Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


THE BOY WITH THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE BULL’S-EYE

Christian Pulisic scored both goals to power the U.S. National Team to a 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park outside Denver to enable the Americans to close out the first half of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in third place, six points behind front-running Mexico and one back of Costa Rica.

The 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder struck in the 52nd and 62nd minutes, lifting his tally in this World Cup qualifying cycle to five goals in eight matches.

The U.S. victory sets up a showdown with Mexico three nights later at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, where the Americans are 0-5-2 in World Cup qualifiers and 1-8-2 all-time.  [June 9]

 

Comment:  If he didn’t already have one, Pulisic slapped a big red, white and blue bull’s-eye on his back with his performance against Trinidad & Tobago, a must-win game that righted a USA ship that had all but capsized in November when the Americans opened the Hexagonal with a last-minute 2-1 loss to Mexico at home and a humiliating 4-0 rout at Costa Rica.

If Pulisic–5-foot-8, 140 pounds and the heir apparent to now-retired Mexico tormentor Landon Donovan–was treated harshly by T&T defenders, that will be nothing compared to the welcome El Tri has in store.  Mexico (4-0-1, 13 points), will all but punch its ticket to the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a victory, and coach Juan Carlos Osorio knows stopping the USA’s most in-form player, regardless of his age and international inexperience, is key.  Also working against the U.S. (2-2-1, 7 points) will be the sky-high altitude, heat and the choking smog of Mexico City, as well as history.  Though the Americans eked out a 1-0 win in a 2012 friendly and a scoreless draw four years ago in its last WCQ game there, the Mexicans are 39-2-7 against all CONCACAF opponents in qualifying at the Azteca.

Perhaps most ominous for Pulisic and his mates is the current climate.  Relations between the two nations have never been worse (well, the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 was pretty bad), thanks to President Donald Trump’s insulting Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers and his threats to make Mexico pay for a border wall, not to mention a vow to levy a 20 percent border tax on imports from Mexico.  Many in the sellout crowd of 87,000-plus will let the U.S. players know all about it when they emerge from the tunnel at Azteca, a place where insults and rowdy chants fly as freely as beer bottles, batteries and bags of urine.  (There was, of course, the 2004 Olympic qualifier at Guadalajara’s Estadio Jalisco where 60,000 taunted the U.S. under-23s with chants of “Osama, Osama,” but that’s another story.)

Given these circumstances, coming out of this caldron with any points at all would be a miracle.  For U.S. coach Bruce Arena, his greatest hope would have to be seeing the key to his team’s final four qualifiers, the speedy, heady, wonder-waif Pulisic, walk off the field at the end in one piece.

 

 



BACK IN THEIR HEADS?

Seventy-five years of frustration came to an end as the United States shocked Mexico, 1-0, in a friendly at Estadio Azteca for its first victory in Mexico in 25 tries.  Midfielder Michael Orozco Fiscal, who plays in the Mexican First Division for San Luis, scored the game’s lone goal with an awkward left-footed shot from close range.

The Mexicans’ defeat was only their ninth in 120 international matches at the Azteca, which opened in 1966.  The USA’s modest record against Mexico improved to 1-19-1 at the legendary Mexico City stadium, 1-23-1 in Mexico and 16-32-12 overall.

Mexico dominated for most of the evening, but in the 79th minute a trio of second-half substitutes pushed the U.S. in front.  Brek Shea beat Severo Meza on the left side of the penalty area and slid the ball across to Terrence Boyd, whose back heel found Orozco Fiscal near the far post.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard, who brilliantly denied Mexico scoring ace Javier Hernandez in the 85th and 89th minutes, and a new-look U.S. back line that featured Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu in the middle, helped preserve the shutout.  [August 15]

Comment:  It was only a friendly, and neither side was at full strength.  But the fact remains that the U.S. at long last shattered the notion of El-Tri invincibility against their hated neighbor on home soil.  Fourteen months after Mexico ended a run of failure north of the border with a 4-2 humiliation of the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl, the Americans might just have gotten back into the Mexicans’ heads.



36 EJECTIONS, AND ONE THAT GOT AWAY

Claypole defeated Victoriano Arenas, 2-0, in an Argentine second division match that came to an early end with all 36 players in uniform ejected, believed to be a world record.   Referee Damian Rubino had already reached into his pocket several times in an effort to control the ill-tempered match when a harsh challenge by Arenas midfielder Rodrigo Sanchez touched off a bench-clearing brawl.  Rubino responded by red-carding what remained of the starters and reserves from both teams.

Appeals lodged by the two sides could not be heard before their next matches, so in those games the equally depleted Claypole and Arenas were forced to field teams made up entirely of youth players.  [March 6]

Comment:  This unusual tale is mentioned primarily because it recalls one that just missed the final manuscript of Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats:

Antonio Marquez Ramirez is one of the most accomplished referees in Mexican soccer history.  A distinguished gentleman with trimmed mustache and silver mane,  Marquez, then 50, was in the middle for two matches at the 1986 World Cup (West Germany’s 2-0 win over France in the semifinals and Denmark’s famous 6-1 first-round dismantling of Uruguay),  and later that year he ran a line at the FIFA World All-Star Game for UNICEF at the Rose Bowl.  He was not, however, allowed to go gently into that good night.

In August 1986, in his swan song as a referee, Marquez had the honor of working Mexico’s classico, Club America against Chivas Guadalajara at the Estadio Azteca.  Some honor.  In the 72nd minute, in a dust-up between Mexican internationals, a fallen Fernando Quirarte of Chivas was kicked in the chin by America’s Carlos Hermosillo, triggering a free-for-all that featured an equal number of high kicks and wild haymakers.  Marquez called it a career by calling it a day:  he lifted a red card and turned a 360, ejecting everyone in sight, then walked off the field.

The remaining 18 minutes were played out a month later in an empty stadium with referee Edgardo Codesal in charge.  Of course, none of those ejected America or Chivas players were involved.  America, leading thanks to a 50th-minute goal, prevailed, 1-0.