Tue, July 23

Commentary: USA men’s soccer top team in North America again

What a difference a couple months makes.

Heading into the summer, the United States men’s national soccer team was a clear underdog in CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) and Mexico was clearly the top dog.

Now Mexico is turmoil and the USA is on top of the confederation.

Before the summer started, Mexico was the unquestioned leader of our region but last week when their coach Juan Carlos Osorio returned to Mexico, El Tri fans booed him at the airport and one even screamed “Go back to your country!” (he’s Columbian).

He may be hated even more south of the border than Trump.

Osorio is Mexico’s eighth coach since 2010. If they fire him then that would be Trump-level dysfunction.

Meanwhile the USA has had three coaches since 1998.

When the summer started, Mexico was comfortably ahead in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying race and their fans were eyeing success in the Confederation Cup, the tournament of the six continental champions plus Russia and the last World Cup winner.

Instead, Germany’s B team thumped Mexico and then El Tri lost to a Portugal side that didn’t even have Ronaldo.

During that third place game, Osorio bumped an assistant referee and then got suspended for the Gold Cup, the CONCACAF championship tournament.

Mexico, like the USA, sent their B team to the Gold Cup but not only didn’t win it, they lost to Jamaica at the Rose Bowl before a very pro Mexico crowd.

The USA meanwhile won the Gold Cup for the sixth time, one behind Mexico’s seven titles. The win moved the USA into sixth in the all-time continental championships rankings, behind only Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Egypt.

USA wasn’t all that impressive early in the tournament, but they looked much better when they added some reinforcements for the knockout round. Osorio tried to get reinforcements for Mexico but was denied.

Sure, getting those players helped the USA, but every team in the tournament had that option and it shows the Yanks’ depth. Plus one of those reinforcements was third string goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, a Mexican-American who recently chose USA over Mexico and was just added to give him the experienced of playing with the USMNT.

The USA could have called in their players who play in Europe and strengthened their suspect defense but they didn’t. Plus those players from Major League Soccer were on break when they were called back to the national team. Jozy Altidore didn’t even watch the first round USA games because he was on vacation.

Plus with the Gold Cup win, USA coach Bruce Arena is unbeaten in the 14 games he’s coached since he came back to coach the team.

Mexico is still comfortably ahead in World Cup qualifying and the USA is in third but it definitely feels like the Americans have retaken control of the region.

On the way to the Gold Cup championship, the USMNT beat Costa Rica, the second place team in the World Cup qualifying standings, in their best game of the tournament. Costa Rica didn’t have their A squad but was the closest to full power of any of the CONCACAF’s big three.

The win over Costa Rica was big because it exorcised some of the USA’s demons from their 4-0 loss at Costa Rica in 2016 that led to then USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing.

In the span of less than a week, the USA was spanked by Costa Rica and lost at home to Mexico in World Cup qualifying for the first time since 1972. It was their first overall home loss in World Cup qualifying since 2001.

However, USA is undefeated in those 14 games since that loss at Costa Rica, so you can definitely make the argument that they are over that hiccup and I will.

Sure that 4-0 loss to Costa Rica was bad, but the US beat CR 4-0 last summer in the Copa America Centenario. By the time of the loss in Costa Rica, USA had given up and faced a very angry team.

Also during the unbeaten span, USA tied Mexico 1-1 in Mexico City. USA has now gotten draws in their last two World Cup qualifying games at Estadio Azteca.

The Americans are 1-8-3 all-time there and Mexico is 39-2-8 in WCQs there.

While Mexico is most assuredly going to finish first in World Cup Qualifying, the USA has regained its momentum. It’s disappointing that the Americans won’t finish first in the WCQ standings for the fourth World Cup in a row but they look like they will surely qualify.

They could very well do so as the best team in the region (they face Costa Rica at home in World Cup Qualifying) while their arch rivals once again look for a new coach.

What a difference a few months make.