An open match that saw both Mexico and Nigeria with chances to snare victory ended 0-0 at the Georgia Dome, with a crowd of 68,212 in Atlanta further bolstering the expansion case Falcons owner Arthur Blank is trying to make to Major League Soccer.
That subplot would normally be irrelevant when two World Cup qualifiers meet three months away from the tournament, but with Wednesday’s game finishing scoreless, the expansion angle is one of the night’s more interesting. One day after Don Garber, in his YouTube Q-and-A, said events like Mexican National Team games were part of testing potential MLS markets, Atlanta produced a huge crowd for an otherwise meaningless game. When Garber tweeted a picture of him and Blank, the potential franchise owner, from the sidelines at the Georgia Dome, you couldn’t help but think MLS team No. 23 was all but locked in:
Tremendous atmosphere tonight at the Georgia Dome. Enjoyed the game with Arthur Blank and his incredible staff. http://t.co/Q5rbeYRJtd—
Don Garber (@thesoccerdon) March 06, 2014
Maybe it won’t be announced tomorrow, but Atlanta seems certain to join Major League Soccer.
For the rest of the nights takeaways, we’ll focus on Mexico, a team that continues to carve out a new identity under head coach Miguel Herrera. And since we’ve already covered our first takeaway, we’ll start our formal list at No. 2:
2. Europeans do have a place under Herrera – El Tri qualified for the World Cup by shunning their European talent for the CONCACAF-Oceania playoff against New Zealand. On Wednesday, seven Europe-based players were back in the squad: Javier Hernández (Manchester United); Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio); Andres Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen); Hector Moreno (Espanyol); Diego Reyes (Porto); Hector Herrera (Porto); Javier Aquino (Villarreal).
The good news: Herrera is willing to use Mexico’s most talented players. The bad news: Many of those players were at the core of El Tri’s disappointing qualifying campaign under ‘Chepo’ de la Torre. Whether Herrera can have more success with them is an open question.
3. Chicharito didn’t look good, may have been injured – Javier Hernández probably shouldn’t be starting over Raul Jimenez, but he did. In his 45 minutes, Hernández looked like somebody who hasn’t been getting regular playing time at club level, eventually leaving with what appeared to be a knee injury (described as a strain).
4. Guillermo Ochoa is capable of being the Mexico No. 1 – The Ajaccio keeper was Herrera’s Man of the Match, but at this point in his career, any time the former Club América man starts for El Tri becomes a reminder for what should have been.
Going into the 2010 World Cup, Ochoa was on track to be a star. Now starts for his national team justify their own bullet point explanations in match reports. Perhaps tonight was the first step toward claiming the spot he couldn’t lock down before South Africa.
5. Andres Guardado hit 100 caps and is finally playing left defense – Guardado is only 27 but has already hit the century mark for El Tri, doing so tonight while getting the call at left wing back. Though he’s played left fullback for some time at Valencia and now on loan at Bayer Leverkusen, Guardado has typically been used at his natural wing position for country. Recalled by Herrera, Guardado got the start out wide in Mexico’s 5-3-2 formation, a setup that could prove a good fit for the veteran, should he persist in the role.