Monday, May 31, 2010

Back on track

My my how one weekend doth change much. On Friday the US was a team still full of question marks who disappointed mightily against the Czech Republic, and Mexico was a team on a two game snide with no confidence and no definitive starting XI. By Sunday, all of that had changed.

(Goals at :25, 2:30, and 4:40 for those only interested in goals)

Three things we learned:

1) Jose "Paco" Torres is a playmaker. His playmaking and ball distributing abilities ignited a stagnant US attack. He deserves to be in the starting line-up against England.

2)Robbie Findley is not a waste call-up. Critics (myself included) were befuddled by Bob Bradley's decision to call up Findley over veteran veteran Ching. His speed kept Turkey on its heels the whole time Findley was out there. His scoop pass to Ladon Donovan was a thing of beauty as well.

3)Carlos Bocanegra will be our starter at left back. Jonathan Bornstein was mediocre at best against the Turks. He is to inconsistent to be relied on time in and time out. Bocanegra has plenty of experience at the spot playing for club team Rennes and is a much better option in the back.

1)Chicharito deserves to be a starter come June 11th. His brace against Gambia gave him seven goals in 10 career appearances with El Tri. He is a goal scorer unlike any Mexico possesses.

2)Set pieces will be the death of Mexico. Conceding yet another set piece goal, the Aztecs have revealed their weakness. They are terrible at covering corners or free kicks. They simply suck. There is no other way around it.

3)Mexico can beat down crappy opposition with the best of them. Let's just hope South Africa is the crappy opposition everyone expects them to be.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Players to know part I: A who's who of the Mexican talent

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez: This 21-year-old has risen quicker than a horny teenager's member at the Playboy mansion. Two years ago, he was playing local talent in Texas, contemplating whether to call it a career. A year ago he was a reserve member of Chivas de Guadalajara, trying to scratch his way onto the main squad. Now, he is a member of Manchester United (becoming the first Mexican who will ever play at the storied club), a scoring champion in Mexico (even though he missed 6 games), and Mexico's next great hope. "Chicharito" (Spanish for little pea) little scored four goals in his first four national team call-ups and has all but locked-up the starting spot against South Africa on June 11th. He is a skilled scorer with either foot, but more impressively, is a tremendous finisher with his head. Standing at only 5-foot-10, this little pea has hops like no other. Look for him to make many Man U supporters salivate at his skills this summer.

2) Giovanni Dos Santos: After yet another failed stint in England, this time at Tottenham, this 21-year-old seems to have found his groove in Turkey. Loaned out to Galatasaray in January, Dos Santos finally found playing time and made the most of it. He goes into South Africa as a lock to start at the right mid spot, having dominated at that position in qualifying. His speed and ball control have made him the target of important clubs like Barcelona and Tottenham since he was 17, when he won the Under-17 World Cup with Mexico. For "El Tri," he will be the main counter-attacker, turning a ball lost in Mexico's sector, into a fast-break on the other end. His left footed shot is a rocket, although not one with the greatest aim. Dos Santos won't be the focus of the offense, but without his input, the offense will be stagnant.

3) Cuauhtemoc Blanco: He's old. He's fat. He has a hunchback. He can't run. He doesn't play defense. He's temperamental. Basically, he has no business being a soccer player, let alone a World Cup starter. Yet, beyond any explanation, he continues to be one of Mexico's top players. Blanco has a field vision to rival that of any player in the world. Although his physical qualities may be non-existant, his technical qualities are off the charts. He's the Steve Nash of soccer, able to put place a pass with pin-point accuracy. Commentators in Mexico are still in disbelief at Mexico's reliance on Blanco, but the truth is that he is irreplaceable. There is no one in Mexico who can create as many quality scoring opportunities as him. Don't believe me, just ask the Chicago Fire. He doesn't have the stamina to finish all 90 minutes, but the 60 or so minutes he will be out there, he will wreak havoc for the opponent's defense.

4) Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa: A backup on Mexico's squad in 2006, this was supposed to be his year. That is until he forgot how to stop shots. The Club America standout no longer has a chokehold on the keeper position. In fact, he might be the one in a chokehold. A sub par season with his club, in addition to a shaky performance against North Korea in a friendly where he gave up an easy goal, have put Memo in limbo. He is now fighting it out with Luis Ernesto Michel of Chivas and 37-year-old Conejo Perez for the coveted spots. It's anyone's guess who head coach Javier Aguirre will pick. There is no denying Ochoa is the most gifted of the three, but his cold spell could not have come at a worse time.

5) Andres Guardado- Lost in the shuffle of promising young players like Dos Santos and Carlos Vela is 23-year-old Andres Guardado. This Club Atlas product has been a starter in Spain at Deportivo La Coruna for the past two years. This skilled lefty has already proven his mettle in one of the top leagues in the world, yet still doesn't get the acclaim of other less established players. Guardado has blazing speed and will constantly be attacking on the left side. With his skill when it comes to controlling the ball, Guardado a lot of the offense will start through him. He may not make a dent towards the Golden Boot, but without him, Mexico has no shot at taking down the big boys.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mexico loses to Holland 2-1

As opposed to the England game, Mexico dominates the second half. It was too little too late though as El

Tri drops its second straight game.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's not whether you win or lose...

It has been an inauspicious start to the World Cup season for both Mexico and the United States as both squads suffered two-goal defeats this week. England downed "El Tri" 3-1 at legendary Wembley Stadium in London on Monday while the Czech Republic took out the U.S. 4-2 in East Hartford, Connecticut, yesterday.

There is no need to hit the panic button yet though. Mexico dominated possession against England, clearly outplaying them in the first half. Arsenal striker Carlos Vela, the missed two clear goal-soring chances in the stanza (the 1:55 mark being one of them), showing the rust he has accumulated from riding the pine at Emirates Stadium. Vela played a total 0f 92 of a possible 1,800 minutes in Arsenal's last 20 matches. Were it not for Peter Crouch, the 6-7 giant of a soccer player, and Mexico's lousy marking on set plays, the Aztecs would have gone into the half with a lead.

A loss is not always a bad loss either. This was Mexico's first legitimate opponent since qualifying ended last year. Mexico showed it can play under pressure and play well. Granted, England did not have its A squad out there, skipper Fabio Capello gave the Chelsea and Portsmouth players a rest and mixed and matched line-ups. However, anytime you can go into Wembley and outplay a British squad you can chalk it up as a job well done.

The United State's loss, while not to an opponent of England's caliber, is equally as justifiable. Using the match as an opportunity to evaluate players on the bubble of not making the team, coach Bob Bradley sat many of his starters: Landin Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Howard. The Czechs were also at less than full-strength, but this game was clearly more about scouting players than getting a result.

What did we find out? For starters the defense is not as strong as it was during the Confederations Cup. Oguchi Onyewu is clearly not back to full form having sat out most of the year at A.C. Milan with an injury. Jonathan Bornstein is still as unreliable as ever, having been burned a couple times during the match. Heath Pearce...well, the book is closed on him, there is no chance in hell he makes the final 23.

We also learned that Demarcus Beasley may not be washed up after all. The former Fire star played a stellar game in the midfield, showing pace and control. He may have won himself a spot on the team with his performance. Club teammate Maurice Edu also played well, scoring a goal and giving Bradley a tough choice at who to start at defensive mid, him or Ricardo Clark.

On the offensive side of things, Herculez Gomez might have booked a ticket to South Africa with yet another goal scoring performance. Edison Buddle is probably staying stateside and Brian Ching will somehow make another World Cup squad.

In the end, it sucks to lose at home. Hopefully Bradley saw what he needed to see and will take the best 23 players America can offer.

Momma's Boy: How I came to root for the green, red, white and blue

If someone said you could only love one parent and made you choose between your mom and your dad, who would you pick?

You deeply love both and feel they are a big part of your life. How can you just turn your back on someone that means so much to you? This is the dilemma I faced when it came to choosing my allegiances between the men’s national soccer teams of Mexico and the United States.

On the one hand, I had Mexico, my “mother” country. I was born and raised there, learning to love everything about it. It molded me into the person I am today.

Yet, I have lived in the United States for 13 years now. It has given me more opportunities than I would have had in Mexico. Like a true father would, it has taken me in and provided more than I could ever wish for.

