Everyone done chugging their celebratory Bud Lights? Good.
By now you’re probably well aware the United States once again dispatched Mexico 2-0 in Columbus, as if it could ever end any other way. The United States is back in the World Cup for the seventh straight time, making that loss in Honduras back in February seem like nothing more than a blip on the radar. It’s hard to believe how, at the time, people were genuinely worried about Jurgen Klinsmann’s ability to coach.
Now? Nobody seems too concerned about anything in the U.S. camp — if you want to work yourself into a lather about two indifferent performances from Clint Dempsey, knock yourself out. (We should all be glad he missed his stoppage time penalty, too.) The only problem is we have to wait until June for a game involving the national team that will count, which leaves ample time to debate the 23-man roster for Brazil.
Drawing any conclusions from Tuesday night’s 2-0 win from a sporting standpoint, as I noted after the match, won’t get you too far. This was a makeshift lineup Klinsmann cobbled together out of necessity. It got the job done. Remember to file this away: the Americans clinched their spot in Brazil with Kyle Beckerman in the starting lineup — a thought that is wonderful, terrifying and quintessential U.S. Soccer all at once.
There are a few quick conclusions to draw, so let’s explore them briefly.
Jermaine Jones is here to stay:
The Schalke midfielder will never be a fan favorite. There is, however, a reason why a club in the Champions League continues to give him major minutes despite his penchant for reckless tackles and red cards: Jones is a wild card. Klinsmann still has a blind spot for him, so barring injury or somebody like Paulinho or Fernanndinho suddenly becoming eligible for the U.S. team (with dual-nationals, you never know) Jones will start in Brazil.
During the Mexico match I never thought to myself, “why is he out there?”In my typical game notes I’m not even sure I wrote down his name, which is ultimately the best compliment you can bestow on Jones.
On a night without Michael Bradley and Stuart Holden’s knee shredded up, Jones did his job and more importantly didn’t do anything stupid to cost the U.S. Perhaps, it’s time that type of performance gets more credit. Problem for Jones: all it takes is one bad mistake and all the goodwill he’s built up is gone and calls for someone like Mix Diskerud to start will begin yet again.
Omar Gonzalez dropping to one knee and chugging a BL smoothie to celebrate the berth in Brazil was awesome. It might overshadow his play, but the ex-Maryland player has filled a role in the backline for the U.S. The biggest question for the team going into 2014 was the age of the defense, with Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra looking well past their expiration dates. Gonzalez might not be this mythical, “world class” centerback every national team dreams of, but how many of those exist in the modern game?
The smartest move Klinsmann’s made was sticking with Gonzalez and pairing him with Matt Besler. Tuesday Clarence Goodson deputized for the suspended Besler and just like the game at Azteca in March, the U.S. kept Mexico off the scoreboard.
Is a Gonzalez-Besler combination the greatest combo known to mankind? Probably not, but it does have one thing working for it: height. Opponents are going to have to run past the U.S. defense, since they’re not going to beat it over the top. Speedy teams like Costa Rica can exploit these gaps, but the U.S. defense remains on much better footing than it did a year ago.
Go Home Mexico, You’re Drunk:
By the time Tuesday night’s game was over I almost, stress, almost felt bad for El Tri. That was yet another truly pathetic showing. As it stands today Mexico, which wakes up in fifth place, faces a must-win vs. Panama at the Azteca on Oct. 11 to simply finish fourth in CONCACAF and make the playoff game with New Zealand. Oh right, El Tri is still winless in home qualifiers in 2013.
Mexico was, at best, decent in the first half. Once Eddie Johnson scored to make it 1-0 early in the second half the result never felt in doubt. This didn’t look like a desperate team fighting for its World Cup life.
And, yes, Mexico missing the World Cup would be an utter delight.
Still, the rivalry isn’t quite the same when you don’t have a team full of jerks like Rafa Marquez, Jared Borgetti, Cuauhtémoc Blanco or going back further guys who were simply better than the American players like Luis Hernandez or Luis Garcia to root against.
When Mexico is turning to 32-year-old naturalized Argentine Christian Giménez for ideas, you know El Tri has hit rock bottom.
In any event (clearing throat): Dos a cero! (clapclapclapclapclap).
The U.S. has two remaining qualifiers next month, a home game with Jamaica and trip to Panama — which will need three points. Realistically these two games offer one significant opportunity: cap-tying defender John Brooks or any other dual-nationals to the United States. We can talk about winning the Hex and World Cup seeding, but look at 2010. The U.S. got an “easy” group with England, Slovenia and Algeria and still needed a goal in stoppage time to advance in the knockout rounds. The draw will be a crapshoot, as always.
Through all that happened this year, Landon Donovan’s sabbatical and return, losing in Honduras, the Sporting News article, the snow game, the draw at Azteca, the 12-game winning streak, Dos a Cero again, etc. the big takeaway is the U.S. needs to remain pragmatic in its approach. That mythical day where the U.S. turns into a free-flowing, attacking soccer power might be coming down the road, but it’s not probably going to happen in the next eight or nine months in time to be unveiled in Brazil.
As high as Klinsmann, fans and everybody else is flying, the fate of the U.S. at the World Cup is still all but assured to come down to that final group stage game. Survive the group and advance to the knockouts — that’s where anything can happen in 90 minutes — so long as Ghana is nowhere to be found.