It’s gotten to the point where any discussion of Mexico’s ongoing, mighty struggle can only begin with this:
All of this is surely unfolding to the unapologetic glee of U.S. Soccer supporters, who were forced to take a deep breath and consider the apparent, emerging dominance of El Tri as the once-again regional kingpin just two years ago. Yes, we are just two years removed from that undressing that Mexico gave to the United States in the 2011 Gold Cup final.
That loss seemed to signal the arrival of Mexico’s so-called Golden Generation, the one that would re-establish dominance over its northern neighbor, which had been misplaced over the previous decade, clearly to the annoyed displeasure of Mexico’s supporters and its futbol establishment.
(If you can stomach it, the highlights of that 4-2 U.S. loss inside the Rose Bowl are here. But I will warn you that all the early, good feeling for the United States evaporates about the time you see Landon Donovan do some kind of weird chicken wing celebration bit – What was that all about? – upon taking a 2-0 lead, after which it’s all Gio dos Santos, Andrés Guardado, Pablo Barrera and Mexico, Mexico, Mexico.)
Since then … yikes! The Mexican rise has stalled like some rusty old Toyota truck.
We could probably spend weeks dissecting the structure and development mechanisms of Mexican soccer and whether we were all fooled … But first, some quick accounting of all that has gone askew recently:
- The most notorious stumble, of course, has been in World Cup qualifying, where the inability to score at home has left El Tri is a shockingly precarious position. The favorites to emerge from atop CONCACAF final round qualifying will still probably find their way to Brazil, but the side’s stunning, ongoing struggles have left Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre’s job status on the skids and seen the gains in confidence obliterated.
- Improvement seemed apparent, but results still demonstrated the quality gap as Mexico came and went in the recent Confederations Cup in Brazil. The net out was a win and two losses, leaving El Tri short of elimination play while leaving the competency of Chepo’s tenure still up for debate.
- Mexico did not meet expectations at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, falling right away to Greece and Paraguay in group play. El Tri sneaked into the knockout rounds, but those early stumbles arranged a much tougher Round of 16 contest, where Mexico fell to Spain.
- Oh, Chepo! Que paso last night? Mexico sent a young team to the Gold Cup, as did the United States and others. But should Mexico really be losing to Panama? This represented Mexico’s first loss to Panama in 11 competitive matches.
For me, and probably for many U.S. soccer fans, the CONCACAF Gold Cup just got a lot more interesting … and the United States is still more than 30 hours from kicking their first ball in the regional tournament.