Mexico, U.S. experience reality check in Copa America Centenario
HOUSTON -- In the Copa America Centenario, the U.S. men's national team finished among the final four; Mexico's national team didn't. However when both teams played against their toughest opponents in the tournament -- Mexico vs. Chile in the quarterfinals and the U.S. vs. Argentina in the semifinals -- both teams failed significantly.
Argentina scored four goals against Jurgen Klinsmann's USMNT, while Chile tallied seven against Juan Carlos Osorio's El Tri. CONCACAFs main sides conceded 11 goals against last summer's Copa America finalists.
The losses, which make the U.S. and Mexico seem as if they still have a long way to go to match the top CONMEBOL teams, come at a time when both are still trying to define their playing styles.
When Klinsmann took over as U.S. manager in 2011, he talked a lot about defining the way the side should execute the game. "Will the U.S. team be more proactive or reactive?" was one of the questions asked during his first news conference. He pointed out that against CONCACAF opposition, the U.S. should be more proactive, taking initiative in most of its games; but if the opponent was Brazil or Argentina, the team would probably have to sit back and wait for the right moment to attack.
Against Argentina at NRG Stadium, the U.S. were unable to react as Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Mascherano and Ever Banega took possession of the ball. Klinsmann's men were unable to muster a single shot on goal.
Indeed, there was no point in the match where it seemed like the U.S. would score.
Mexico's display against Chile was not far off from the one the U.S. had against Argentina. Mexico only had one shot on goal against La Roja, though the final result was of course more brutal.
Just as the U.S. is under Klinsmann, Mexico is still trying to define its style. In his reign between 2002-06, Ricardo La Volpe was the manager that first made the 5-3-2 tactical formation into one that the Mexico could use against opponents like Argentina, Germany or Brazil. His way of playing the game was then integrated by Miguel Herrera during his time as manager from Nov. 2013 until July 2015.
Now, with the arrival of Osorio, who is taking his first steps as national team manager, Mexico aspires to strengthen the style that La Volpe first implemented, and Herrera tried to expand. However, the historic 7-0 loss will make it extremely difficult for Osorio to peacefully work in this environment; he will be questioned every time he fails to get a win.
What the two thumping losses proved is that the U.S. and Mexico are in a region of the world where they're almost guaranteed to earn a World Cup place; the lack of competitiveness seen in CONCACAF hinders the progression of its two main teams.
There's no doubt that when the U.S. and Mexico play against each other, expectation among Mexicans and Americans is at an all-time high, but the neutral spectator doesn't really pay attention to the CONCACAF rivalry for footballing reasons.
The neutral spectator will observe a Chile vs. Argentina for footballing reasons because these two are at a level that permits them to compete against the world's best. It's even possible to suggest that Chile's intense and proactive style is more attractive than Argentina's -- most of which highly depends on what Messi does.
It would be healthy for the U.S. and Mexico to find ways to play more often against sides that are close to the level of Argentina and Chile, as opposed to playing against each other. Those games between the U.S. and Mexico should only happen in World Cup qualifiers, in the Gold Cup, or even a World Cup, not in friendlies. Both national teams should be looking to use their friendly games to play against an opponent that could make them progress.
Fusing CONMEBOL and CONCACAF into one big confederation might not be on the cards just yet, but Mexico and the U.S. need to learn their lessons from the heavy defeats inflicted by their South American opponnets and ensure they grow as a result.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.