disappeared years ago, as Mexico has shown up well in FIFA youth tournaments (a third-place in the 2011 U-20 World Cup, winners of the U-17 World Cup in 2005 and 2011) and in the Olympics (winners in 2012). But Mexico’s role as the fall guy surfaced again last year, when its national team coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, was found guilty of using profane language in a dispute with referees. Not exactly an unheard-of offense. But Osorio’s punishment -- a six-game suspension -- was unusually heavy.

Even today, in the immediate aftermath of the win over Germany, one wonders whether the merits of Mexican soccer are being truly appreciated. I watched a BBC panel of experts (ex-players, all European) analyze the game. They duly, and briefly, praised Mexico, but managed to diminish the Mexican achievement by spending most of their time telling us how awful the Germans had been. Plus, plenty of thoughts about what Germany now had to do to set things right.

What was totally lacking from the panel discussion was any analysis of Mexico’s place in the tournament -- how far could it go? Could it even win the World Cup? Nothing. Yet again, the quality of Mexican soccer was evidently not worth consideration. It seemed that the idea of Mexico as a believable soccer power just did not occur to anyone.

Yet, it should do. Mexican soccer history is not that different from Spain’s. For Spain there were decades of disappointment -- and it was during the World Cup that things always seemed to go against Spain: the flagrant red-card foul by Mauro Tassotti that was not seen by the referee in 1994 as Italy knocked Spain out of the tournament, and then, in 2002, Spain suffered catastrophically bad refereeing that saw them defeated by South Korea -- the host team.

But Spain persisted, never losing faith in their skillful soccer. In 2010 it got its just reward with a world championship.

Mexico, too, knows the slings and arrows of World Cup anguish -- repeated bad luck with the draw, awful referee decisions (has there ever been a worse offside decision than the 2010 one that allowed Argentina’s Carlos Tevez, clearly a yard or more offside, to score a crucial goal?), even the feeling that fate was against them, as in its second round game against Argentina in 2006, a wonderful game, full of great soccer, that went to overtime tied at 1-1, when Maxi Rodriguez decided it for Argentina with a “wonder” goal, something unreal, surely from the world of the soccer gods.

But Mexico, like Spain, has never faltered in its belief that, stylistically, it is doing the right thing by its devotion to skillful soccer -- to the Latin American style.

This time, Mexico’s traditionally bad World Cup news started immediately -- drawn into the same group as perennial power Germany. That would be Mexico’s opening game -- against the reigning world champions.

That huge challenge has been swept aside. Not with a lucky win -- the Mexicans do not seem to have luck on their side at World Cup time -- but with good, occasionally brilliant, soccer. If the Europeans are still not impressed, I think they are making a big mistake.

But not nearly so big as the mistake being made right here at home in the USA. Actually, it’s the same mistake: under-estimating, almost ignoring, Mexican soccer. But the consequences of such ignorance are far more damaging in the USA than elsewhere.

The USA’s constant refusal to fully engage with Mexico and with Latino soccer in general is an ugly blot on the American sport. There is absolutely no soccer reason that can be adduced to explain it. Quite the opposite. The facts, to say nothing of plain common sense, say -- shout, really -- that Mexico has a lot to teach us in soccer.

So why is U.S. Soccer bringing in Dutch and Belgian experts (Irish too, if the latest reports are valid -- more than likely they are)? Why did we have to put up with a German coach who told us our players were not good enough and insisted on bringing in German youngsters? Why is there an almost total absence of Latin coaches among the Federation’s various national team coaches? How is it that promising young American-born Latino players increasingly seek playing opportunities in Mexico, rather than here, in their country of birth?

Does anyone at U.S. Soccer -- or MLS, or the United Soccer Coaches for that matter -- ever give any serious thought to these matters? I don’t think so.

The question of an American playing style is one that has baffled our (mostly) European or pro-European experts for decades. You can be quite sure that no solution will come from U.S. Soccer’s latest Dutch recruit Earnie Stewart, newly appointed as General Manager of the U.S. national teams. Questioned by Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla on this matter of style, Stewart gave us a master class in vapid waffling, making it painfully obvious that he knew nothing about the Hispanic situation here. This piffle ... from the new General Manager?

