Despite Big Win at Azteca, Mexico Still Not Up To Par With U.S.
After the fervor has died down from yesterday's long-awaited clash at the Estadio Azteca, both American and Mexican fans are left with a much clearer picture of how they stand in the football world.
Yes, Mexico has bridged the gap with its group contenders and points to a spot in South Africa next year, but it deals with the small matter of going to Costa Rica next month.
In San Jose, they'll face the competition's leaders, who could now lose their top spot with a loss to the Mexicans and a win by either the United States or Honduras.
Yes, the United States solidified their stance as a growing soccer power by defeating Spain and playing a great first half against Brazil in the Confederations Cup, but they still couldn't beat a seemingly weakened Mexico at home for the first time ever.
Now, the Americans are just one point ahead of Mexico, and are dangerously close to the playoff zone, where they would have to face South America's fifth-place finisher for a berth to the World Cup.
With four games to go Bob Bradley & Co. still have two more road games and host Costa Rica in October.
Wednesday's result at the Azteca was no surprise for anyone familiar with the history of this rivalry and the conditions that the stadium imposes for visitors.
While many claimed that history would have no hand in this match, it clearly had some effect, especially if you choose to apply a well known idiom to those in charge of US Soccer:
"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
The lack of high-altitude training and heat adaptation had, of course, a negative effect on American players who looked groggy and tired as early as the beginning of the second half.
The toll imposed on the US allowed Mexico to keep attacking and eventually knock home the game winner with just nine minutes left in regulation.
After the game, Landon Donovan stated that if played anywhere else in the world, the end result might have been different.
He's probably right.
Truth is, the only difference anyone can find between Mexico's disastrous form in the Eriksson days and their current play under Javier Aguirre is an infusion of confidence stemming from two consecutive victories against their fiercest rival.
Perhaps the momentary swing of momentum has clearly favored Mexico recently, but there are several reasons why the United States' panorama is still much clearer than Mexico's.
Cuauhtémoc, where art thou?
The fact that Mexico needs to rely on a 36-year-old player to provide it with tactical balance and offensive danger is downright alarming.
Sure, after Blanco exited early in the second half, Giovani dos Santos picked up the slack nicely.
However, dos Santos still doesn't have Blanco's touch and outright intelligence. Right now, he makes up for it with speed and ball handling, but as we saw during the Eriksson days, that's not always enough.
As of now, should dos Santos lose his form again or fall to injury, there is no outright successor to Blanco, who could provide Mexico with a potent offensive set-up.
On the flip side, the United States' offense features a nice balance with Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, among others.
They're younger, have European league experience, and play under an offensive system tailored to exploit their greatest strengths.
It's all about the goals
Even with Blanco on the pitch, Mexico has a hard time scoring goals, and the most important reason why is their lack of a solid, definitive striker.
Once Jared Borgetti fell into a rapid decline, El Tri was left with a void up front that no one man has been able to truly fill.
Omar Bravo, Francisco Fonseca, Carlos Ochoa, Nery Castillo, Carlos Vela, Omar Arellano, Matias Vuoso, Guillermo Franco and Miguel Sabah have all gotten cracks at the job with no one man stamping his ownership on the job.
Mexico's local tournament is dominated by foreign goalscorers (Vuoso and Franco are both naturalized Argentinians), and teams are struggling to produce young talent that will fill the gap in the future.
Compare that to Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies and Brian Ching (when the sun shines just right on him, that is). The first two, with their youth and talent, should feed American aspirations for a long time.
Plan of Attack
The best deduction to explain the lack of homegrown strikers in Mexico is not a sudden drought among the nation's young, but rather a twisted youth system and poor scouting.
Only a select number of professional teams in Mexico devote considerable time and resources to producing new players, and the effects have slowly started to seep into the national team's play, as well.
Of the 20 players selected to face the United States, 14 came from the youth systems of four Mexican teams (Atlas, Chivas, Pumas, América).
While the MLS doesn't exactly have a feeder league, the tradition of high school and collegiate sports have yielded plenty of talent for the American system.
The famed IMG Soccer Academy in Florida, run by US Soccer, is also a big reason why America's been able to develop a high amount of young talents.
The academy is unequaled by the Mexican federation, which has no unified system or plan for talent development
Head-ing in the wrong direction
US Soccer has enjoyed constant development and success thanks mainly to two things: Project 2010, and managerial (and executive) continuity.
Until last month, when Mexico's National Team Executive Director Nestor de la Torre presented a plan to make Mexico a legitimate threat going into the 2018 World Cup, the federation had absolutely no long-term plan to better their performance.
Sunil Gulati operates in relative obscurity in the US as the sport's leader, free of media pressure and corporate interests. In Mexico, Justino Compean serves as both corporate lackey and whipping boy to the press.
Mexico's largest TV companies, Televisa and TV Azteca, own a total of three first division teams and control the national team's broadcasting rights. This in turn affects the selection of friendlies (for maximum exposure) and the location of said games.
So as the United States travel for a friendly to Italy or Germany, Mexico's taking on Venezuela's B-team or Guatemala in Los Angeles in prime time.
And when was the last time you saw either of those countries in the World Cup?
While the US has proven that they can win on a neutral pitch and successfully export their style of play, Mexico needs to remember one single fact:
There are no World Cup games scheduled at Estadio Azteca next year. Or in 2014, or in 2018.
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