I watched a full hour of ESPN's pregame show and a full 94 minutes of live soccer action last week as the US took on Mexico in a 2014 World Cup qualifier from Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Bob Ley was phenominal and Alexi Lalas didn't make me want to run through a window. That's a success as Alexi goes. After almost 3 hours of soccer I didn't see a goal. I didn't see the US team attempt to score one. I think we may have taken a shot, but I don't remember it. In the end we seemed content to play for a tie, and the exhuberance of the US response to tying a game showed two things, 1) I don't get soccer and 2) I don't think I ever will.
After almost 3 hours of soccer I didn't see a goal. I didn't see the US team attempt to score one.
Some background, I've tried to embrace soccer. After the 2010 World Cup I invested fully in a club team, the English Premier League's Arsenal, I watch their games when I can, listen to a podcast, and read blogs about the EPL and the Gunners as they are affectionately known. I do enjoy their games and the emotion, the living and dying that goes on week to week in the EPL. But give me a football game or a competitive basketball game any day of the week. I've tried, I really have. I watched the Euros last year, at times at work on my IPad. When El Classico happens I watch that as well. If the Raiders play the Dolphins on Tuesday night football, I'll watch that over anything soccer has to offer. I guess I lack culture or skinny jeans or dare I say both.
Last week's game illustrates my point. The US played its bitter rivals a few days after a HUGE win against Costa Rica in Denver. They played the Mexicans in a stadium that is perhaps the most intimidating in the world, against a team they've beaten before and yet the US did something so not American. They played not to lose. And it almost didn't work.
The Mexican side was the aggressor, and by the way, this is typical regardless of whether the game is played north or south of the border. Save for two missed penalty calls, one questionable, the other not, the US would have lost, badly. Mexico peppered the US goal with shots, few found their mark and this version of El Tri has struggled to finish, but they took chances and played the majority of the game in the US end. What did the US do? Not much. Dodge, parry, hope, pray, and in the end rely on luck to survive with a point.
We were missing players sure, so were they. But we never showed any interest in counter attacking and trying to do something novel and WIN THE GAME. We may have lacked the technical ability to prolong an attack against the Mexicans but to hear the commentators afterwards this was a great achievement for American soccer. We took a point in Azteca. By the hair of our chinny, chin, chin's and a few blown calls. Congrats. We tied. We were outplayed and we tied.
Now Lalas is a sandwich board promoting the US National Team. Don't look for objectivity from the big red head, he's there to promote the company line. Maybe he should be, after all he was part of a generation that made the game somewhat important and his legacy is tied to the success of the sport. But he glowed after the game. He wasn't the only one, Grant Wahl from SI was similarly enlightened.
Maybe this proves the smaller point, that my small brain doesn't get soccer at this level. A level where we play a rivalry that is as intense as any, in a hostile environment, with so much at stake and we rely on the other side not to beat us and then call it a victory. Had either penalty been called or any chance slipped into net it's doubtful the US would have had any better answer than to keep hold up, fighting off chance after chance, with no offensive response. In the two games against Costa Rica and Mexico the US took exactly three shots. Yet we are thrilled with getting a result. Thrilled with getting battered by a superior side. Thrilled with a tie.
To move forward maybe we should expect a bit more. Perhaps some agressiveness against a rival, a team we beat in Azteca last fall. Maybe a shot or two or perhaps extended periods of possession. We weren't a threat to Mexico on Tuesday night. In spite of what you read or heard after the game, we're still a long way from being a threat to Mexico or soccer's elite beyond Tuesday night. Mexico beat itself by not catching the breaks it should have or putting in the chances we gave.
The commentators heralded a smashing success by the US team. I saw an emporer without any clothes on, dominated by a better side. Maybe I'm wrong, but I've tried to work it out. Three hours later I just don't get it.