The big story out of the US’s demolition (at least in the 2nd half) of Mexico was the US stuffing Memo Ochoa’s words back from whence they came. Ochoa had claimed before the match that Mexico “was the mirror that the US wants to see themselves,” which led to Pulisic writing “Man In The Mirror” on his undershirt and that very Michael Jackson song blaring from the PA once the 90 minutes were completed and Mexico were beaten.
Perhaps it would behoove Ochoa and Mexico to look in the mirror themselves, and really consider what they see. Because what’s in that reflection is soccer’s Dallas Cowboys —a lot of noise, a lot of demanding of respect, an inordinate amount of coverage, and little to no accomplishment to justify any of it.
Perhaps it takes longer to become attuned to a sporting landscape (that you had sole control over for 70-80 years that you no longer do), when the US (and maybe we need to start including Canada in this thanks to their performances of late?) actually started caring or even trying in soccer. That’s quite the head start. But in the past couple decades, the US has made up serious ground, and you could argue caught up and surpassed. Whatever scale you want to look at, they come up more red, white, and blue than tricolor.
What is it exactly that Mexico clings to that makes them the big bad in CONCACAF? Is it World Cup success? No, sure isn’t. Their last quarterfinal appearance was in 1986 on home soil, which also is their only knockout-stage win. Ever. Means they have the same amount of those as the US does, and the US’s at least came this century. And before you start about qualifying for every tournament, boning World Cup qualification was actually Mexico’s idea first in 2014, and they were only saved by Graham Zusi. Which afforded them the opportunity to eat it in the round of 16 again, as is their wont.
Is this reputation based on Gold Cup successes? Who gives a fuck? The US and Mexico have passed that trophy back and forth like a joint for nearly 20 years. Neither team has been able to really send a full squad to the Copa America, and the US has rarely participated at all, when invited as guests. Mexico were semifinalists in 2007, which is getting awfully small in the rearview. And when competing in the hemispherically-wide one of 2016, they were thwacked first game out of the group stage. Same as it ever was.
When it comes to breaking down the talent on the squads currently, Mexico had five players in this latest squad playing in the big five leagues in Europe. The US had nine, and that’s without Gio Reyna or John Brooks or Josh Sargent, though Mexico had a couple injuries too. The US had Champions League players littered through the lineup, from Pulisic to Adams to McKennie to Weah to Steffen (stretching I know, but technically). Mexico had two in Hector Herrera and Tecatito Corona. Corona is merely a squad player for Porto, and Herrera spent his Friday night being put in a blender by McKennie, Musah, and Adams.
The only thing Mexico can claim is the strength of its domestic league, which still holds. Though again, it’s had a huge head start on MLS. And thanks to MLS’s salary cap and byzantine roster construction rules, that may remain the case for a longer yet. Certainly games between teams in the two leagues in the CONCACAF Champions League and other competitions have almost always gone to the Liga MX sides. They’ve often been lopsided. Fair enough. That gap continues to close, though MLS will always have some limb tied behind its back by the amount of young talent that heads over to Europe before ever coming close to their peak or skipping MLS altogether. And it feels like Liga MX has something of a hard-on to join up with MLS, perhaps fully one day.
There are caveats there, of course. Liga MX clubs demand far more money for their players than MLS does, which makes MLS the more attractive shopping center for now for European teams. There’s also the marketing angle that can’t be ignored for European clubs buying American players, which add to their appetite.
So we’re supposed to shit ourselves over one Olympic Gold Medal?
The US squad couldn’t have a brighter future, whereas Mexico is caught between an older generation that might not be able to hack it anymore, a young one that hasn’t taken hold yet, and lacking anything bridging the two. Which has happened to the US in the recent past. Could just be a cycle. Could be something more permanent, as three straight wins for the Yanks hints at.
The US still has a long way to go, and much to accomplish, before it can claim any sort of presence on the world stage. Then again, that’s never really stopped Mexico from doing so, has it?