Embarrassing it certainly was, but it was much worse. It bordered on the scandalous that this vital appointment (for the moment I’m assuming it’s as vital as U.S. Soccer wants us to believe) should be filled with someone so out of touch with a key issue -- no, not a key issue, the key issue -- in the development of U.S. players and of a U.S. playing style.

I remarked, before the recent U.S. Soccer presidential election, that only one of the candidates (Kyle Martino) had even mentioned the Latino challenge. Our new phantom president, Carlos Cordeiro, has not been heard from on the topic. His rare public appearances feature only platitudes before he quickly scoots back to wherever it is that phantoms dwell.

I fear that a part of this aversion to -- maybe even a hostility to -- Mexican soccer comes from the brainless marketing minds that insist we must have a rivalry , better still an enmity ... something those money-minded marketeers can work on to sell more shirts. Nine years ago, we had Alexi Lalas telling us, with evident relish, what he thought of Mexicans: “I hate them, I hate them!” Following that up with “It drives me nuts, I wanna crush ‘em! Crush ‘em!”  Lalas was merely treading in the much earlier footsteps of Eric Wynalda. This was Wynalda's volley from 1996: "I have no problem at all with saying I hate them." Nice, eh?

What tripe. But far too many players and fans seem willing to buy into this adolescent drivel. Just look at the pathetic responses to Landon Donovan’s recent suggestion that American fans should, because their own team didn’t make it, support neighboring Mexico at the World Cup. Where does this unpleasant refusal to even acknowledge Mexico come from, one wonders?

Perhaps the sociologists have an answer. I don’t. But I do know that things have reached as close to rock bottom as you would ever want when it is one of the marketing arms of American soccer -- SUM -- that, through a commercial agreement, offers the only sign of any willingness from the American soccer establishment to cooperate with -- maybe learn something from -- our distant neighbor, Mexico.

38 comments about "Time for world soccer -- especially the USA -- to start taking Mexico seriously".
  1. Ric Fonseca, June 18, 2018 at 10:01 p.m.

    To mi amigo, Paul Gardner:  MUCHSIMAS GRACIAS for your insightful article, oooops, no, not insightful, but very interesting essay, that I would classify as brief, succinct and to the point, so if this was to be graded, I'd give you an A+...  Saludos cordiales!

  2. P T, June 18, 2018 at 10:27 p.m.

    I have always taken Mexican soccer seriously.  Unfortunately they did not show the skill to finish several chances against the Germans - it should have been 2-0 or even 3-0.   I think regardless of the country of origin there is always room for creative play rather than mere physical style that seems to characterize American soccer. AS you noted Alexi Lalas unfortunately has the loudest megaphone and uses an American football vocabulary to reflect his mentality. Lastly, we don't need the hooligan fans from Mexico or elsewhere yelling nasty chants. Let's hope the Cup goes without this boorish behavior.  

  3. P T replied, June 18, 2018 at 10:30 p.m.

    And as noted in another Soccer America story - FIFA  is investigating a racist chant by Mexican fans against Neuer. Which should mean possible expulsion of the fans and even the team - this was clearly stated as within the power of referees. it is time for the rules to be enforced if proven.

  4. Ronnie L replied, June 19, 2018 at 8:13 p.m.

    This is the typical soccer fan in the USA. You always want to shuv politics into everything. Paul is not talking about chants, he's talking about the GAME. Please get things leveled in your head when you want to discuss sports. We need to stop using sports to push personal beliefs and agendas. He's talking about the level of soccer in Mexico and he's spot on.

  5. Bob Ashpole, June 18, 2018 at 10:33 p.m.

    Was no surprise to me. I am with Donovan. Great commercial. Don't people realize that the better CONCACAF teams do, the better for all the rest of us? Instead of a top 20 team Mexico would be a solid top 10 team but for the skewed FIFA ratings system that favors European teams.

  6. Ric Fonseca replied, June 19, 2018 at 1:44 p.m.

    Bob A:  Amen brother, hallellujah and praise the lord!!!

  7. cony konstin replied, June 22, 2018 at 1:52 p.m.

