Big-game nerves once again prove the USA’s undoing

79,000 fans in person — and who knows how many more on television — watched the USA collapse in epic fashion on Sunday, as Mexico trounced the Americans at Giants Stadium 5-0 to take the 2009 Gold Cup.

It was Mexico’s fifth Gold Cup title — the most ever for any team in the competition — and a stiff blow to an American ‘C’ team that had hoped to pull out a surprise.

Instead, they were ripped in a humiliating loss that again happened at just the wrong time, with plenty of eyes finally looking at the national side.

This was the worst defeat the USA had suffered since their dismal 4-1 loss in Dortmund against Germany pre-2006 World Cup, and their first five goal defeat since 1985.

The win snapped a ten-year Mexican drought on U.S. soil and will have been a harsh reminder of the challenge that lies ahead when the ‘A’ teams meet World Cup qualifying resumes.

For the USA, it was the second straight finals lost for the Americans this summer — they fell 3-2 to Brazil in South Africa’s Confederations Cup. That was the ‘A’s and this was the ‘C’s, but nonetheless, the Americans should be making no excuses for a loss of this magnitude against their bitterest rivals. There are few that can be made.

The Americans conceded as many goals in this game as they had in the entire tournament. More damagingly, after going down, the USA showed none of its usual fighting spirit. That’s something that the Americans have never previously done.

For Mexico, the game was sheer joy. In snapping that decade-long drought, Mexico may have finally banished one of the biggest psychological hang-ups the Tricolores have had to endure. Not since 1999 had the Mexicans won a game against any American side on U.S. soil, and they entered this match smarting from their last time ’round a Gold Cup finale.

In 2007, Mexico lost a heartbreaker in Chicago’s Gold Cup final, a game that sent the Americans to South Africa’s Confederations Cup this summer. We all know how that worked out for the USA, and most folks also know how much it hurt Mexico not to be CONCACAF’s representative this past June.

Now, the game August 12 at the Azetca holds even greater significance. That World Cup qualifier was already seen as a must-win for the USA to put their definitive stamp on the region. After failing to hold serve today, the pressure is even greater to get a win in a place where the Americans have been impotent.

Once again, the schizophrenic qualities of the American side surfaced in East Rutherford.

After playing an effort-filled first half, the Americans fell apart, done in by a combination of inefficiency in the final third, and plain-old lousy defense. Brian Ching just plain didn’t show up today — he and Robbie Rogers have likely played themselves off the team.

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There is no class up top and the crosses in the final third are bewildering at best. And the final touch? Non-existent.

Post-match, Ching said that fatigue had been a factor, and told Fox that the team’s youth had also worked against them. If he and the team believe that, then the Americans have huge problems.

In fact, the Americans looked fitter. The problem was that they displayed an inability to settle play, lacked shape, guile and recognizable tactics, and could not put the ball on frame. Add in the curious decision by coach Bob Bradley to allow players like Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore to depart, and you have the recipe for disaster.

Of course, this was a tournament where the Americans had hoped to find a few fresh bodies. Other than Stuart Holden, the men disappointed. Throughout the tournament, the USA played poor soccer and won games by outrunning teams, rather than outplaying them.

And yet, the Americans were in this game for a half. For by rights, Mexico should have seized the reins from the opening whistle, but despite a brief flurry immediately following kickoff, the Tricolores lacked both discipline and the will to press the American backline in the opening 45 minutes.

Remarkably, Mexico failed to put a shot on frame in the first half of play, despite some legitimate chances. Worse, when given a wide-open breakaway, the Mexicans simply threw them away.

Twice Alfredo Medina was given room to move down the left flank, with only the ‘keeper to beat. And twice, he inexplicably declined to move. Then, when Mexico tried to slow the game down, they were so negative that they allowed themselves to be dispossessed.

But for all of the possession and effort that the U.S. showed in the opening half there was absolutely no reward. Kyle Beckerman and Rogers both hammered shots high and wide and the Americans were unable to locate either Ching or Davy Arnaud up front with any kind of precision. They effectively ran themselves silly without making any real impression on the game.

Mexico changed dramatically with the introduction of Arsenal wunderkind Carlos Vela to start the second half. Immediately, Vela and Giovani Dos Santos powered toward Troy Perkins’ net, befuddling the molasses-footed Jay Heaps and exploiting the inexperience of Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson.

Heaps was burned by Dos Santos, who got a very suspect penalty after falling into the Revs’ defender. But there was no question about the quality of the ball delivered into him from Vela, and captain Gerrardo Torrado sunk the penalty well. American fans will question ref Courtney Campbell’s call — and it was wrong — but that wasn’t where the game was lost.

That came five minutes later, when Vela’s blocked shot fell into the path of Dos Santos in front of an empty net to grab the second. Bradley made two subs — Santino Quaranta and Kenny Cooper came on for the ineffective duo of Logan Pause and Arnaud — but it made no difference.

Five minutes later, Vela would score, beating the American back line badly on an inexcusable mental mistake. He scored a lovely goal that beat Perkins cleanly, but Perkins never should have been put in that position to begin with. And from there, it was off to the races. Four times the Americans tried to pull the trap. Four times they got nailed.

Post-game, Vela told Mexican TV that, “it was about time they won a game here in America,” and took pains to point out how much the support they receive in the U.S. means to the team.

Final Numbers

United States
Goals scored
Total shots
Shots on goal
Yellow cards
Red cards

Now, the Americans have to go back to the drawing board.

This team — and I mean ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ — have not won all the big games. They shocked folks with a great win over Spain, but that looks more and more like a fluke. So, tomorrow, they will no doubt collect some harsh reviews from non-soccer folk who will remind everybody that the men cannot win when it matters.

That will be somewhat unfair, but soccer folks know this team lacked shape and won some games through energy.

And bluntly, this American team lacks the fundamental know-how at the top.

Jamie Trecker’s newest book, “Love and Blood: At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans and Freaks” is out now from Harcourt. Jamie is assisted by Jerry and Janice Trecker. Contact Jamie at and visit his blog and website at

The views and opinions expressed by Jamie Trecker do not necessarily reflect those of the Fox Soccer Channel or