It's different with USA soccer. Patriotism presents an easy foundation for fandom, and coupled with my born-again love for playing the sport, it got easier and easier to become a real fan. Throw the Olympics in there and fandom goes bonkers. In London the men's team failed to qualify, which might have actually helped me. I was able to fulfill my soccer quota with the United States of Alex Morgans. (She played well all tournament and looked good doing it. Seriously, name five girls right now who look better with no makeup and full of sweat.)
Last night the men's team took the pitch in a friendly against Mexico in the infamous Estadio Azteca. The Americans haven't won south of the border in 25 matches, and of the last 49 goals scored between these two teams in Mexico, the Taco Bell chihuahuas have scored 45 of them. For the first time in our national team's history, the red, white, and blues defeated Mexico with grit, luck, and Tim Howard.
Before the game, several commentators spoke about how the game would provide nothing more than a good psychological warmup. With several regulars, including Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, not scheduled to gain a cap last night, Team USA featured a bunch of dudes who have been under-the-radar (BockerKnocker code for "I've never heard of them"). Early on, the Mexicans attacked the American half of the field, evidenced by their ridiculous time of possession (63%) and the shots-on-goal count (7-2) in the first half of play. The men in green seemed to wear down Team USA with deft passing, clever through balls, and displayed more overall chemistry than our guys.
There were many problems on the American side, starting with the inauspicious play of one Kyle Beckerman. Several times, Beckerman directed the ball away from his teammates, including one point where he volleyed a ball in the air towards his own defense, resulting in a Mexico corner kick. In the 61st minute, he did manage to almost put one past the opposing goalkeeper with a surprise floater, but all in all, Beckerman played horribly. And oh yeah, he looks atrocious.
In the second half, the main culprit for poor play was Jermaine Jones. Jones had enjoyed a couple of good appearances for Team USA in the past couple of months, but he just didn't have it last night. On several scoring opportunities, Jones lost the ball while attempting to be creative. Other times he would get pushed around, sans whistle, resulting in Jones being over-aggressive on defense, where he committed multiple Tyson Chandlers (BockerKnocker code for silly fouls).
Alas, the US of A came out on top because of one wonderful run by super sub Brek Shea, whose USA jersey is slowly climbing up my personal wish list, and our best keeper of all-time, Tim Howard. Shea megged through a Mexican defender on the left side of the field, almost lost control of the ball, but put a ground cross to the middle. There, happy-to-be-there Terrence Boyd back-heeled the ball towards the net, where Michael Orozco Fiscal tapped in (but almost whiffed) the lone goal of the match.
14 minutes remained, and Mexico, led by the blazing fast Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, had several opportunities to tie the game. Partly because Mexico was fired up, but mostly because the American defense was tired, lackadaisical, and just plain incompetent. Enter Tim Howard's unbelievable performance in the game's final 10 minutes:
Did we deserve to win this game? Of course not. We don't have the ball skills, the passing, or even the moxie that Mexico has. But after almost a century of losing in enemy territory down south, sometimes a little luck gets you through the night. Shea was every bit of a super sub that we need him to be, and Howard is one of the best goalies in the world. We'll take it. Coach Juergen Klinsmann improved his record as USA head man to 8-5-3, and that's all we can ask for. He has instilled a different mentality. Probably should have lost, but we won. It's the American way.