U.S. loses its psychological edge over Mexico

July, 26, 2009

Granted, U.S. fans knew that coach Bob Bradley was fielding a B/C team in the Gold Cup tournament. It's probably also true that some might even have been ambivalent about whether the U.S. won or lost the final against a Mexico B team, but absolutely no one saw the nature of this loss coming. A 5-0 loss on home soil that can only be described as a total and utter humiliation. Here's what I'm thinking about that result.

1. Has the U.S. lost a valuable psychological edge? From the U.S. perspective the answer is a resounding no. Fans and players alike will shrug this off as a result of fielding an understrength lineup and they'd be right. U.S. confidence is still at an all-time high and the debacle produced by the U.S. reserve team in New Jersey has zero bearing on how the full lineup will perform at Azteca on Aug. 12. Of the 11 players on the field, only Brian Ching has a reasonable expectation that he'll be facing El Tri in the World Cup qualifier.

However, what has undoubtedly been broken is Mexico's mental block and inferiority complex about beating the U.S., particularly on American soil -- something El Tri had failed to due in their previous 11 tries dating back to 1999. You have to question the decision of coach Bob Bradley in not utilizing the additional seven-player roster addition that CONCACAF had granted the U.S., and recalling some of his better players such as Benny Feilhaber and Charlie Davies for the knockout stages.

By fielding such a weak lineup in the final, the U.S. effectively facilitated giving its hated rival a huge boost to its confidence, especially before a critical qualifier and also at a time when Mexico appeared to be at its lowest ebb in well over a decade. That lack of confidence has been shown by a series of poor performances in qualifying, a revolving door at coach and an extremely shaky start to the Gold Cup. To let Mexico win in such emphatic fashion can only improve its mind-set -- El Tri won't care that they beat a weak U.S. lineup; in their minds, they've exorcised their demons. It won't surprise me at all to see a far less panicky Mexico side take the field at Azteca and probably show a lot more calmness and composure in front of goal, too.

2. Perhaps the U.S. isn't as deep as some thought. The manner of the defeat certainly didn't help the international prospects for certain players, several of whom saw their stock fall immeasurably. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman undid virtually all of his positive work in the tournament so far with a largely anonymous performance. Similarly, while Chad Marshall had put together some solid outings (particularly against Honduras), his culpability as part of a back line that basically laid down and rolled over, can't be ignored. Midfielder Robbie Rogers also did nothing to dispel the notion that while he prospered in the early going against weak teams (Grenada in particular), his contributions were stifled against better opposition.

Yet again, left back Heath Pearce did nothing to change my opinion that he's totally overmatched at international level. A shaky first half for Pearce turned into a full-blown meltdown in the second half, when he was completely out of position the entire time -- practically extending Mexico an invitation to raid his zone with impunity. The only two players to make it out of this tournament with any real credit and serious consideration for the current first-choice squad are Stuart Holden, who definitely deserves to move ahead of at least Sacha Kljestan in the pecking order, and Troy Perkins, who looks like he could genuinely challenge Marcus Hahnemann for the No. 3 goalkeeper spot.

3. The penalty that was or wasn't. Much has been made of the controversial penalty awarded to Mexico when Jay Heaps brought down Gio dos Santos, with some observers arguing that it was dos Santos who actually fouled Heaps (with an elbow to his head). I'd argue that it was a very soft penalty call, but probably a penalty call nonetheless and here's why.

Heaps clearly had his hand on the back of dos Santos' jersey and pulled him back. OK, it wasn't a huge tug, but it was still a tug. As dos Santos was falling backward, he elbowed Heaps in the head, but Heaps was already falling backward himself anyway as a result of said tug and his own poor positioning.

Having said all that, I've rarely seen a team fall to pieces like the U.S. did once a penalty was given against them. A dubious penalty should hardly be enough cause to precipitate the type of collapse we saw, where it seemed that certain members of the U.S. team had simply given up. It's also worth bearing in mind that dos Santos was later denied a certain penalty when Rogers hacked him down in the box (again, Pearce wasn't even in the zip code at the time).

On the positive side, you could argue this result will galvanize the U.S. regulars further ahead of the Aug. 12 meeting. Indeed, postgame statements by both Ching and Holden saying it'll be different when the two teams meet again attest to that. However, with Mexico looking the most susceptible it's ever looked to losing at home to the U.S., this result has probably only made it that much harder for the U.S. to pull it off.


A reminder that this Wednesday you can see some great exhibition games on ESPN360.

• Man United vs. Boca Juniors, 12:25 p.m.

• Bayern vs. AC Milan, 2:30 p.m.

• MLS All-Stars vs. Everton, 9:30 p.m.

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to ESPN.com in 2005.



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