By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
This past week, soccer fans throughout North America saw the team that will more than likely be the North American continent’s best in Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Hard as it is for U.S. national team fans to accept, our soccer region’s best team is undoubtedly Mexico. And that isn’t likely to change in the next two years.
Three wins in three friendlies on American soil last week – including the big one against Brazil in Arlington, Texas on Sunday — has to be put in perspective.
Friendlies don’t count toward anything but a national team’s overall record. Yet these are the kind of matches that have to be played to see what a team has and whom it can count on when the matches really matter. Without friendlies, you don’t get an extended look at your player pool.
Mexico symbolically regained its place on top of the food chain in CONCACAF when it crushed the U.S. 5-0 in the Gold Cup final on July 25, 2009, in New Jersey.
Up until the Gold Cup that year, the U.S. was the team to beat in the region, but Mexico had reloaded with talent. After both nations qualified for the 2010 World Cup, Mexico rallied to trounce the U.S. again, 4-2 in Pasadena, Calif., in the 2011 Gold Cup final. That came after suspensions of five players for a banned substance.
Head-to-head results (Mexico is undefeated in the previous four meetings with the Yanks, including a draw) don’t tell the whole story. Mexico has been developing more talent to go along with more experience for younger veteran players, and El Tri has allowed coach Chepo de la Torre to settle in as manager as opposed to the turnover of coaches from 2007 to early 2011.
De la Torre, who began his tenure in February of that year, has responded with a 15-4-2 mark. No Mexican coach in federation history has a better winning percentage in 20 or more games at the helm.
The federation is stocked with talent on its U-23 and U-17 teams, as well.
And if we’re going to boil this down to the most recent three friendlies, the results of those say it all. Mexico won all three, including an impressive 2-0 win over Brazil Sunday, while the U.S. was 1-1-1 and was overwhelmed by Brazil, at least for a half, in a 4-1 loss.
Mexico and the U.S. are all but locks to come out of World Cup 2014 qualifying and get back to the mundial, but Mexico is without a doubt the class of the region. Teams like Honduras, Costa Rica, perhaps El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama and Canada might have their moments, but it’s really a battle for the third and fourth spots in CONCACAF.
Three teams make it to the Cup; the fourth must play a play-in game and win it to get to Brazil.
This past week soccer fans saw how good Mexico can be, and an up-and-down U.S. team that blew away Scotland but could not stop Brazil and could not establish itself as the dominant team against Canada on Sunday despite being the better team on paper.
Mexico, for all its talent on offense that manifested itself via goals by Gio Dos Santos and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, was equally impressive on defense. It took the fight to Brazil’s attacking players and didn’t back down nor get caught up in their opponents’ flopping. The Selecao didn’t field a roster with a full complement of its top stars, but Brazil is Brazil and has long been one of the world’s best in soccer no matter who is on the pitch in yellow.
That’s why the win for El Tri was a big deal. It shoots Mexico into World Cup qualifying that begins this week on a high note, while the U.S. team enters qualifying with more questions to answer regarding its inconsistent play and most effective lineup after a scoreless draw in Toronto Sunday.
That’s not the case for Mexico, where De la Torre has plenty of options and combinations at his disposal when it comes to the attack. Forwards Dos Santos, Chicharito and Aldo de Nigris all scored goals this past week. On defense, injured center back Rafa Marquez was the missing piece but expects to be cleared by doctors to take part in qualifying.