What a kickoff piece for Will Parchman; his first for TSG. Parchman is an up-and-coming US footie writer who you should pay attention to.
Check out Will’s work–and Greg Seltzer’s–over at No Short Corners.
“This is thunderdome.”
Thanks for getting us started off right, Alexi.
THE GAP. Holy God the gap. This thing has dwarfed its own significance and taken on a life of its own. It was fine at first, but after a full day of bombardment I’m done with it now. This is not a benchmark. There’s no way it has meaning anymore, if it ever did. I’m watching Alexi Lalas talk about it on pregame and I’m reading his #BridgeTheGap Twitter hashtag and it doesn’t matter. I’m going to start calling it the chasm. The big ass yawning chasm, and I’m going to start telling people it refers to the amount of reality that lies between how good Orozco Fiscal is and how good Klinsi thinks he is. THAT’S a gap. Mexico is good, won a bunch of tournaments and congrats to them. Whatevs.
So anyway. That’s out of my system. Can we focus on how we have half-hour pregames on national TV now? Am I the only one still impressed by this? The production value is superb. Holy crap there are a lot of empty seats. I know it’s a friendly on a Wednesday, but, wha? That’s positive, though even if it’s half full it’s still awful. Mexico’s lineup just posted:
Ochoa; Meza, Rodríguez, Moreno, Torres Nilo; Zavala, Viniegra, Guardado, Barrera; Reyna and Hernández
The mini pea starts. Get your big boy pantaloons on, Geoff and Mo. Only real surprise in there is Viniegra, but the US has had an advantage in midfield for years. Nothing should change there. Ochoa had to hate watching the Olympics knowing Corona has his job whenever he wants it. Just a matter of the defense holding strong, which… belch. That said, looks like the USMNT starting lineup just game across the wire:
Howard (c); Johnson, Cameron, Edu, Castillo; Jones, Beckerman, Williams, Torres; Donovan, Gomez Nothing
4-3-1-2. Relatively strong B side. Defensive-minded as expected. Danny Williams and Kyle Beckerman sit deep on the shelf to give Jose Torres and Jermaine Jones some freedom to “be.” Jermaine on the loose in the Azteca, THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Fabian Johnson is the hinge point. He starts at right back and gets to deal with Guardado all night. My site partner at NSC Greg Seltzer hates Johnson on the back line instead of at left winger but I don’t mind it. I think he can be positive there and think he has been in the past. Herc starting up top is… well, not surprising at all. Mexican golden boot winner and all. 95 percent chance Wondo plays and scores in the last 10 minutes. Boom. Chalk it up gents.
Scary graphic… Edu is the only defender on the roster with more than six caps. And he’s a “defender,” not a defender. Does Valencia know something we don’t? Are they sly or stupid? Or both? Did I just blow your mind?
Ah Taylor Twellman, rocking the checked shirt and polka dot pocket square. SYNERGY, TAYS. C’mon, bra. Seriously, can we all praise Ian Darke some more? Never thought I’d love a Brit this much. Tim Howard long throws and Ian Darke shouting fits go like milk and cookies. Cut-away to Donovan interview. How does ESPN’s sideline girl not ask Landon about his comments about retiring? Does anybody even know what he’s thinking anymore? He just has this attitude about him, almost like he’s saying things just to be “out there.” You’re not retiring, dude. Sit down. But play well tonight.
If you want to skip ahead…
ESPN hones in on a sad looking group of Americans in a sea of barren concrete: one dude in one of those ridiculous Uncle Sam hats and a few USA flags. Maybe 10 people total. For a story earlier this year, I interviewed a documentarian who’d made the trek to Azteca three years ago and said it’s a terrifying place for an American — inhospitable, poorly policed, horrendously outnumbered, mountainously steep, you name it. A couple months earlier I interviewed a guy who’d been to the Gold Cup final in Pasadena and the scene was eerily similar. Few things have made me more disenchanted as a US soccer fan.
Ten of 11 Mexicans belt out the Himno National. Meanwhile, two of 11 Americans singing the national anthem: Herc and Timmy. That kind of sucks. Donovan always looks like he hates music. And, while we’re at it, fun.
We’re about ready. Some quick things I’m looking for early: Edu settling in, the fullbacks not imploding, Herc linking with Torres and something profound from Twellman. I have no idea which of these to expect. Leggo.
‘1 – Jermaine Jones is already conceding FKs inside 25 yards. Oh God. This is going to be a long night.
‘3 – Takes an offside for the US to get its first touch. Good sign *sarcasm and such*. Herc and Donovan swapped places early. The top doesn’t need to collapse already. Will say this about Edu – no Mexican can match him physically. If he can stay resolute and not jump at ghosts, he should be okay tonight.
‘5 – Herc slithers in behind the center back and gets pushed down in the midst of his shot, which trickles wide. You’re not getting that call here, sadly. But that illustrates why he and Wondo are 1 and 1A as strikers. Incredible positioning, unreal ability to read unpredictable plays. Not particularly outstanding anywhere else, but you don’t need to be if that’s your game. Poach like an elephant hunter.
