The United States road through Olympic Qualifying has been littered with peril to this point. The three match group stage in Tampa featured exactly no United States goals from the run of play and three opposing teams who in their own manner showed better shape, discipline and quality than the United States.
But the problems for the red, white and blue pale in comparison to the problems of EL Tri. Today in Los Angeles, the Mexicans face an elimination match against Haiti. Either the Mexicans emerge victorious or they are dumped out of qualifying and coach Hugo Sanchez’s job becomes very vulnerable.
Mexico has looked exceedingly poor in it first two matches. After a wonder goal by Edgar Castillio on Friday night, the Mexicans allowed Guatemala to dominate the flow of play. Not only did the Guatemalans score twice but they looked to have much more quality than El Tri. Mexico has the talent, the quality, the skill and the stature to run anyone in this region off the field at any age level save perhaps the United States. Yet under Hugo Sanchez, the Mexican program has not taken any great leap forward despite the large numbers of Mexican players featuring for the very best clubs in Americas and in Europe.
Back to the United States. I’ve been called overly negative for many months now about the national team situation which I blame at least partly on the failures of MLS, our domestic league. Often times in the face of such criticism you begin to re-think your position and wonder if perhaps I had simply over reacted to what I had seen and was taking recent events out of historical context. Sadly, I now feel I have dead on since last summer when I editorialized that I thought after almost twenty years of upward movement the United States program had hit a wall and was now hitting the skids literally.
CONCACAF has figured out the United States. The reality is from a tactical standpoint we aren’t that sophisticated. Much like England, the rest of our region has figured out we have only one way to play. Unlike England whose recent failures have exposed the structure and culture of football in arguably the proudest and greatest footballing nation of all, we don’t seem to be willing to go outside the circle and bring in the type of coaches or technical directors that can change this. England upset many by hiring an Italian manager whose tactical savvy far exceeds every manager of British lineage that is alive save perhaps Sir Bobby Robson. We need to do the same. We need a technical director from outside to set the tone for the US National program. Simply having more talent and skill than Central American rivals is no longer ensuring a clean victory over these rivals.
Mexico is in a similar position. But I will not make the same suggestion for them because they will never take it. Especially when they are currently led by a former player whose career far exceeded any our nation has ever produced. Hugo Sanchez is a legend but for the good of Mexican Football he needs to show some humility and take on some help.