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.
The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.
Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.
[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]
Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.
“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”
Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. The manager guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.
“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”
Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.
The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.
No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.
[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]
The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.
Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)
The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).
Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).
World Cup champion Lauren Holiday has had a brain tumor removed, one month after giving birth.
Holiday’s husband, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans, announced that his pregnant wife was diagnosed with an operable tumor in September, and Lauren Holiday has publicly thanked fans for support while requesting prayers.
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The Holidays welcomed their first child earlier this month, and Jrue left the Pelicans preseason to help his wife.
The BBC added this tidbit:
Unbelievably as a three-year-old, she had open-heart surgery to repair a defect and went on to become one of the world’s most respected football players.
Get well soon, Lauren.
Carlos Lizarazo’s ridiculous rocket shook rain off the net in an aesthetically pleasing CONCACAF Champions League goal on Thursday.
The Cruz Azul loanee struck a vicious shot for FC Dallas’ fifth goal, which boosted out of the No. 8 seed for the quarterfinals after a 5-2 win at Suchitepéquez in Guatemala.
[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]
Lizarazo, 25, had two goals in 10 appearances for FCD heading into the game, with both coming in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.