    In the end we need to create our own style our own way. Every country has something good to share but in the end you must create your own identity. Copy and paste is not the solution. The solution is 600,000 Futssl courts. A playing environment and not a coaching environment. REVOLUTION

  8. Wooden Ships replied, June 22, 2018 at 2:42 p.m.

    Welcome back cony.

  9. Wooden Ships, June 18, 2018 at 11:29 p.m.

    Paul good read and there are sociological explanations, contextual underpinnings, that have been in play since the 60’s. In sociology, there are three dominant schools: Structural-Functional; Symbolic Interactionism; and Conflict Theory. Sociologists can use any approach to provide  explanation. I’ll leave others to draw conclusions and they would do so, largely based on their own phenomenology. I will say this, our style of play, has been upheld (those in power) by players of less skill. There has always been skilled players similar to the Latin style in our country, they’ve been excluded intentionally.

     

  10. Henry Gankema, June 18, 2018 at 11:36 p.m.

    Right on Paul !

  11. Kent James, June 19, 2018 at 8:17 a.m.

    I think Lalas (and Wynalda) were being hyperbolic and provocative.  Given the treatement of US players (playing for the USMNT) in Mexico, their feelings are understandable.  And they both played before the series of "dos a cerro" victories earned us some respect from the Mexicans.  When taken too far, an intense desire to beat an opponent can lead to inappropriate behavior.  We do have a great rivalry with Mexico, and sometimes it is hard to cheer for your rivals. Do Real Madrid fans cheer for Barcelona in the Champions League?  They should, but it can be hard.  Of course we should hope Mexico does well, because that will help CONCACAF earn some respect.  Mexico has historically underperformed at the WC, which is why they don't get the respect on the world stage they would like.  Maybe this WC will be different.  They certainly deserved to beat Germany, but that's just the first game.  If they can keep that up, they will go far, and I hope all American fans will cheer their success.

  12. Ric Fonseca replied, June 19, 2018 at 10:41 p.m.

    To Kent James:  In his article above, P.G. mentions the dearth of Latino coaches in virtually ALL of the coaching groups, associations, etc, especially scouts coaches, team managers, etc.  This ia problem that some of us addressed, or tather tried to address about the time of WC USA 1994, when we organized and formed the LATIN AMERICAN SOCCER COACHES ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA (LASCA), and yes with the actual blessings of then US Soccer President Alan Rothenberg, and Hank Steinbrechers.  Even the then NSCAA, welcomed us with open arms, and our numbers, which were rather large, but mostly in the major cities, out on several coaching courses, with US Soccer's blessing, NSCAA, and even had UMBRO jump on our bandwagon.  Sadly, though, some years after WC 94, the Association was subsummed by the NSCAA as they did likewise to other ethnic" coaches groups, yup we still had our boothe at the National Conventions, but the Association - LASCA - slowly disappeared.  There are other sad reasons for our "demise", however, within US Soccer today I believe two of our original members are still working as scouts, all be it in the Florida area and San Diego; and while there is a new generation of young coaches, I can name quite a few of my former college players who've taken up the challenge but also echo our concerns of the past years - pre and post WC USA 94 - and wonder just how much longer must we, Latino coaches, managers, etc., continue to beat our heads against the wall. I suppose that the answer is and ought to be SI SE PUEDE!!!

  13. Miguel Dedo, June 19, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    The Manager of the Mexican team, a Colombian, has lived most of his adult life in the United States – the Mexicans hired him, the US went with a German, Jürgen Klinsmann.


    Looking to the future, the United States should hire Zinedine Zidane to manage US soccer – he seems to be out of a job just now.

  14. R2 Dad replied, June 21, 2018 at 1:13 a.m.

    Zidane has plenty of options--managing the USMNT has got to be near the bottom of that list!

  15. frank schoon replied, June 21, 2018 at 7:40 p.m.

    R2, when we’re picking teams to play against each other, I will let you pick Chicarito and I will take either Diego Costa or van Persie. There is a lot more to look at and in a game than going by statistics.

  16. s fatschel, June 19, 2018 at 10:01 a.m.

    PK: A topic discussed many, many times and most agree with but we are at a point where we need more. How about SA researching the problem in more depth and suggesting some solutions? The clock is ticking to 2026.

