Not long ago, the United States could rightfully claim domination over CONCACAF. Mexico was suffering a crisis of confidence under an arrogant, chin smoking foreign coach. At the same time US had won the Gold Cup again and were cruising through the Hex with 18 points through 7 games, and easy World Cup qualification. The year was 2005*.
But the next year, Mexico advanced further in the World Cup than the US, and lowly Trinidad and Tobago, who finished 4th in the Hex actually showed better than the USA at the World Cup even if the scores of the games do not indicate such. Calls were abound for the US to hire a foreign manager or a quasi foreigner like Jurgen Klinsmann.
But the US stood pat, and the decision to hire Bob Bradley appeared to be a good one initially, with the US winning the Gold Cup again in 2007. But World Cup qualification has been far from smooth for the US. Road struggles against the likes of Guatemala and Cuba in the previous round have given way to dropped points against El Salvador and horrific displays of football in Costa Rica and Mexico.
Yes, the United States is still unbeatable on home soil against CONCACAF opposition. But the US has been outscored on the road versus CONCACAF opposition in qualifying by nine goals to seven, which is an alarming statistic for a side that claimed to be so dominant in the region not long ago.
Honduras, is a team that features three solid Premiership players including Wilson Palacios, the region’s most expensive player and two outstanding Serie A stars including David Suazo, arguably the region’s best player.
When Honduras plays its “A” team, they can compete with the USA, even on American soil. With Suazo returning after a long injury in September, the Hondurans have to be fancied to close the Hex in a much stronger position than they have been in this summer.
Mexico, for all the 2-0 losses to the US have found their footing against the Yanks since 2007. Andres Guardado’s goal in the 2007 Gold Cup final was the first for a Mexican player on American soil versus the USA since 1999, a span of eight games. Eight months later, a 2-2 draw in Houston was the first result for Mexico on American soil versus the US since 1999.
The 2-0 USA win in Columbus this February in qualifying deserves an asterisk. Mexico, not only was missing some of its best players through suspension or injury but also was dealing with the idiosyncratic player selection of Sven Goran Eriksson which included starting several naturalized players, such as Mathias Vuoso who had no business ever suiting up for El Tri.
Still the United States won that game, and deserved credit for beating a desperate and hungry Mexican team, even if it was legitimately not the best Mexican team.
But now, in less than three week, Mexico has dominated the United States twice, once in the US and once at the Azteca. The US “C” team in the Gold Cup was beaten badly by a Mexican “B” team that featured the likes Fausto Pinto and Alberto Medina in the starting XI. Now the US has been soundly beaten by a Mexican team that was missing Pavel Pardo and Rafa Marquez, the two most accomplished active Mexican players in European club football.
No doubt that the United States is still at or near the top of the heap in CONCACAF. But the days have passed, when the United States could rightly claim domination over the region and now Bob Bradley’s side must fight like dogs to reclaim the mantle of regional superpower.
* It is worth noting that Mexico beat eventual champion, Brazil in the 2005 Confederations Cup Group Stage, a victory that much like the US win over Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup has to be viewed as a one off/isolated event in the larger picture of world football. Mexico in 2005, save that one victory was struggling. The United States, save that one victory in 2009 is also struggling.