Tag Archives: Mexico

Manager a-go-go

Roy Hodgson introduced as the new Liverpool manager

Now that some of the good teams are knocked out of the World Cup, expect a lot of movement in terms of managers in the next few weeks, for both club and country.

Javier Aguirre, Mexico. Aguirre resigned as Mexico manager, falling on his sword and taking responsibility for Mexico’s showing. To a degree, he’s right (it was a stupid decision to go with Oscar Pérez in goal and he had misplaced faith in the obviously overwhelmed Efraín Juárez). At the same time, he’s wrong because Mexico’s expectations were too high. The team that went to South Africa was a 2nd round team (perhaps a quarterfinal team if it played its socks off). That’s the first problem. The second problem was skill level. Mexico is very talented in midfield, especially with Giovanni dos Santos’s improvement over the last year. But the team has no strikers: Guillermo Franco isn’t that good and Carlos Vela isn’t developing (here’s hoping he makes a dos Santos-like breakthrough in the next year or so). When Cuauhtémoc Blano is still seriously considered for national team duty, the cupboard is bare. Mexico needs to develop young players and put its faith in them (Javier Hernández comes to mind), much like Germany has done.

Roy Hodgson, Liverpool. Hodgson left a decent Fulham team for a Liverpool squad in disarray. What he does get is a massive step up in reputation (no matter what I think about Liverpool, it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world). Hodgson is clearly a stop-gap and he might not even have been the first choice (Didier Deschamps reportedly turned Liverpool down). So, one of the biggest clubs in the world hires a middling manager with precious little success on his resume. Fascinating. I think this was a political choice and I hope Hodgson makes the best of it. But when the clear-out comes – and it will come sooner rather than later, what with the owner debt and lack of European competition – Hodgson will be the sacrificial lamb. He should’ve stayed at Fulham.

Bob Bradley, United States. Let’s make this clear: Bob Bradley should NOT be fired. Although starting Ricardo Clark was a massive error, Bradley’s system works for the United States, as it’s currently constructed. In short, he gets good results out of sometimes lacking talent (the distressing habit of allowing goals in the first 20 minutes notwithstanding). The bigger problem is that, like Mexico, the US has no go-to striker (if we’re being honest, the two best strikers are midfielders: Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey). Jozy Altidore has the potential to be very good but he needs to play like he did against Algeria all the time (he was virtually absent against Ghana). Some of that is the coach’s fault. But national team managers are put in a position where they only get to see their players for weeks at a time. It falls on the USSF, MLS, and players to get into situations to maximize their skill development.

Fabio Capello, England. Of course, the English tabloids are calling for his head. They are, if nothing else, predictable. England’s problem is similar to Mexico’s: it fancies itself a world soccer power when, in reality, it’s a middle-of-the-road player capable of extraordinary results once in a while. In fact, according to Soccernomics, England consistently punches above its weight and wins a lot of its matches, except when it counts. England’s problems are twofold: first, it’s a relatively small country, in terms of population (meaning there are fewer players to choose from) and it’s relatively insular in terms of coaching and skills development (the Everton academy is a bit of an exception). Don Fabio helps with both of those by exposing English players to Italian soccer philosophy. Second, the players it develops are all the same. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney. John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, and Jamie Carragher. Aside from skill level, they’re all basically the same player. And they can’t play together. I think Capello will learn from his mistakes and I think he has the stones to leave some of those players out next time (clearly Gerrard was England’s best player at the World Cup – he should be the captain).

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FIFA and the Ministry of Truth

In the official report, that goes down as a Ronaldo-style laser into the back of the net

Let it be known that Big Brother, a.k.a. Sepp Blatter, is an idiot. That, I believe, is a commonly accepted truth.

Let it also be known that FIFA’s attempts at control in the past couple of weeks have reeked of the Ministry of Truth. First, it was decreed that there was no problem and that the referees were doing fine jobs. Now stop asking questions! Next, the Ministry decided that the stadium jumbotrons would not show replays, lest it upset the masses (or show how the referees screwed up). Although the FIFA spokesman used the word “mistake” it was not in response to on-field human error, but in response to showing replays on the big boards.

Now, however, after yelling at him a lot, Blatter has changed his mind and said that us of video technology will be reviewed. Again. So Big Brother will stick to his guns, unless Europe is affected (yes, I think that the tune has changed because England was involved; it was just Mexico and the US, Blatter would be telling us that everything is fine).

So Blatter finally removed his head from his ass. That’s good. But it doesn’t solve anything. “Reviewing” is just that: a platitude that will mollify some people for now until, sometime after the World Cup (maybe 6 or 7 months), the issue will be quietly dropped again. FIFA will not change unless it’s forced to. And the only thing that will force it to change is a colossal mistake during the final. And I, for one, am hoping that happens.