  17. frank schoon, June 19, 2018 at 10:18 a.m.

    Guys, Remember what the USMNT did to Portugal in the WC somewhere in the 90's. The US blew out Portugal. I'll you had to do was sneeze and the US scored. Never before had the US team such a route of a major team....The stars were aligned,somehow causing the US to do what to do what it did. Yeah, then look what has happened since then for the US? I remember, the praise of the US soccer program after that Portugal game. Likewise, all of a sudden Mexico is fantastic, where have they been all this time. As I say Sh*t happens. I judge on consistency not on one game. And maybe, Mexico due to some of the players they have ,have contributed to making Mexico a better team. But don't tell me that it is because of some great  Mexican soccer system ,for if that was the case we would not have been so surprised and excited what they did to Germany.

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, June 19, 2018 at 10:03 p.m.

    In my view for a long time Mexico had most of the pieces needed to beat the top teams. They always had flaws.

    For example they had a fragil mentality. You mentioned inconsistency. When you play with passion (which I believe in) there is a fine line between making your passion work for you or letting your emotions get away from you. I think Mexico has found a mental toughness they have lacked in the past. Championships are not won by teams that fold when they get behind. Only time will tell.

    They have always been good with the ball on the counter. The back 5 without the ball have been less impressive. In the past in particular they needed players who can deal with balls served into the box. I think Mexico defense is looking much stronger in the back, and not simply because they shut out Germany. 

    If the Russian crowds get behind Mexico, things could get very interesting. 

  19. frank schoon replied, June 20, 2018 at 10 a.m.

    Bob, of course, it's all about consistency. I consider Mexico having the most stable soccer program of North and Central America. They have the ability to beat a European team and it is not surprising for Mexico has always produced decent quality players that end up playing for some good teams in Europe. I'm not surprised they beat Germany but only through  counter attacking soccer for they weren't going to do it with knocking the ball around ,a la Barcelona/ Bayern, and finding a weak spot and attack; the Mexicans don't have that type of ability, yet. The Germans ,tactically, played terrible and they deserve to lose.
    But I'm not going to be one of those who are going bonkers emotionally about Mexico having won a game against a good team who played bad. You have to look at how they won, the chances created by Germany, the tactical duds of Germany, to really understand what happened out there.
    It is all about the "details" for Osorio understood that element very well and realized if Mexico were to beat Germany it would be on quick counterattack. Notice how Mexico left Boateng alone with the ball for he was the worst player on the team with the ball, which was an interesting detail...
    I hope Mexico goes up to the next round for they deserve it.

  20. s fatschel, June 19, 2018 at 10:50 a.m.

    As an example the Hispanic population is about 15 percent in the USA.  Assuming parents do not come to the USA for their kids to be pro players but to go to college, we also can assume 15 percent Hispanic on USMNT.  Thats what we have right now. The point is the topic needs more research and IMHO will likely come back to increasing soccer participation through severe reduction of pay to play.

  21. Ric Fonseca replied, June 19, 2018 at 10:24 p.m.

    To one and all readers, I strongly recommend that you all please read the most recent issue of National Geographics 07/2018 that includes an article titled "How Latinos Are Shaping America's Future," which will also ought to and should shape US Soccer's future.  The timing of SA's PG Article and the National Geographic's is certainly food for thought.  

  22. s fatschel replied, June 22, 2018 at 4:34 p.m.

    RF.  Good article. Mostly discusses rise of Latinos to offices in government and in one case a surgeon. First picture is a college graduation. No mention of soccer of course and takes me back to the point of assimilation and rising affluene of the second generation. I think SA really needs to research this more. PG needs to leave the house and get out into the field.

  23. John Soares, June 19, 2018 at 1:31 p.m.

    Always good to see a CONCACAF team do well.
    Mexico does not need patience, it needs results.
    Beat Germany...done.
    Win a world cup or at least finals.
    And the world will take notice.
    Too many times Mexico has fallen to lesser teams.
    That's not how you establish the "right" reputation. 
    HOPE THIS IS THE YEAR!