I am loyal to both, as most children are to their parents, and want both to succeed in whatever it is they are doing.

As avid fans know, though, this is unacceptable when it comes to soccer. You’re either for the U.S. or you’re for Mexico. Dual alliances are equal to treason in this rivalry.

After all, it was Mexican fans that chanted Osama Bin Laden’s name during a game between the two in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2002. And it was American fans that brought green cards to a 2007 Gold Cup game in Chicago and pulled them out against Mexican fans during the game telling them to get out of their country. (And you thought the Duke and North Carolina rivalry was bad.)

Both acts are despicable but go to show the deep seated hatred that lies behind the rivalry. There is no wiggle room on either side. You are either for us, or against us.

Believe me, I have tried to cheer for both of my parent nations. In the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, I would wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. whenever Mexico or the U.S. would play. Fittingly enough, they ended up playing each other in the knockout round of 16.

I was a wreck. If you have ever witnessed your parents fight, I mean the "I'm about to throw the hairdryer at your face" fight, you know what I'm talking about. This was a fight to the death. There would literally be only one still around after the final whistle.

The U.S. came out victorious in what will forever be known as the dos a cero (2 to 0) game. Strangely enough, instead of climbing onto the U.S. bandwagon full force after the W, I stepped off of it. I have no idea why either, all I know is that since that game, my allegiances have been primarily to "Los Verdes.

That is not to say I don't root for the U.S. though. I cheer for them, I know all about them, and I want them to keep improving to keep growing the sport here. My dream scenario would be to have both teams playing in the World Cup Final, with Mexico winning, of course.

While many fans on both sides will see this as an easy way out, a politician's stance in a sense by rooting for both teams, it is the honest truth. I love both my mother and my father. Why should I have to pick between them?

I love me some green, red, white and blue.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Welcome: The world cup is kind of a big deal to me

Can you feel it?

Soccer commercials are dominating ad time on the TV, football stars graze magazine covers, and even newspapers are running little stories on American players.

It's that time of the decade again. The World Cup has arrived!

On June 11th, Mexico and South Africa will kick around a little white ball in front of, oh, 2 billion people, to inaugurate the greatest spectacle in the world, a month-long showcase of talent, desire and pure unadulterated passion.

Just thinking about it makes my knees wobble. I get like a little kid hyped up on sugar the days before the games begin, but once they arrive, I become a nervous wreck. I'm like a convicted felon awaiting trial, I expect the worst and hope for the best.

Just to put things into perspective, when Mexico was beaten by Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez with the luckiest goal in world cup history in the round-of-16, I became depressed. Well, only for a few days, but it was bad. I sat in the car listening to the Beatle's "Don't Let me Down" asking the heavens why I was let down.

I can't wait to see what kind of breakdown I'll have this time around.

Yes, my panties are all up in a bunch because of this. I check blogs ESPNDeportes for new videos about the Mexican National Team more than every 15 minutes. I log into Soccer by Ives to get the latest scoop on the U.S. National team every few hours. Heck, I even browse foreign newspapers online for futbol news. I'm like a crack addict in need of a juicy rock when it comes to this stuff.

I have already cleared my mornings for days when Mexico or the U.S. play, and big matches like Brazil vs. Ivory Coast, and teams I enjoy watching like the Netherlands and Spain play, and teams I detest like Italy and Argentina play, and teams in groups A and C play, and quirky teams like South Korea and Nigeria play, and boring teams like Greece and Denmark play, and crappy teams like North Korea and New Zealand play. In other words, I plan on watching every single game. I am that obsessed.

In 2006, I watched about 60 of the 65 games. A few of them weren't live because the third games of the group stages are always played simultaneously and I didn't feel like switching back and forth. From the games I watched, I made a notebook logging who scored when, what the final score was, and how much I enjoyed the game.

Four years later, I plan on doing a similar, yet much more sophisticated log through this blog. I don't want to wax too poetic on every game, just a few key ones, but I do want to jot down notes on every game. Hopefully it doesn't come out as boring as it sounds right now. I will try to mix things up and maybe have some guest commentators as the tournament progresses.

Thanks for clicking over here and taking the time to read my ramblings. Be sure to check back every so often for new content.