There are several easy ways to fix this without messing up the games. All referees wear microphones that, so far as I can tell, don’t actually do anything. Add a fifth referee who’s watching a video feed and is empowered to tell the referee on the field of any fouls or missed calls. Simple. For the scrums in the box on free kicks and corner kicks, add one referee behind each goal whose sole job is to watch those scrums for infractions. As a bonus, he/she can also watch the goal line. Blatter’s beloved human element is still in place, and it might even clean up the game.

Nothing is perfect and things will be missed, even with HD cameras all over the pitch. The goal is to cut down the number of ridiculous errors, the kind of game-changing errors that cost England, Mexico, and the United States (just to name three). Referees have a difficult job because the game moves at such a fast pace; therefore, FIFA should give them all the help they need, including video technology. To do anything less is idiotic. But I’d expect nothing else from Sepp Blatter.

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A long, bad sports weekend

At least for me. In the span of two days, the three teams I like best (Spain is a close fourth because I love the way they play, but that’s for another day) were eliminated in the knockout round. On Saturday, the United States was eliminated by a sturdy Ghana squad. On Sunday, England crapped the bed against Germany and Mexico was soundly defeated by a very good (though still unappealing) Argentina side.

1. Ghana 2-1 United States. Once again, the US failed to start when the game did. Five minutes in, Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng scored a goal Tim Howard really should have saved. But he still scored. And that, in a nutshell, is the United States’s problem. The back four is leaky and slow. I love Jay DeMerit and I think he’s an excellent defender, but the fact is that he has no pace whatsoever. The goal was as much his fault as Howard’s. But that’s neither here nor there. The real issue is that the US starts slow. Unbelievably slow. It’s like the team needs to play from behind to show any urgency (the exception was the Algeria game, when the urgency of elimination was there from the beginning – where was that in the bleedin’ knockout round??). I’m at a loss to explain why the US does that. It’s unfathomable, to me, that the team cannot get up for an elimination game in the World Cup. Perhaps that’s what’s missing: some sort of killer instinct. Someone who’s ruthless and demands more and more from his teammates. What US soccer needs is some sort of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, at least in terms in competitiveness.

2. Germany 4-1 England. Great players, terrible team. That’s the refrain played in England (though it must be noted that England has an inflated sense of its place in world soccer, much like Mexico; again, fodder for a later post). England never looked good at all. There was something wrong with the team from the beginning. I like Fabio Capello and believed he was the right choice for England manager, but he made a bad call playing Jamie Carragher. Carragher simply doesn’t have the pace to play against the world’s best strikers. Too late, he inserted Matt Upson, who was a much better fit beside John Terry. Compounding that mistake was his misguided faith in James Milner as a wing player when Joe Cole was a much better option. Finally, the team failed to include Wayne Rooney, a top-5 striker in the world (at least this year). The failure to get Rooney involved is the squad’s biggest failure and the best proof that England’s best players cannot play together. Perhaps it’s time to look to support players – players who fill vital roles and rely on a few big names (Rooney, Gerrard, and Terry among them; I remain convinced that Lampard and Gerrard cannot play together and that Gerrard is the better player).

Sergio Romero gets lucky v. Mexico (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

3. Argentina 3-1 Mexico. The scoreline is deceiving. Argentina dominated Mexico in this game. In fact, the only thing that could have saved Mexico was if Carlos Salcido’s amazing 8th minute strike had gone in. Instead, shaky Argentine keeper Sergio Romero got just enough of it to direct it off the crossbar. Bad luck went further against Mexico when Carlos Tévez’s goal was wrongly allowed to stand. In the end, that didn’t matter. Argentina outclassed Mexico from the 20th minute on and thoroughly deserved their win, even though I cannot root for them because of Diego Maradona. During the match, the commentators suggested that Maradona was responsible for Argentina’s success. I humbly suggest that my cat could manage Argentina to the knockout round. Maradona doesn’t really have to earn his money so long as Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano are on the pitch. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Pace is the trick

Rafael Márquez scores v. South Africa (Getty Images)

On the opening day of the 2010 World Cup, it became clear that South Africa was inspired, Mexico was hungover, France is not as good as it should be, and Uruguay may be the monkeywrench.

