Wednesday August 12th, 2009

Three quick thoughts after Mexico's 2-1 victory over the U.S. in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier:

This one hurts. The U.S. made history simply by taking its first-ever lead in Estadio Azteca on Charlie Davies' splendid ninth-minute goal, but thoughts of an unprecedented victory in Mexico evaporated as Israel Castro equalized in the 19th minute and substitute Miguel Sabah stuck in the dagger with the 82nd-minute game-winner.

The U.S. played with confidence and poise in this game, which is why the loss will be so hard to take. But it was clear that the Americans tired in the latter parts of both halves in the altitude of Mexico City: that was Landon Donovan, one of the U.S.' fittest and fastest players, lagging behind Efraín Juarez on his run down the right side on the decisive goal. The U.S. doesn't get many chances to make history at the Azteca --it's only a quadrennial game --and not making the most of today's chance stings.

The U.S. needs to learn how to protect a lead. After watching their 2-0 halftime lead disappear against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final, the U.S. players spoke constantly of how Brazil never would have given up such a lead. But the U.S. still hasn't reached that level yet, and its inability to hold on to an early 1-0 lead here today speaks volumes. The U.S. is clearly making strides -- it had a legitimate chance to win here and silenced this crowd for part of the first half -- but there's a mental confidence that comes with being a powerhouse team, and it's just not there yet.

The altitude did affect the U.S.'s strategy. Mexico dominated possession, and the U.S. midfielders stayed farther back than usual, as though they were entirely willing to let the Mexicans come to them. I don't think that would have happened if the U.S. had been able to train at altitude for any period of time before this game.

Through-balls: To the Mexican guy who dumped beer on my laptop and gave me double-middle-fingers three feet in front of my face: Yo amo tu pais. Es una tierra muy linda con gente amable. Entonces: ¿Por qué eres tan mal anfitrión? Cuando los equipos juegan en los EEUU eso no pasa.

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