Kings of CONCACAF
Another Cold War won. Ronald Reagan has nothing on the US National Team after the 2-0 victory over Mexico last night in Columbus. There was no tearing down of walls this time. Rather it was building of a wall of their own that the feeble Mexican attack was unable to breech. There can be little doubt about who is the King of CONCACAF, at least on US soil. A similar result at Azteca in Aug. 12 would end the questions for good. There is plenty to criticize about the result, but let us focus first on the positives. The US played as a team, prepared for almost everything el Tri threw at them. They covered for each other. They took chances, knowing that their teammates had their back. In addition, they did it all in front of a largely pro-home crowd. Tactically, I liked when Bradley had DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey switch sides early in the first half. And, even though it led to nothing, I loved the behind-the-heel rabona that Dempsey showed off. It was a rare touch of class and creativity in a half that seemed to border on a track and field meet - all sprints and hurdles and hammer-throws. While the red, white and blue could not afford to go crazy, the US could have shown off a bit more of the skill that it has at its disposal. I liked how Michael Bradley took charge. Not on the first goal. He deserves credit for being in the right place at the right time. It was on the second goal when Bradley finished a quick burst with a powerful shot. It was not a great shot, but on a night when the US offense seemed hesitant to take charge, it was beautiful. Met in full stride the ball dipped under the clenched fingers of Oswaldo Sanchez and into the Aztec net. (As an aside, was there ever a goalkeeper more worthy of giving up a goal like that?) By the time of the second goal however, there had been too many opportunities passed up against a Mexican defense that was missing its leader. Repeatedly, Donovan, Dempsey, or Sacha Kljestan would make a move only to find their teammates watching and not anticipating - as surprised as the defense that it had worked - rather than being ready to take advantage of the creativity of their teammates. He was not the only one at fault, and Brian Ching was right choice for this game, but I hope someone more versatile (read: fast) steps up the next time these two teams meet. Jozy Altidore is not the answer yet. On the field for so few minutes, too many times Altidore would hold up the ball and then wait for something to happen. He might have the promise of the future in his cleats but he still has to work harder to fulfill those promises. The toughest hurdle is not the first one. It's the next one. And this time, that means March 28 for both teams. It is also a hurdle that Sven Goran Eriksson might not get to attempt after the folks at FEMEXFUT wake up to see their beloved Tri buried in the roots of the table. Once again, unwilling to stand up in the face of defeat, none of the Mexican players were man enough to admit what happened as they ran off the field. Only Sinha spoke, but as the Mexican press has reminded us for years, he does not count because he is not Mexican enough. For the United States, El Salvador awaits and all the joy that a trip to Cuscatlán brings with it. (I hope they remember to bring a few of those Crew Stadium ponchos for the players as they run onto the field!) Finally, for all of the 2-0 successes, it is time to put Crew Stadium in the rear-view mirror. Unless it is built up to half-Horseshoe dimensions, the US should look elsewhere. For all the talk of having stadiums that are soccer-specific - that should not have to mean tiny. I hope that in coming years a few of these MLS-parks will grow to the point where a big game like this looks Big Time. It would still be ignorant of the facts on the ground to march into Los Angeles or Chicago and expect a home-field advantage against Mexico. There are many other areas such as Nashville, Foxborough, Seattle, or Washington, DC that could fit the bill. Heck, even Birmingham, Ala. proved it would support the Yanks. If the US is going to be the King of the hill, it deserves to be playing in a castle. Instead of hiding its light under a bushel, the Federation should proudly march in and command respect, and encourage supporters to show their colors.