A year ago around this time it was tough to miss the animosity and tension from Mexican players prior to the match against the United States in Phoenix. There was plenty of talk of finally winning on American soil and some tangible hatred toward the U.S. team as then new coach Hugo Sanchez promised to restore Mexico to the status of the region’s unquestioned powerhouse.
A year later and the talk has changed.
Maybe it was because Oswaldo Sanchez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco aren’t around (and Rafael Marquez essentially dodged the media). Maybe it was the softball questions (which were a bit surprising from Mexican media generally regarded as tough). Maybe it is the fact that the Mexican national team hasn’t won on American soil in nine tries.
Whatever the reason was, there was a different tone to the talk from Mexico today. A tone of respect and a tone lacking the bravado of a year ago.
Pavel Pardo downplayed the importance of the match (which he also did last year on both occasions. When Hugo Sanchez was asked about the stats being so heavily in the U.S. team’s favor, the Mexican coach pulled a Bob Bradley and delivered a "we focus on the positive stats and not the negative stats."
Yes, that was Hugo Sanchez, who must have learned humility between now and last summer, when he still found excuses for why Mexico lost the Gold Cup final. Either that or Sanchez has figured out that tough talk and talk of turning the series around rings hollow after two straight losses to the Americans. The closest he came to being controversial was when he said he would like to see the rivalry play more games in Mexico, "to balance out the stats." (and no, the above photo wasn’t from this trip, but do I really need an excuse to run it?).
Fair point, indeed, but Mexican fans and media aren’t likely to give Hugo a pass if the Mexicans lose tomorrow just because all three losses during Sanchez’s tenure will have been on American soil.
Another reason for a calmer approach from Mexico? Perhaps the Mexicans realize that they are missing their two best attacking players, Andres Guardado and Nery Castillo, which gives them a built-in excuse if they do lose. The reality is Mexico is still loaded, boasting Pardo, Giovani Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Rafael Marquez and Guillermo Ochoa so a win is far from a long-shot, but you can bet your bottom peso that Sanchez will remind us that Castillo and Guardado are missing if Mexico does lose.
What does seem a long-shot these days is anything controversial coming from either team during the lead-up to tomorrow’s game. The truth is that makes me a bit sentimental. As much as you all hated hearing Blanco and Oswaldo and Hugo Sanchez talk trash, you know it added to the intensity and to the excitement before the match.
Wednesday’s match won’t need it, not with all the young talent on display and the sell-out crowd expected at Reliant Stadium. That said, it would still be fun to hear a player on either side stir things up. This is, after all, a rivalry.