Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Patriotic Duty

So by the title I would bet you thought I would be talking about the Stimulus (Spendulus) package. Well I'm not, but I have done my part by writing to my representatives and expressing how I feel about it. No this entry is about last nights World Cup Qualifier between the US and Mexico.

As you know I'm coaching my son's soccer team. You might not know that I have been playing soccer since I was seven and am fanatic about it. I will wake up at all hours of the night to watch the teams I want to see play (although the DVR has reduced this and my wife is grateful for that). So I'm going to give my take on last night's game.

The US came into last night with an 8-0-2 record in its last 10 games against Mexico in the US. It's a significant streak seeing that these two teams are the best in the region (CONCACAF). This means that there was some pressure for the US to do well and continue its home dominance. Also this is the opening game of World Cup Qualifying and it was essential to get 3 points for the win (conventional wisdom is you win at home and draw on the road). The first thing I noticed about the game was the American National Anthem. Most times you just hear the band (recorded) playing the tune. Not last night, for the first time I can remember the crowd could be heard singing The Star Spangled Banner. It was impressive as the fans (Sam's Army) showed they were there to support the team.

The game was affected by the weather, with the wind being the most annoying of the elements. However, good teams make up for the conditions and both these teams played pretty much unaffected. The game didn't start that great for the US and if not for a great save by keeper Tim Howard the US would have been in a 1-0 hole early.

That seemed to wake the US up a bit and they started to play better. They began to take control of the game and show that playing on US soil is hostile ground for any visitor. The midfield play picked up and that led to a couple of good chances. However no goals were scored until the 43rd minute.

The US won a corner and DaMarcus Beasley served the ball to the far post. Landon Donovan eluded his man and sent a perfect header back across the face of goal. Oguchi Onyewu then drove a powerful header at goal that was saved by the Mexican keeper Sanchez. The ball bounced to Michael Bradley who one-timed a volley into the top corner of the net. Just like that 1-0 USA.

Halftime arrived and it seemed that the momentum was going the US way. When the second half started there was good play in the midfield but nothing really of note until the 63rd minute. Mexico won a free kick from the left side and drove a ball to the middle of the area. Mexico got there first and the ball fell to the left side of the goal where it was played back across. The ball was semi-cleared but Mexico played it back in and Tim Howard (US keeper) came out to claim the ball. The Mexican captain (Marquez) challenged for the ball and ran into Howard. This probably would have been only a Yellow card, but Marquez flicked his right foot out with the studs up catching Howard on the leg. The referee (who in my opinion did a fantastic job the whole game) never hesitated in reaching into his back pocket and producing a red card. Mexico was now down to 10 men.

This is where the game for me showed a weakness in the US squad. Being up a man should have meant more ball control especially with a lead. But it seemed to me that the US was in a hurry at times and pushed the ball forward in a couple of 1 VS 3 situations where it should have been played back and more build up established. Mexico began to control the ball more and there was a worried feeling that they might just get the equalizer even though they were short-handed.

However the US gained some composure and Michael Bradley provided the final nail in the coffin. He received a pass about 22 yards from goal and hit a screaming low knuckle ball that eluded Sanchez and deposited into the bottom left corner of the goal. Game Over!

The game was pretty well played and the result was deserved. Hopefully though the team will go back and review the last 27 minutes and find ways to take better control of the situation. If they don't learn the ball control needed in the last quarter of a game they will find that other teams of Mexico's (and higher) caliber will score and deflate the US.

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