Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Rivalry for Some, A Revival for Others

Seven years ago the US pulled an upset which turned Mexican football on its head. In a matter of 90 minutes, talk of revenge against the Germans that knocked Mexico from France ’98 turned into talk of Mexico’s most painful World Cup elimination.

Seven years later, Javier Aguirre, the man in charge that day, gets another opportunity to face the last team he faced as head coach of the Mexican Team during his first term. For Aguirre, the Gold Cup Final is an opportunity to shake off personal demons; for the team, it’s a chance to finally turn the page on a decade-long dark chapter.

For the United States, the match is a matter of bragging rights, but perhaps little else. Between the Confederations Cup, the Riot Squad versus David Beckham, and the team’s arrival at the finals, the summer of 2009 has become the Summer of Soccer in America. With a so called “C” team, the match may not have as much weight as it does for El Tri.

Mexico, on the other hand, stands to gain more than appears on the surface. The amount of symbolism, starting with the head coach anecdote, and possible momentum is perhaps lost in the hype of the rivalry.

When the US beat Mexico in 2002, they accomplished two key things: First, they tarnished an entire generation of players. A generation which “lost their balls” that day and, after presenting the worst Mexican performance in a World Cup since 1978, a generation which Mexico has stubbornly retained.

On the other hand, the US wrote a manual that day. A handbook of sorts, a formula, which broke down and detailed the way Mexican sides approached the game, and what it took to defeat them. A recipe that the US has followed religiously since, perfecting the art of the 2-0, and which has spread throughout the region, exhibited by all teams from Costa Rica, to El Salvador, to Panama.

Aguirre on Sunday has the opportunity to continue what Hugo Sanchez began a year ago. The “B” team which Mexico presents is really more of a first team in training. A group of youngsters, whose process with El Tri began under Sanchez but was interrupted with the foolish appointment of Eriksson, and now have to resume that process with the pressure of World Cup Qualification upon their shoulders.

More importantly, unlike the previous generation among which many players had never beaten the US on American soil, this is a group of Mexican players who have never lost to the States. And should Mexico win, it will be a generation of players whose National Team careers will have begun by breaking the “curse” that has haunted Mexican football for a decade.

On the surface, the match appears to be a match between younger, less experienced sides, and for the United States it very well may be. For Mexico, however, the game represents a golden opportunity which El Tri may not see again until after South Africa 2010.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Week 17 Preview : Galaxy @ Chivas USA

To the last, I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.
– Herman Melville

Los Angeles Galaxy @ CD Chivas USA
Saturday, July 11th, 2009 – 8:00pm
The Home Depot Center

There are games played for points, there are games played for qualification, there are games played to avoid relegation and those games to win championships. Then there are games that you play for pride. There are those games played with love and hate unified as a single motivating force. Chivas hosts Galaxy (in Galaxy’s home) this Saturday in the second chapter of the 2009 Los Angeles Derby. For Chivas, an opportunity to get over the early departure from the SuperLiga and the Open Cup; for Galaxy, a chance to make it three straight and put a foot into playoff position.

Quick Hits

Los Angeles Galaxy
Points: 21
League Position: 9th (+2)
Conference Position: 5th (+1)
Form: W-L-L-W-W
Last Match: 1-0 vs. New England Revolution
Next Match: @ New York Red Bulls

Chivas USA
Points: 27
League Position: 2nd
Conference Position: 2nd
Form: D-L-W-L-L
Last Match: 1-2 vs. Columbus Crew
Next Match: @ New England Revolution

Last Meetings:
08/14/08 – Chivas USA 2-2 Los Angeles
04/11/09 – Los Angeles 0-0 Chivas USA


To talk about any game and start with “Landon Donovan is coming back from National Team duty” would be news worthy enough to prompt optimism from all involved.
To make things sweeter though, when you combine Landon’s return to Los Angeles with a match against the one team in the league that seems to get him going more than any other, it’s hard to keep from smiling at the thought.

Landon Donovan, with 9 goals against Chivas USA in all competitions, was scheduled to return to action and rejoin Galaxy in this weekend’s match against New England. Unfortunately, Landon “called in sick” for training on Friday, which forced him to miss Saturday’s game, and all things considered, created an opportune delay to have Landon’s return coincide with the Derby.

Galaxy’s Maestro comes back from the US’s improbable run in the FIFA South Africa Confederations Cup to find a side that is far more balanced than the one he left behind a month ago.

When Landon left the side, the concern was that the Mexicutioner was the sole goal man for the team. He not only scored goals, he also set them up. The problem was that it was Landon and Landon alone.

Somewhat surprisingly, life has gone on without Landon in Los Angeles. Then the mediocre king of the draw, Galaxy won three of the five games they played without number 10, improving the point per game average to 1.31 and inching dangerously close to playoff position.

With Landon in tow, Galaxy now have the opportunity to cut Chivas’ lead of 15 points at the time of his departure down to just 3 points. Simultaneously, a win would put the team on the right path toward its fourth Honda SuperClasico out of the five that have been disputed to date.


It was said at one point that Bruce Arena was putting the band back together for 2006. Cobi Jones was assistant coach, and Landon Donovan, Gregg Berhalter, Eddie Lewis, Chris Klein, and Jovan Kirovski were all on the roster. Combine that with early rumors of Beasley’s possible return to MLS and we could cue Bruce Arena’s United States National Team.

And perhaps it may be true, and perhaps there is method to Bruce Arena’s madness. The similarities, especially in playing style, to that which Bruce Arena implanted into the US Men’s National Team are too obvious not to notice.

Galaxy is now an orderly side that keeps a somewhat stoic expression through matches without particular regard to the score line. This in stark contrast to last year’s emotional, explosive, high octane Galaxy that scored tons of goals but conceded them by the bucket.

And while this particular brand of football isn’t necessarily attractive, and it is often labeled as the “anti-football” for a team that was overdue a rebuilding year since 2003, these tactics are ideal.

And yes, there will be slip-ups like there were against RSL and the Earthquakes, but overall the team seems to be marching steadily in the right direction. The level of order and discipline has become such that rivals are becoming increasingly frustrated when facing Los Angeles. So much so, even, that in each of the past two games we’ve seen bickering initiated by the rivals, and even Sanchez-esque displays from Pat Onstad and Matt Reis.

In both matches Galaxy has grabbed a goal first and forced the opposition to make their move. The only thing lacking for the team has been a speedy and lethal forward to lead the charge in counterattack (somebody like say, Landon Donovan) in search of the incredibly frustrating dos-a-cero.


Like a storyline taken directly from the desk of one Vince McMahon. A member of the villain’s group surprisingly switches allegiances and finds himself face to face with his old crew.

Alecko Eskandarian gets a chance to play for the role of the hero this weekend and wash away whatever stench of goat is left on his person. In what will be only his second match as a blonde*, Alecko will play his second Los Angeles Derby this year for as many teams.

Eskandarian was a key part of that game, as both teams, playing with 10 men, were eager to grab the three points. Alecko then caught Gregg Berhalter’s sleepy pass and made a break for goal, forcing the Galaxy defender to commit the foul and take the red card.

From that point on, Galaxy set the gears in reverse, and held Chivas USA off for the remainder of the match to hold on to the 0-0 draw during the last 10 minutes of the match.

This time, Eskandarian will play for Los Angeles and will likely be called upon, maybe even from the start if his goal-scoring debut was enough, to put his former team on their heels.

*Yes, it’s a bad reference to the wigs, get over it.


= TBD =