‘8 – Mexicans trying desperately to cut out the central midfield. More or less expected. Everything coming from Barrera and Guardado on the wings and funneled in to Chicharito in crosses and through passes. Puts an incredible amount of stress on Fabian and Edgar on the edges. Can’t pinch in too much or get beat one-on-one. There will be plenty of those situations.
’12 – A lot’s been asked of Edu and Cameron already. Results mixed. Cameron could’ve been called on a tackle in the box but he and Edu have looked sturdy on the deck. The US possession play, on the other hand, has been abysmal thus far. Not that we expected it wouldn’t be in the first 20.
’14 – Soon as I say that, Mo tackles Chicharito after getting beat 30 yards out on a lovely one-two and picks up a yellow. That’s not worst case, but… close? Matt Besler just started paying attention.
Ian Darke: “This is a monumental task for an experimental defense.” Er. Yeah. That’s one way to put it. Can we sit on possession for two seconds, guys? Just sit on it. Feel what it’s like to touch a soccer ball. It’s nice sometimes. LANDON. Long diagonal ball intercepted. Why.
’19 – Beckerman is essentially acting as a fifth defender now, an advanced sweeper. The danger here is that in central defense you have two former midfielders (and current midfielder in Edu’s case), so both are drifting waaaay high. Chicharito is loving this.
’20 – Jose Torres… he’s taking an extended Capri Sun and orange wedge break. We hope to have 11 men by halftime.
’23 – Geoff Cameron just skinned Chicharito one-on-one down the left channel and then distributed out. Not pictured on your screen: Edgar Castillo doing the Dougie past midfield. That’s what he does. Whips down the left touch line and then forgets his defensive responsibilities. Bad mistake to make against a team that lives on the flanks. He’s been otherwise solid.
’26 – Mo Edu just took an elbow to the face from Tim Howard. And he has a yellow. No goals yet though!
Yes, Ian, we miss Michael Bradley. We also miss Clint. And, while we’re at it, we miss Stu. *Weeping for our midfield* There is no tranquility there right now. No composure at all. Landon is only looking forward, while the rest are looking at quick over-the-top balls. The result: Mexico monopoly on possession, few chances and a really bland show. Meh.
’33 – Jose Torres looks awful. Like, really, really awful. I used to really like him. I don’t know what happened, but he looks like he doesn’t want any part of this game. No creativity at all. No assertiveness either. It’s all speculative crosses across the six so far with Torres uninvolved.
How has Mexico not had any real chances so far? This game has existed almost entirely in the US half. Herc is so bored he’s decided to play midfield the last five minutes.
’40 – Slow game is slow. Favors the US right now. Good ol’ rope-a-dope here. Nothing of consequence happened in five minutes. Tim Howard is enjoying the scenery.
Twellman: “This is a win so far.” Ah yes. And boom goes the dynamite.
HALFTIME. Big gulps eh? Welp, 0-0. Must say, already better than I was expecting. Shaky, but good. Not that we had any chances of consequence, but then neither did Mexico. Would like to see the formation phase out Torres and that sucking void in the center and create perhaps a two-man shift further up the field. How perfect would Bradley be in that role now? I’m expecting us to break down in the final 45, but Cameron can essentially stamp himself as… THEY’RE STILL TALKING ABOUT THE DAMN GAP AT HALFTIME. Alexi said the word “gap” seven times in 30 seconds. Then Bob Ley immediately said it three times in 10 seconds. The gap is stupid. I’m sorry for ever using the gap for my evil purposes as a writer. Please forgive me.
’46 – Terrence Boyd and DA BEAZ on. Boyd I’m excited about, but maybe even more interested to see Beasley, who’s had a nice run in Mexico. Beaz comes onto the left for Donovan, who completes a meh stint. Gomez moves out right. Rawk. The ineffective Viniega out for Mexico. Mexico’s central midfield was wholly underwhelming, and he was a massive part in that. Lugo on as well.
Side note: Boyd is a great Twitter follow. Even better that he’s called the USA “The best country in the world.” What a dude.
’50 – Lugo is a dangerman. He’s already looked more dangerous than anybody in the first half, and he’s been on all of five minutes. Kyle Beckerman will be pushed.
’52 – Jones playing high, probably too high. The midfield looks like a misshapen triangle with Jones as its high point. Our essential problem: Jones running the creative show is not how this thing was planned out. All three central mids are destroyers. In need of Bradley and Dempsey yadda yadda… Hell, I’d take Feilhaber.
’54 – Edgar Castillo is collapsing. Very, very fast. Mexico is chipping away at the American left, and it’s wiiiide open. The ball pressure is fading. This will not do.
’56 – Geoff Cameron saves a free header from Chicharito by whipping his body around at FULL SPEED and heading clear inside the six. He falls into the net. The ball does not. My, my. Stoke City, you sly dogs. Meanwhile, Edu misses Zavala totally unmarked a minute later. This is, as the Brits say, squeaky bum time.
’60 – Graham Zusi on… noooooooo. Twellman: “He’s going to find those seams.” Hahaha. Okay.
