16 October 2013

Heart Stoppage Time

By Joe Speaker
Los Angeles, CA

Eleven years ago, the U.S. beat Mexico in the World Cup knockout round in South Korea. It remains the biggest ever result for the Yanks, the furthest they've advanced in the Finals. Conversely, the loss was Mexico's biggest nightmare. Their fans' reaction can be summed up in a couple quotes from AP after the game.

"The United States is a country of basketball, not of soccer. Destiny has played a dirty trick on us."

"There has to be an end to this disgrace where (Americans) treat us like rats and idiots."

After the incredible last few minutes of last night's tandem qualifiers, no longer can the U.S. be accused of playing dirty tricks. With two stunning stoppage time goals in Panama, the U.S. not only completed an inspiring comeback, but kept Mexico's World Cup hopes alive with the victory. Had the Panamanians managed to hold their lead, they would be on to a home-and-home playoff with New Zealand for a berth in Brazil. Instead, the U.S. B+ team gifted that task to the Mexicans, who were busy losing 2-1 at Costa Rica.

El Tri fans, please allow me to be the billionth insufferable Yank to tell you, "You're welcome" on the internet.   

American fans are of many minds about these results. Some are angry the U.S. saved their rivals from the abyss of non-qualification. The Yanks had nothing to gain in this final qualifier, having already secured their ticket and top spot in The Hex. As the clocked ticked and results stood, a few minutes of dawdling would have sent Mexico out, their failure good for a belly laugh for the Stars and Stripes. (Imagine, if you will, what might have happened in the exact same circumstance, but with the zapato al otro pie. Do you think Mexico tries to win the game? Or do they just kick the ball into Row Z? I'll make Row Z a -160 favorite.) But the players in the U.S. jersey did have something to play for, a spot on the 23-man roster next summer in Brazil. And they also had that will, the same feeling that I had. No matter the standings, we play to win the game. We want to win the game.

Which is how a lot of fans feel today. We like to win. The American Way. If victory happens to benefit our most bitter rivals, so be it. 

Another faction claims, it's good for the U.S., as a program, as a country with millions of Mexican immigrants, to have Mexico qualify. It's the whole rising tide lifts all boats deal, the geographical rival increases attentions and sponsorship dollars. While true, I don't think Mexico failing to qualify in one cycle--it is just one cycle--wold affect the long-term stability of their team, or their standing in CONCACAF. It would be just a single failure. A failure of monumental proportions, but not one that would short-circuit their future prospects.

In fact, it might even help. With the glut of young Mexican-American players--prospects like Paul Arriola--who can suit up for either team, El Tri might get more than their fair share since that'll be the easiest team to make.

I kid, Paul. Stick with us. You don't want to have to play with that asshole Rafa Marquez. 

Meanwhile, let's pour one out for Panama. Jeez. What were they thinking? If you watch the replay of Graham Zusi's equalizer (which was enough eliminate them), there are three Panama players walking--WALKING!!--25 yards from goal as the U.S. steamed forward. Inexcusable. Two minutes from qualification and they give it up, partly due to laziness. They couldn't possibly have thought it was over. Surely they recall four years ago when the U.S. did the exact same thing to Costa Rica (score late in a meaningless, for the U.S., final qualifier), putting the Ticos out of the tournament and into a playoff.

So, El Tri breathes again to host New Zealand in a month at the Azteca, followed by the return fixture two weeks later. In the interim, we can enjoy poking our rivals. We saved their ass. There is no debate. They owe us. We'll never collect, though. Whatever goodwill the U.S. enjoys in the next couple weeks will have long since dissipated by the next time they head to the Azteca. The vitriol might be even more rabid, if possible. Because the U.S. is on top now, the favorites, the Kings of CONCACAF. And nobody likes the chalk.

Especially one that treats others like rats and idiots.

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