  24. John Soares, June 19, 2018 at 4:21 p.m.

    Frank, it was 2002 in South Korea. USA went up 3-0 before winning it 3-2.
    Then went on to beat Mexico 2-0.
    Anybody want to remember what happened four years later...
    it was sad.

  25. frank schoon replied, June 19, 2018 at 5:16 p.m.

    Thanks, John....

  26. Ronnie L, June 19, 2018 at 8:08 p.m.

    I don't often agree with Mr Gardner on many issue BUT I MUST ADMIT that I agree with this article. This article is spot on! It makes me sick how clueless our soccer leadership is when it comes to the game of soccer. 

  27. Kevin Leahy, June 19, 2018 at 9:13 p.m.

    I respect Mexican soccer and I will cheer for them @ this WC. They are also the team I want the US to beat more than anyone. They are the big dog in our federation.

  28. R2 Dad, June 21, 2018 at 1:34 a.m.

    Good points, PG. I'd suggest that Mexico has earned some of that reputation, but compare them to the Netherlands. The Dutch have never won a World Cup either, but are much more favored in the European press despite not qualifying for 2018. Yes, Mexico let Arjen Robben wander around in the box long enough to trip over something and beat Mexico in 2014. But they are a better team than they are given credit.

    Chicharito, I believe, is a quality goal-scorer and proved it in the UK and Spain. But he was never signed to a contract worthy of his contributions. I suspect some of that was due to his nationality. No, not all teams need that fox-in-the-box type player, but Real Madrid and United both benefited from his scoring rate despite not being used consistently. Many teams now play a 4-2-3-1, which might not suit his strengths. But the extent to which teams scout and sign goal scorers and the money they pay to do so should have indicated a higher value for Hernandez and better opportunities than West Ham (where he still didn't play that much).

  29. frank schoon replied, June 21, 2018 at 6:34 a.m.

    R2, Chicarito, is not a consistent goal scorer, he has been more of a disappointment in Europe and that is why he has been bounced around so many teams and doesn’t get the playing time.

  30. Bob Ashpole replied, June 21, 2018 at 4:16 p.m.

    But Frank, that should make him very hungry for success at the finals. He is 30 years old. Mexico certainly needs a big tournament from him and others. 

  31. frank schoon replied, June 21, 2018 at 4:34 p.m.

    Ofcourse , Bob that should make him try as hard as possible. Hey, lets face it, who else has the experience Chicarito gained while playing in Europe. The Mexican team definitely needs him and is experience.

  32. R2 Dad replied, June 21, 2018 at 7:10 p.m.

    For front men in the Premier League with more than 30 matches, he ranks 7th at 130 mins/goal:
    https://www.dailystar.co.uk/sport/football/631389/Premier-League-minutes-per-goal-ratios-Javier-Hernandez-West-Ham-transfer-sportgalleries
    ...which is better than Van Persie, Shearer, Diego Costa, Sturridge, and Dzeko. That's the opposite of inconsistent.

  33. R2 Dad replied, June 21, 2018 at 7:12 p.m.

    Same at Real Madrid:
    http://www.punditarena.com/football/english-football/jmurphy/chicharito-now-has-3rd-best-goals-per-minutes-ratio-in-la-liga-only-behind-messironaldo/

  34. frank schoon replied, June 21, 2018 at 7:42 p.m.

    R2, when we’re picking teams to play against each other, I will let you pick Chicarito and I will take either Diego Costa or van Persie. There is a lot more to look at and in a game than going by statistics.

  35. frank schoon replied, June 21, 2018 at 7:42 p.m.

    R2, when we’re picking teams to play against each other, I will let you pick Chicarito and I will take either Diego Costa or van Persie. There is a lot more to look at and in a game than going by statistics.

  36. Bob Ashpole replied, June 22, 2018 at 2:14 a.m.

    I understand Frank's point. It is a good one, but inconsistency is a common problem with strikers. Another word for inconsistent is "streaky" which is why Frank point about statistics alone don't tell the whole story.

  37. Tony Biscaia, June 29, 2018 at 9:37 a.m.

    ooops wrong year

  38. Tony Biscaia, June 29, 2018 at 9:39 a.m.

    Brazil and Germany, Italy and Spain, none of which won the European Cup last time around... give credit where due

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