Mexico should have beaten South Africa but they looked uninspired (which is the nicest way I can put it). I don’t know if Javier Aguirre was taking lessons from Diego Maradona about how to unsettle one’s team, but it certainly appeared that way. He made a series of questionable decisions, beginning with Guillermo Franco up front and ending with Oscar Pérez in goal. Really? Oscar Pérez when you have Guillermo Ochoa, who is, in fact, the best keeper Mexico has right now. Of that, there is no doubt. I think Aguirre over-analyzed and figured if he shook things up, everyone would respond. But they didn’t. Athletes in general, and players on the Mexican national soccer team in particular, love stability. In Mexico, the starting XI should be reasonably obvious and, with a few key subs, can play the entire tournament. There is a reason that Mexico does well in CONCACAF, but not in international tournaments. It’s not entirely dependent on the endemic instability (it also has to do with a chronic attitude problem, in which they think they’re automatically better than everyone else, but that’s another post entirely). It’s time to let the young bucks play. In Ochoa’s case, he’s been the number 1 keeper for 3 and a half years; to not play him now is inexcusable. Put quicker players up front and use the pace provided by Carlos Vela and Giovanni dos Santos (who continues to impress) to create havoc for the opposition’s back four.

I will say that the decision to play quickly, and at a high pace, suits the current Mexico squad (except for Franco, who can’t outrun me). Use Gerardo Torrado as the midfield decision-maker/hard man and let him spring Vela, dos Santos, and anyone else who can streak forward. It’s important that Mexico force the pace in their second and third games because both Uruguay and France want to play slow (as demonstrated by their extraordinarily boring draw). For that, Aguirre needs to make only 1 or 2 changes. And I think he will.

Aguirre is lucky his poor decisions didn’t cost Mexico. Fortunately, France and Uruguay drew, meaning that the group standings look the same today as they did yesterday: everyone is equal, though with only two games left. Mexico needs at least one victory and preferably two. Or else they’ll be heading home early with nothing but pointless tinkering to blame.

PS. Ditch the stupid black jerseys. They look awful.

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World Cup 2010: Group A jerseys

With the World Cup just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at what the teams will be wearing. I’ll start with Group A and move on from there over the next few days.

France home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Let’s start with everyone’s least favorite team, France. Ever the traditionalists, the French are going with blue as their primary color. Red and white thingamajigs on either side of the player’s number serve to break up the monotony. I’m not a fan of random accents on jerseys (as will be demonstrated later) and these are no exception. But at least they’re symmetrical, so good on Adidas for not screwing that up. Overall, it’s a pleasantly banal shirt.

Mexico home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Mexico continues a pattern established in the previous few years where it experiments with its jersey. Okay, Adidas was experimenting, but the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol was a willing co-conspirator. And at least it’s back to normal green. I like the simplicity and the small accents within the shirt’s body but the red armpit stains have to do. I suppose this is an Adidas thing (the random stupid lines, I mean) as they’re featured on a number of Adidas-dressed teams. That said, I like the Mexico shirt and hope they stick with the green because the black away shirt is awful.

South Africa home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

One would think that the hosts would come up with something original for the tournament. But no. The South African Football Federation, along with Adidas (them again!), decided to go with what is basically a Brazil knock-off. Perhaps they’re hoping yellow will bring some Brazilian karma. Perhaps they’re uncreative. Who knows? What I do know is that the shirt is uninspired and was best left on the drawing board. An opportunity lost.

Uruguay home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

This shirt, by Puma, is interesting. I like the subtle sunbursts and the blue color but I don’t like the white stripes on the armpits (though the ones on the sleeves are less offensive). I love the collar as it brings back memories of a simpler time in soccer kits. This is, overall, an interesting mix of modern and retro and it works for me.

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Landon Donovan in Mexican lottery commercial

This is a couple of days old but well worth posting. I think this is great. Good of Donovan not to take himself too seriously; same goes for the Mexican lottery.

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World Cup Qualifying previews

Jay DeMerit (ISI Photos)

Jay DeMerit (ISI Photos)

Bad news and good news for the US: Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu’s central defense partner, has been left home as the rest of the squads travels to Trinidad to take on Trinidad and Tobego tomorrow night. Perhaps that’ll give someone else a chance to make a good impression. Good, or perhaps just interesting, news is that Edgar Castillo, a Mexican-American left back, has been cleared by FIFA to play for the United States. Perhaps he’s the best option at left back now that Jonathan Bornstein has totally crapped the bed.

As an aside, Grant Wahl has a good Q & A session with Bob Bradley here. It’s well worth checking out.

A re-energized Mexico takes on Honduras at Estadio Azteca. I think that as much as Javier Aguirre has helped the team, the real key has been Giovani dos Santos’s (re)emergence as an attacking force. He’s been on fire since the Gold Cup which hopefully means his club career will be re-ignited.

In CONMEBOL, it’s do or die for Argentina against Paraguay tomorrow night. Perhaps literally. A must-win game means that Diego Maradona and his boys will be under tremendous pressure. I’m not sure if any of them would be welcome back in Buenos Aires if they lose.

