The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Come and hang out around, say, 3:55 pm Eastern, for a sort of live blog of the USA-Mexico game. This isn’t going to be the kind of live blog where I print the team sheets and, you know, write a lot of “things” designed to “help” the fan who isn’t watching the match. This is going to be more like an occasionally-updating commentary track. I humbly believe and hope that it will be like the queso to go with the salsa of the more mainstream live blog you’re already pouring on the nachos of the officially sanctioned live broadcast. (So to speak.)
Speaking of which, I have no idea how I’m going to see the game. There’s no mun2 preview here. We could be tackling this thing in Spanish, or at a bar, or in my imagination. Okay, probably not my imagination, but then, if the US wins 4-0, I don’t know, maybe check a website or something.
PREAMBLE. So we all know what this is. This is not a match of friends. This is sport on a bad off day, on a vacation without the kids, living it up in its own way, no alimony payments, brick through a windshield, a barstool carousel and a bunk in an alley. Nobody’s getting united today, and nobody’s learning anything. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but you can’t fight the backstory. If we could leave the Azteca with the stands ablaze and the earth salted, we would.
The literal problem with that (God, I hope at least somewhat) figurative idea is that we don’t win in Mexico. Ever. In 23 matches there, we’re 0W 1D 22L. That is a fat kid on the wrong side of the seesaw, and we also finished our last match, in the Gold Cup final that finished about six seconds ago, 0-5. We went out like a Federer opponent at commercial break, and I don’t think Mexico were sweating, either.
So there’s a lot to play for, and it’s all negative. The undramatic truth is that we’re probably going to qualify for the World Cup even if we lose, but Mexico really might be out of it without a win. So we’re playing to hurt them as much as to help ourselves.
Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side!
PLUS. Blanco is captaining Mexico.
OKAY, WHAT THE HELL, I’LL PRINT THE TEAM SHEETS.
USA: 1-Howard; 6-Cherundolo, 5-Onyewu, 15-DeMerit, 3-Bocanegra (capt.); 8-Dempsey , 13-Clark, 12-Bradley, 10-Donovan; 9-Davies, 11-Ching
Mexico: 1-Ochoa, 2-Magallon, 3-Salcido, 5-Osorio, 6-Torrado, 8-I.Castro, 9-Franco, 10-Blanco, 16-Juarez, 18-Guardado, 17-Dos Santos
I’m with Grant Wahl on one thing. Ching over Altidore = I do not get.
O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREE…AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE. An oom-pah band now thinks so.
THIS IS JUST A WEIRD WAY TO EXPERIENCE SPORTS. “Charlie Davies…e Brian Ching!”
1 min We are off. Remember, this is an occasionally-updating commentary track rather than a classic or “useful” description of the game.
2 min Trying to figure out the striping pattern on the pitch. It’s like the game is being played on the chest of an enormous 1930s gangster.
NB. Okay, there’s no match timer on this broadcast. I’m switching to clock time.
4:07 I don’t speak Spanish, but “Meeelan” is the same in every language. Except English, unfortunately.
4:08 Giovanni dos Santos runs like I navigate the internet: purposefully, but without knowing exactly where he’s going.
4:11 Donovan crosses “para Gooch!” but things don’t develop as delightfully as you’d expect from that sentence.
4:13 Ahem. I can do this, because I’m watching the game in Spanish. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLL!! GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!
4:13 GOAL! 1-0 USA. We are winning at the Azteca. Donovan slipped a coy little ball through the defense, and Davies chipped it in.
4:14 Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!
4:17 Mexico take a corner that’s essentially para nobody.
4:19 Torrado just kind of trots toward nobody and kicks the ball toward nowhere. Unlike the gangster who inspired their groundskeepers this morning, Mexico are not looking sharp.
4:21 Blanco shoots after a deeply intricate Mexico set play that involves seven players and takes eighty seconds to execute. Howard easily catches it. Blanco looks like a dad playing with his son’s high-school friends right now. Laboring, winded, buffered by a weird cushion of respect, and determined not to be outplayed.
