If you watched yesterday's game between the U.S. and Mexico, you must have felt an overwhelming sense of deja vu. I know I did.
Yes, the U.S. lost to Mexico again at the latter's home turf, but there was a more recent trend that continued: the inability of the U.S. to hold a lead against a quality opponent.
We witnessed this during the Confederations Cup, when the U.S. took leads against Italy and Brazil, only to fold down the stretch and eventually lose.
What's the problem? Well, possession is the key. The U.S. does not play the "defend and hope to counterattack" strategy well against quality opponents. The U.S. will give the ball away too easily and not be able to obtain and keep possession long enough to keep its opponents honest and threatened in its defensive third.
As we saw against Brazil in the Confederations Cup and yesterday at Azteca, if you give your opponent all day to break you down, eventually they will. Even a top goalkeeper like Tim Howard cannot stop every shot when you give your opponent so many chances.
Apologists for the team will argue that we weren't expected to beat Mexico anyway, that the conditions and history in Mexico did not favor us. They will argue that we will probably secure qualification anyway. We are playing the best we can given the system, coaching, and players at our disposal, they would say.
And, to a certain extent, they are right.
We know now what the ceiling is on the U.S. team: We win at home, we lose on the road to good opponents, and we're capable of getting results like we did against Egypt and Spain.
The question now is whether that level is acceptable or whether we are capable of becoming and expect to truly become a top-10 footballing nation.
I would argue that we have the talent to win the big games against the top teams, but we need better tactics and coaching. If we can improve in these areas, we would not play bunker ball for long stretches of the game and instead keep possession better.
I believe that if we just had the ball and threatened Mexico's defense for five-to-six more occasions than yesterday, we could have scored again and that would have taken some of the pressure off our defense.
If anything, the U.S. had a golden opportunity after Charlie Davies scored, but instead the team sat back rather than continuing to press forward. This allowed Mexico to score 10 minutes later and allowed the crowd and its players back into the game.
We can't allow that to happen against good competition; when you have the opportunity to stamp out an opponent, you must take full advantage of that and finish them off.
Casual fans are watching the U.S. team now, but they won't for long if these types of performances continue. For the game to truly grow in this country, we need to take the next step, but we're stuck in neutral.
Therefore, we should not continue to accept these "expected" performances. We have to continually question the U.S. Soccer Federation, our soccer leadership, our coaches and even our players.
That is the only way we will improve.
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