The U.S. and Mexico are both now out of the World Cup, the Americans losing to Ghana in extra time Saturday and Mexico overwhelmed by a referee’s call and its own mistakes in a loss to Argentina Sunday.
Both teams made it out of their respective groups to get into the knockout round, but made quick exits once there. Deficiencies in both sides were revealed, as the U.S. lacked a quality striker who could be a constant scoring threat and really made it harder on itself having to come from behind so often. For Mexico, too many good scoring chances missed and some iffy lineup decisions in a couple of games by coach Javier Aguirre.
I thought this U.S. team was primed for at least a run to the quarterfinals, even without Charlie Davies, who was not selected for the team after a long recovery from injuries sustained in a bad car accident. But the Yanks clearly missed Davies’ speed and willingness to attack. Winning their group was impressive, but the Round of 16, which used to be good enough in past World Cups, is now underachieving for this team.
This country has come a long way with soccer development, and while it still isn’t where it could be in terms of fan support of the game, the time has come to be better. It isn’t good enough to be the best in the CONCACAF region and to beat Mexico at home all the time now. It’s time to graduate into the elites, as in a consistent top-10 FIFA ranking.
For Mexico, a star was born in this World Cup with young Manchester United-bound striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and El Tri has a bright future at striker with Carlos Vela, Giovani Dos Santos and Pablo Barrera. Those are the players that will carry the flame for this team into the future. So will young defenders like Hector Moreno and Paul Aguilar and Efrain Juarez. Plus, things can only get better at goalkeeper, where Memo Ochoa should take over permanently and should have played more in this World Cup.
Mexico did well to get to the Round of 16 with a lot of young players, but it has to learn to overcome adversity. The bad call that led to Argentina’s first goal Sunday really affected the players and broke their focus. Argentina was clearly the better and more experienced team, but Mexico collapsed mentally for too long in the game and it cost them.
Finally, both teams’ coaches have to be smart in picking the World Cup rosters. There were definitely some questions about the players picked, be it politics, playing favorites, whatever. The best need to be on the field and not overwhelmed on the big stage.
In the years ahead, Mexico, with its talent, has a good chance to reclaim its place as the best team in North America. But the U.S. is on top of the mountain for now, and it's time stop setting the bar at improvement year after year and start thinking bigger.