Living in a Post-Mexican Gold Medal World
One reason this was Mexico’s most important win is that it heralds an even better future, perhaps, for a nation on the rise globally. In recent years, Mexico has won the Under-17 World Cup (twice), reached the semifinals of the Under-20 World Cup and won the Olympic tournament. For a nation that has only reached the World Cup quarterfinals twice (in 1970 and ‘86, both on home soil) and has gone out in the second round five straight times, there’s an infectious optimism that Mexico is a legitimate contender to win in 2014. I’m not kidding. The breakthrough comes when you start winning trophies, and Mexico is on its way.
As stated before, to anyone following the recent soccer trends in North America this should not have been a shocking day. Mexico winning Gold was not a surprise. Mexico handled Brazil easily back in a June friendly, before that they racked up CONCACAF U-23, World U-17 titles, World U-20 finals, and a 4-2 comeback against the US in the Gold Cup Final over a year ago which felt at the time, now even more in retrospect, as the grand coming out moment for a new Mexican Golden Generation.
This team has accomplished the most elusive of feats in world soccer: win consistently. Every team enters a major tournament looking to do well, most hope to succeed, a choice few expect to win. Thanks to this core nucleus of accomplished players, Mexico will enter every tournament they enter expecting to win.
Today we are unfortunately left with what could have been. A US U-23 team with Howard, Dempsey, and Donovan could have medaled. Talented rising stars of MLS could have shown their wears on a global stage. European clubs could have made calls for the services of a refocused Brek Shea, a speedy Juan Agudelo, or recently recovered Omar Gonzales. Combining with the stellar story of the US Women’s quest for redemption new fans could have gotten in on the ground floor on the next phase for US Soccer with lead-ins to MLS games to continue to build that hook. The 2014 World Cup cycle given new life as expectations for success rose
But those possibilities ended in Nashville in March. Agudelo hurt, Gonzalas still recovering from an knee injury, with a squad that squandered an opportunity to advance by losing to Canada on home soil, Brek Shea failed to clear the ball from the US end at the 90’+4 mark. Guatemala gained possession, ripped through the US’s tattered backline, and scored the equalizer. There was no Olympics.
A globally rising Mexico, and strengthening CONCACAF as a whole, is probably a positive for the US’s development. The region has long been seen as a two horse affair: US/Mexico. The confederation’s other World Cup birth going to some island nation better known for track and field or being a target of drug interdictions. The constant hope being that North America and South America merge confederations for the boost in competitive matches. No longer the case. Mexico is becoming a world power, Honduras is a near lock to qualify, Canada has a real chance, Panama is rising, Jamaica, Guatemala all tough places to get a result. The region is no longer full of minnows and two sharks. The United States has a nasty streak now of not qualifying for FIFA tournaments. The U-20s and U-23s were both knocked out of their respective tournaments by Guatemala (the U-23 fiasco in March being at home). There is justifiable fear that the United States is in peril of missing out of the next World Cup, I am among those who look at the qualifiers in September with apprehension after the lackluster friendlies and qualifiers of June. Let us hope that the theory of a stronger confederation leads to a strengthening of US resolve and player development.
That is the theory at least.