June 15 – USA versus Mexico rarely disappoints. In a feisty, chaotic, intense, end-to-end battle with four sendings off and tempers unravelling wherever you looked, the US walked away 3-0 winners.
It was a game that showcased everything that was good with football, and too much that is bad.
The star of the show was Chelsea’s Christina Pulisic, for the villain, take your pick from the sent off players on either side. But ultimately the villain role will be pegged on the Mexican fans who as the game and the Mexican team unravelled, did so similarly with their offensive ‘puto’ chant.
For the US, and their second interim manager B.J. Callahan it was a triumph for the belief in their system. Callahan set up his team well from the start and showcased and blending the young talent they have at their disposal with the more seasoned performers.
Starlets Giovanni Reyna and new boy Folarin Balogun both had a significant impact on the result, so did Timothy Weah (George will be proud), while the mercurial Pepi came off the bench to score. The future of this team based on this performance is astonishingly bright – if they are allowed to continue to showcase their undoubted talent.
The bad news for the US was the sending off of Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest, two key players in the make-up of a young team that has one eye on the hosting of the World Cup in 2026 in their country.
For Mexico it isn’t back to the drawing board because they at times showed they have the ability and class to compete, but they won’t manage that until they can take control of their own emotions and take ownership of their destiny. It seemed almost easier for them to unravel, and apportion blame, rather own the space and the game.
The Mexican fans didn’t help in this regard as they whipped their team up into a frenzy with an expectation they could not match on the night. This – discriminatory chanting aside – is real passion, it’s what makes the game special, and what makes fans want more.
Mexico’s coach Diego Cocca was under pressure before the game and looked like he was feeling it. Pundits and fans will be quick to point the finger at him but he isn’t the problem. Change is needed and at times it change the progress towards that end was visible, but not for long enough in a match where Mexico lost control of the play and themselves.
US interim coach B.J. Callahan got it right from start to finish. But he will lose his job and the rumour is that former coach Gregg Berhalter is on the way back – the Reyna family will be delighted.
The game started at pace and barely slowed from start to finish, but it was a first half that ultimately belonged to the US and Christian Pulisic in particular.
Either side could have taken the lead early on with chances tripping over themselves as the game moved from end to end. Mexico flowed forward in numbers while the US attacked with the ball at their feet. It was compelling and tense.
On 22 minutes Pulisic should have put the US one up. Having rounded Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa he blasted the ball over the bar. Mexican fans bayed their relief, US fans held their heads unbelievingly.
On 25 minutes Pulisic hit a lame free kick into Ochoa’s arms. But on 36 minutes he had his goal. Stealing a loose ball in the box he drove across the goal before firing left footed across Ochoa and into the net.
The US ended the half in control as Mexico lost their rhythm.
They hadn’t found it by the restart. Two minutes after the break Timothy Weah used his power to drive down the right wing and sweep the ball across and behind the Mexican back four to find Pulisic driving in at the back post – 2-0.
As US confidence grew, Mexico’s unravelling began. On 56 minutes Uriel Antuna clattered into Reyna leaving him bloody nosed on the pitch. Two minutes later a pumped up Reyna was brought down outside the box. He fires his shot over but the game is hotting up and so are tempers. Reyna is running very hot and on 67 minutes returns the foul on Antuna.
Elsewhere new boy Folarin Balogun, who only declared himself American in time for the final squad naming, was trading fouls with Mexico’s Cesar Montes. The 71st minute saw the volcano erupt.
Montes’ cynical foul on Balogun earned him a straight red and in the ensuing melee that involved most of the players and spilled on to the touchline, Weston McKennie emerged with a ripped shirt and a red card.
“These are rivalry game, things like this happen across the world. It comes from a good place, they are standing up for each other,” said Callahan in his post match press conference.
Probably not the case but who cares, it was great drama. Even so, Callahan made the smart moves and removed Reyna and Balogun from the action.
Pepi came on and within five minutes was on the score sheet.
This time it was Sergino Dest who drive down the right, running at Mexico’s back pedalling defence before sliding the ball towards the centre for Pepi to stroke home.
Dest’s brilliance was only matched by his stupidity minutes later. Following an altercation with Gerardo Arteaga on the touchline that again led to a mass player pushing and shoving contest, both were red carded. It was unnecessary, and avoidable and Dest will miss the final against Canada.
With 12 minutes of added time left on the clock, the game was played out with the most significant participant being Mexico’s fans and their chanting. Step 1 of the anti-discrimination protocol was enacted which saw the game halted for a cooling off period.
The Mexican fans weren’t to be cooled off and were pushing for Step 2 and the eventual third step and abandonment of the game. Fortunately the referee blew for full time.
Post match, the intensity of the Mexican fans was matched by their media who grilled Cocca. Cocca’s explanation was that “we wanted to manage the game better, generate scoring chances and in the beginning I think we did (create the chances), we just didn’t the score the goals.” It fell on deaf ears.
“I don’t like losing,” said Cocca. Mexico’s followers don’t either, and especially to the US.
Vegas is the capital city of the live entertainment business. This was a show that was worth every penny of the ticket price.
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