4:23 GOAL – MEXICO! 1-1 goal. goal. goal. goal.
4:24 Damn it all. Israel Castro appeared in the midst of a wide, empty, pastoral field of space, and kind of pastorally ponged it in. A really good shot, albeit one made without even the faintest breath of pressure, and not Tim Howard’s fault (an observation I will religiously repeat after any and all Mexico goals this evening).
4:26 It would be nice if we had any sort of attacking presence, or if Davies or Ching could be maneuvered into some kind of proximity to the ball.
4:30 We take the ball for a lazy stroll around midfield. It doesn’t want to go to Ching, and bounces off the defender’s foot instead.
4:31 I didn’t see what Onyewu did to deserve his booking. I saw what DeMerit did, and I present him with a second, imaginary yellow card for giving Mexico a free kick in such a dangerous place. Thank God for Tim Howard (I expect to repeat this declaration religiously at many different points throughout the evening).
4:34 Mexico are getting huge fields of space on the left. I realize we’ve decided to play a narrow claustrophobia defense and delude ourselves into thinking we can keep the score 1-1 that way, but maybe we could mark the wing players occasionally?
4:37 Ching gets the ball in the area and my match feed suddenly goes out!
4:38 Okay, we’re back. Apparently in the interim, the ball decided to hold out for Altidore and snuck away from Ching. Then, the universe went dark for 30 seconds. Then, Donovan sent a cross-cutting free kick into the area which every tall American player leapt for and which they all simultaneously missed.
4:41 Franco suggestively rushes through the defense and makes for a long through ball, but Tim Howard easily gathers it up. This prompts the Mexican announcers to start a long, enthusastic exchange punctuated with the words “Telemundo Sports!”
4:45 This US corner is indicative of the refereeing tonight: Castro spends the entire lead-up to the kick shoving Charlie Davies, then Ching kind of taps Osario, is whistled for the foul, and watches incredulously as Osario paints a nine-yard patch of the field with his agonized, rolling back.
4:47 Completely objective US player ratings so far: Riccardo Clark 0, Bocanegra 0, Ching 0.5, Onyewu 7, Donovan 7, Davies 7, Tim Howard 47830.
4:49 Mexico player ratings: Torrado 6, Dos Santos 6, Castro 7, Riccardo Clark 8, Blanco [*wincing and slowly backing away*].
4:50 While I am typing that, Davies takes on four players and loses the ball just before he can annihilate Ochoa for a world-historic goal. I’m bumping him up to a 7.5.
4:51 Halftime. I’m going to go drink a glass of cool, refreshing water. Then I’m going to contemplate how thoroughly we are going to lose this match if we keep packing the area, giving Mexico space on the wing, trying to preserve the 1-1 draw, and playing thousand-yard “um, counterattack?” balls that take the midfield completely out of the game. We’ve looked pretty nicely fanged when we’ve attacked, so let’s do some of that, huh?
5:08 Oh, hey, we’re back. I missed the kickoff while I was drinking my water.
5:10 So did Bob Bradley, obviously, since he forgot to put Jozy Altidore into the game.
5:11 Salcido passes the ball directly to an American defender. More of this, please.
5:12 How much of our back line is on a yellow card now? All of it, or just almost all of it?
5:14 Honestly, what’s been most impressive about Davies’s performance tonight is that he’s been almost able to control some of the full-pitch desperation heaves the team’s been sending his way.
5:15 Not that I’m suggesting we should try to integrate the midfield or anything.
5:16 For a second it sounded like the announcers were speaking in English, and I thought maybe I’d finally realized the American fan’s dream of learning Spanish from watching soccer broadcasts. Then I realized it was just an Allstate endorsement, alas.
5:17 Total confusion in the US area. Tim Howard, for whom thank God, calmly scoops the ball away.
5:18 Watching Dos Santos round the corner against Bocanegra is like watching a cartoon superhero playing against a real human being.
5:20 Blanco off for Vela, which scares me. Clark off for Holden, which also scares me (despite everything).