In UEFA qualifying, Don Fabio is thanking Slaven Bilič for saying his team lacks “Englishness” since the Italian took over. There are calls to start Jermain Defoe but I don’t think that’s a good idea.  Look for David Beckham to get his 114th cap, though.

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Saturday Night Links: foreign policy edition

Everton 1-6 Arsenal (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Everton 1-6 Arsenal (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Something that’s been kicking around in my head, esp. when it comes to Mexico, is soccer as foreign policy initiative. Andrés Martínez wrote an interesting article examining it which is well worth a read.

Luis Bueno figures that Mexico’s two wins in a row have given it back its swagger when it comes to playing the US. While I won’t go that far, I will say that Mexico is looking much better now that Giovani dos Santos has decided to become a quality player again. I’m seeing shades of Nicolas Cage in dos Santos: he’s great when he wants to be but he rarely wants to be. I hope dos Santos starts doing crazy things with his hair.

Jozy Altidore’s move to Hull City FC has been delayed because of work permit issues. What the fudge? He’s played enough national team games so the permit should be a formality at this point. Get on with it, British Home Office!

The Premiership is back! The Premiership is back! And either Arsenal is really good or Everton is really bad. Tim Howard isn’t nearly that bad so I’m going to call this a tremendously off day.

Charlie Davies scored two goals for Sochaux. Keep it rollin’, Charlie!

Some Manchester United fans are still upset at the Glazers. Can’t we all just move on? It’s not like the Glazers have run the club into the ground.

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World Cup Qualifier: Mexico defends its turf

Isreal Castro scored a very impressive goal v. the US on 12 August 2009

Isreal Castro scored a very impressive goal v. the US on 12 August 2009

To its credit, Mexico defended its home turf today, defeating the United States 2-1 in World Cup Qualifying.

To his credit, Bob Bradley took my advice and attacked early. He got the goal he wanted but the United States couldn’t hold the lead.

To their credit, the Mexican attackers did their job: holding possession and creating chances, using their home-field advantage, especially the altitude, to the fullest extent. I was impressed with Andrés Guardado, who backed up his pre-match words (sorta), and Giovani dos Santos, who built on his Gold Cup performance. Surely the Tottenham bosses have noticed now.

The first half was very entertaining with 2 good goals. I liked how the US played because they did what they had to do: go for the early goal. And they got it. Sadly, 10 minutes later they got beat by an outstanding shot which showed me that Mexico didn’t abandon their gameplan. That was a key moment.

The second half was less impressive. Fatigue set in and wise substitutions by Javier Aguirre set Miguel Sabah up to score Mexico’s second goal, a strike made by Juárez’s excellent run past Landon Donovan. All in all, it was an impressive performance by the home side.

Quick notes: the refereeing was awful again: it lacked consistency, which showed, again, that CONCACAF referees aren’t very good … the coverage by Mun2 was good for a first effort; relentlessly promoting their programs was par for the course but very annoying in the end.

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World Cup Qualifier: US-Mexico preview

Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey

Tomorrow, on 12 August, the US will take on Mexico in Estadio Azteca (4pm on Telemundo and Mun2) in what amounts to a crucial World Cup Qualifier for both teams. The US is currently in second place with 10 points (2 behind leaders Costa Rica) while Mexico is in 4th place with only 6 points from 5 games. Suffice it to say that Mexico does have something to prove.

Despite the 5-0 Gold Cup Final win, Mexico is under more pressure because they’re in that precarious 4th position (the team in 4th has to play the CONMEBOL 5th-place finisher to get into the World Cup; incidentally, Costa Rica is taking on Honduras in a battle of first v. third, which means there could be a lot of movement in the standings tomorrow; but I digress).

Mexico is riding a wave of confidence. Look at Andrés Guardado’s ill-advised statements the other day: “Of course we will win, 3-0,” Guardado said. “We have players of high quality and you can see that the team has prepared well, now there is only the question of showing it on the field on Wednesday.” Confidence is good; deliberately inflaming your opponent isn’t very smart, though.

The US has something to prove, too. In no particular order, they need to prove that they can play well and win at Azteca and they need to prove the it was the Gold Cup, rather than the Confederations Cup, that was the fluke. It’s also important that the US doesn’t backslide into the form of previous World Cup Qualifiers (i.e. allowing a goal or two in the first 15 minutes).

If Bob Bradley is smart, he’ll take the game to Mexico and try to take the crowd out of the game while scoring first. I know why Mexico plays its most important games at Azteca: a massive crowd and a high altitude. Add to that Mexico’s skill and you can see why they rarely lose there. Mexico will play their game and look run the US out of the stadium. In all likelihood, they will be successful, even though Rafael Márquez is out with a hamstring injury.

I’m not going to predict a final score but I think it will be a close game. I also think Mexico will win and throw the CONCACAF qualifiers into a glorious mess.

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