Five takeaways from Mexico’s 0-0 draw with Nigeria in Atlanta


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:

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.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.