’61 – Beckerman! Sweep the leg, Johnny! Just misses a freak 35-yard slide-tackle shot that flutters over Ochoa’s head. If that’s what it’s going to take… He’s looked solid tonight.
’63 – Cameron unlucky to pick up a foul at the edge of the box on Chicharito, who’s liquidity is absurd. He’s everywhere at all times. Not poor positioning from Cameron, just fantastic positioning from Cheech. It’s only his finishing that’s looked strangely suspect tonight. Guardado curls the free kick wide. How good is Timmy Howard? He had that shot covered up to a half foot WIDE of his post. Cat-like.
’66 – Fabian Johnson with some incredible coverage on a sure Chicharito goal. Johnson has been having a fine day on the right. That side is on lock. Elias Hernandez on the left has looked quite dangerous. Guardado… not so much.
’68 – K, seen enough of Beasley now. Leaving the back like exposed on the reg isn’t getting it done. He’s murdering Edgar Castillo right now. The equivalent of throwing your receiver a lofted pass over the middle with a hungry defender waiting on him.
’69 – Jermaine Jones card watch: alert level yellow. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.
’70 – 20 minutes from a dr… I just jinxed it, didn’t I? Won’t say it.
’73 – Heard me say it before, but Bradley provides the pivot point in midfield. That’s not there right now, and Jermaine Jones is a poor approximation. He needs to be playing further back closer to Beckerman, not up even with the wingers.
’73 – Aldo De Nigris on. Saw him play in person in the Gold Cup last year and he wrecked shop in the air. Also seen him for Monterrey and he can disappear completely. We’ll see.
Ian Darke has said “goalless draw” four times in the last two minutes. If Mexico scores I will not take the blame for the jinx.
’76 – If Mexico scores I have no doubt Beasley will bear some of the responsibility. He is getting slaughtered. That side is wide as Nebraska.
’78 – Where’s Robbie Rogers??? Somebody get me a Robbie Rogers! We’ll take Brek for Herc instead. I hope I have cause to Brekkanize and not BrekkaHangMyHeadInShame. Right guys??
’80 – OROZCOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. BREKKANIZE!!!!!!!! I’M CRYING!!!!!!!!!
’80+.5 – Okay so I’m not crying. But figuratively. Brek Shea. My man with the inside move, Jonesey with a back heel and The Fiscal!!! The heck is going on? History? How did this happen?
’81 – Bunker. My God man, bunker for your lives. 11 defenders? 11 defenders. Azteca, the fortress, is stunned. A missile just whizzed past Ian Darke’s head. Pandemonium.
’83 – If somebody mentions the word “gap” in the next 10 minutes I’m going to lose it.
’84 – Is there a more hot-and-cold personality in US Soccer history than Brek Shea? He vacillates between our next big thing and our next big flop monthly. He’s on the next big thing track now (thanks to 10 minutes), but is anybody confident that will remain that way much longer?
’85 – Tim Howard with a nice scramble on the goal line to save a tricky deflection off Cameron. Deceptively difficult, and one of the things about Howard that’s most visible. His reactions are incredible. He was falling the other direction.
’88 – Shea with a brilliant ball in to Boyd at the far post. I’m serious, if Shea looked like this every day he’d be challenging for a spot on the left every game. He looks incredibly switched on.
’89 – Joe Corona on for Jones for the last few minutes. I dunno about this one guys.
’90 – “Howard has covered himself in glory,” says Ian Darke after another brilliant save on a Chicharito header bound for the net. I can’t believe how good Tim Howard is. Defies logic.
Four minutes of extra time. Gotta praise the refs tonight. They’ve avoided being reactionary, no easy task in Azteca. Just saw a fat, green laser pointer hit Howard’s face. Wouldn’t expect anything less.
’93 – Hold the ball, Beckerman. Quit with the long balls. Nearly there.
FINAL – 1-0. Made history? No big deal. Made history.
– Geoff Cameron. 100% prime beef. CB find of the 2014 cycle. He and Mo Edu were shaky at times but more or less tremendous as a sum of their parts. Not saying Edu has a history in central defense, but he looked good when it mattered. Valencia may be onto something.
– How was THIS the team to break the winless streak in Mexico? A makeshift back line, no pivot point in the middle, very little conviction up top, a lot of scrambling and yet the defense holds. Both fullbacks were sturdy enough and neither flank collapsed.
– If there was any doubt, Tim Howard is the MVP. Always. What a beast.
– Jose Torres is dead to me. Honey Badger don’t care if that sounds harsh. Beasley too. Rotten.
– Brek Shea is a dude. This is just what you get with him. He may switch off next week, or he may continue this run the rest of his career. Honestly? Neither would be entirely surprising.
– Kyle Beckerman is a heck of a holding midfielder. He looked less useful at times tonight because Klinsmann didn’t play a forward hinge player in midfield (partially because he didn’t call one in), but he held his ground. Rarely was in bad positions. Almost never, in fact.
– I called out Orozco before the game. I take full credit for his goal. Full. Credit.
– The results keep coming under Klinsmann. And damn the gap. Damn it to hell.