5:21 Dos Santos cartoon-superheroishly lines up a shot and fires it at super-speed at Tim Howard. Tim Howard is like, what, is that all you’ve got?
5:22 I think he wants to ruffle Dos Santos’s hair.
5:23 I’d just like to point out that Bob Bradley made an uncharactertistically early substitution, and it didn’t involve Altidore. No reason. I just want to point it out.
5:25 Woah! The announcer just said—in English—“Guys! All the best to you from Mexico City!” These announcers are making me think some of my earlier “burn down the Azteca and salt the earth” comments might have been slightly intemperate.
5:26 Is it weird that I think of about half the US roster in terms of their Twitter usernames?
5:28 Donovan and Bocanegra (I think it was Bocanegra) simultaneously converge on Dos Santos. He kicks the ball between them, then runs all the way around them to get it while they’re looking behind them and trying to figure out what just happened. Not a good look, #USMNT.
5:30 Two questions: Is it possible that these vuvuzelas are actually shriller and more annoying than the vuvuzelas in South Africa? Also: Have the referees called a foul on Mexico all night?
5:31 Seriously, after everything that happened this summer, how happy is Adriano Galliani to see Onyewu playing so well tonight?
5:33 A fully airborne, impossibly stretched-out Charlie Davies comes about a tenth of a centimeter from reaching the ball and heading it straight into the back of the net. My heart and my throat are glad this happened, as they haven’t had a good chance to talk for a while.
5:35 Quoting ronald james davis in the comments: “im reduced to getting exicited anytime the mexico penalty area even comes into view on camera at this point.”
5:36 …and we have our first brawl. Davies goes down, the Mexico players try to yank him up, we’re treated to a momentary bout of fisticuffs. Tim Howard leaves his goal, separates the players, then kneels to tend to the injured Davies. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see him intubate.
5:39 Altidore is on for Davies, who has a cramp, if I understand my Spanish (which I don’t).
5:40 Did a Mexico player just get a yellow card? I didn’t see it, and I wouldn’t have believed my eyes if I had.
5:41 Apparently Torrado got a yellow? What did he do, pull out a flamethrower?
5:42 Altidore doesn’t like a Magallon tackle and moves toward him with intent. Magallon doesn’t stick around to find out where he’s going.
5:44 GOAL — 2-1 MEXICO. Ugh.
5:45 Juarez takes the ball unchallenged through three American defenders and the entire House of Representatives. DeMerit stops the shot, but it falls to Sabah, who dinks it in. It wasn’t Tim Howard’s fault.
5:49 Three minutes plus stoppage time for one of the great comebacks in US soccer history. It’s going to be tough, considering that the midfield is numb from disuse at this point.
5:52 Twenty seconds plus stoppage time. We have not looked dangerous in the comeback attempt to this point.
5:52 Bradley on the sideline looking flummoxed, as though there was no possible way to have foreseen this when he collapsed the pitch after Davies’s goal.
5:53 HOLDEN IN THE AREA…no, nothing.
5:55 And the final whistle is 1) blown and 2) comprehensively drowned out by the nasal whine of the ultravuvuzelas.
5:56 Well, there you have it. 1-0 was inevitably too good to be true, but we semi-evitably got suckered into trying to preserve it and lost our hold on the game. The players showed heart—Mexico were getting really frustrated before Sabah’s goal, which is a credit to Howard and the USA’s defending in the area (even if there was no marking on the flanks); Onyewu played brilliantly at times; at the end, all the players were brave in flinging themselves at the ball. I don’t want to stir up a lot of facile blame (or do I?), but in the end it just wasn’t a practical game plan, and the failure to make adjustments at halftime (replacing the ghost of Brian Ching with Altidore, fixing the marking problems, addressing the long-bomb passing that took the midfield out of the game) probably cost us the match. 0W 1D 23L. Something to think about while you’re falling down the shaft in the center of the battlestation. Anyway, thanks for coming out and watching the game with me.
by Brian Phillips · August 12, 2009