As the boos and whistles rained down from the rafters, things must have finally felt different for the American players standing on the Estadio Azteca pitch.
Never before had a US men’s side left the cavernous Azteca — or any other stadium in Mexico for that matter — with more goals than their hosts. But on a fateful August night in 2012, the US Men’s National Team finally notched their first ever win in twenty-five trips across our Southern border.
Having finally rid themselves of the monkey that had been on their backs for a pathetically long three-quarters of a century, the lifted weight must have been tangible to the players. We’d come agonizingly close before — most notably in a World Cup qualifier back in 2009 — but couldn’t ever quite close it out. Now no longer winless away to El Trí, the psychological advantage held by our neighboring hosts can’t seem near as daunting as it once had. Which is good, because the boys needed a boost in their fortunes.
Prior to the win, the US had been on a four-match winless skid against our hated rivals, dating back to February of 2009. And while the momentum gained from a win is good enough on its own, the timing couldn’t have been better for the national team’s ego: Klinsmann’s camp had to have been feeling a little insecure about things considering our neighbor’s recent trophy haul. Mexico are the current holders of the Gold Cup, U-17 World Cup and the Olympic gold medal, and they finished third in the U-20 World Cup as well. Oh yeah, the US failed to qualify in each of those last two tournaments, too. And adding insult to injury, our ladies’ continued success only further emphasizes the mens’ mediocrity. So if nothing else, the win was needed to help restore some of our pride, and I can’t imagine the players not feeling that difference.
But if things didn’t feel all that different for the players — assuming social media is a reliable social barometer — my fellow American fans certainly felt that way.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I felt a rush of pride when the US players were celebrating on the Azteca pitch. It was a long time coming, and something I’ve long looked forward to enjoying. But did you read any of the reactions pouring forth from the mouth of the average fans on Twitter or Facebook? To describe them in just a single word: overexuberance. To describe the celebrations in more words, but more bluntly: you would have thought we had just won the fucking World Cup.
If I lived in an urban setting, I’d bet I would have heard celebratory chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-AAAAA!!!” echoing from the rooftops for the first time in ages… well, at least since the Olympics ended just three days earlier. Everyone seems to love game winner Michael Orozco Fiscal now, even though many — myself included — had previously called for his exclusion from future USMNT camps not long ago. Some also seem to have forgiven Brek Shea for mailing it in for the last three months, again anointing him the chosen one for a second time. We’re back on top of the world!!!!!
But while last Wednesday’s win in Mexico was historic, I feel like I need to remind everyone of what of our actual situation. Otherwise, some idiot will go and lodge a foolish bet on the boys taking home the trophy at Brazil 2014.
For starters, let’s take a look at that new and improved all-time record in Mexico: yeah, it’s only 1-23-1. We’ve gone into their country and emerged victors a single time, yet we’re gloating like the balance in power has been restored. Our fans’ arrogance looks even more brash once you remember that the Mexicans actually have a very respectable record when playing on our side of the fence: 8-13-10. And before you go saying something like “Well, USA-Mexico games in the states are effectively home matches for them anyway with all the fans they bring”… well, don’t. Those overzealous fans celebrating like banshees might want to ask themselves why they haven’t been filling the stands for those matches themselves before they start making excuses for our performances. It’s a little embarrassing to see us celebrate without thinking about that.
Secondly, this was a single friendly match. It could have easily gone the other way if not for some spectacular Tim Howard goalkeeping and some unlucky Chicharito finishing. Though, there were a lot of positives to take from it, too.
It was impressive to grab a win when Klinsmann fielded a relatively inexperienced squad, short on key veterans such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. Even more so because the Mexicans fielded a near-full strength side themselves. You could see glimpses of our German manager’s designs to have the defense playing a higher line, and they did a respectable job of keeping their shape and staying compact against the Mexican onslaught. Gomez, too, appears to be growing into an indispensable part of our attack.
All positive things. But they all took place in a pointless match that meant little aside from boosting collective team ego and providing temporary bragging rights for the winning side’s fans. Mexico’s fans didn’t even to take it that seriously, as the normally intimidating Azteca was only around two-thirds full. I heard they were only pouring beer on Americans on the match instead of bags of piss, too. So at most, the win should be a momentum builder ahead of a the World Cup Qualifying campaign. Or at least an opportunity for a men’s national program pick itself up and dust itself off after several recent failures.
Lastly — and make no mistake about this — we’ve got a lot of catching up to do to Mexico at the moment. When it comes to the senior side it’s hard to ignore that they’re ranking of 18th, half that of our 36th… not that the FIFA rankings hold that much weight. Their recent international success at the youth levels, especially compared to our poor showings, indicates they’re ahead of us in the player development game too. An argument could even be made that this dominance extends to our respective club sides as well, with MLS clubs still finding it difficult to overcome Liga MX sides in the CONCACAF Champions League. I could go on.
Look, I get why some people want to celebrate the win. And I’m all for a bit of friendly banter aimed at our neighboring Hispanic fans. But blowing a friendly result up into some earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting outcome? Get out of here. I mean someone thought it was a such a momentous occasion that it was a good idea produce the banner up and to the left, like we had won a major trophy or something. It’s like we’re delusional and don’t know our place. Some normally reasonable minds were even claiming the Azteca win to be one of the top three USMNT results of all time. ALL TIME. Absurd.
Regardless, I’m still proud of the boys for a hisoric baby step forward. A win in Mexico; notch it off our belts. They performed bravely and showed signs of promise. A welcome change, and one that makes me less weary of the future. It’s a result that future let’s future American sides definitively know that they’re not up against an impossible task. They can think to themselves, “We’ve done this before, and we can do it again.” If we’re lucky, we’ll use that to our advantage the next time we’re in the Azteca… when it counts for something.
And should we win then, I promise you can celebrate all you want.