Soccer newsletter: USMNT demands respect from Mexico after latest win over El Tri
Hello and welcome to the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer, and we start today with World Cup qualifying, specifically last week’s U.S. victory over Mexico in Cincinnati.
You would think by now such results wouldn’t be surprising. The U.S. has lost just one home qualifier to Mexico since 1972 with the last five victories all coming by 2-0 scores, which is how Friday’s game ended.
What is new is the fact that win was the third over Mexico since June, marking the first time the U.S. has beaten El Tri three times in the same year. It also lifted the Americans to the top of the qualifying table.
The Mexican sports daily Récord opened its coverage Saturday by confirming a changing of the guard atop CONCACAF, running a full-page picture of Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic, the two U.S. goal scorers, beneath a bold headline that read, “They’re Better. Say Hello to the New Giant.”
The only place that message hasn’t taken hold, apparently, is in the Mexican locker room. And that has both rankled and fueled the U.S. team.
“We have a long way to go to get the respect of Mexico, and the two victories in the summer, I guess, didn’t do a lot to get that,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter complained.
Especially irritating was an interview Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa gave to TUDN in which he appeared to belittle the American national team and MLS, saying both envied their neighbors to the south.
“Mexico is there, in the Gold Cup, in qualifications and FIFA competitions,” he said. “Mexico has been that mirror in which they want to see themselves, reflect and copy.”
In the old days quotes like that would be pinned to a bulletin board as inspiration. Today they go on T-shirts like the one Pulisic wore beneath his uniform Friday. After scoring, he pulled the bottom of his jersey up to reveal a response for Ochoa and his teammates.
“Man in the Mirror,” it read.
“I think you guys know the message,” Pulisic told the media.
“They understand what we’re about and we understand what they’re about,” he added. “That’s what makes a great rivalry.”
The idea for the T-shirt came from teammates Tim Weah and DeAndre Yedlin, who went to a kit manager the night before the game and asked him to stencil the slogan on a white T-shirt with a black Sharpie.
“It’s just to send a message, you know?” Weah said. “It’s a new era now. Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack. Beating them just shuts them up. We have to continue to win games and continue to beat them.
“That’s the only way we are going to earn their respect and earn the world’s respect.”
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It’s uncertain Friday’s win accomplished that, with Mexican coach Tata Martino dodging the subject. Friday’s result, he said, was important more for its impact on the qualifying table than for any seismic change it may portend for the U.S.-Mexico rivalry.
“It’s not a question of losing three games to the United States,” he said in Spanish. “It’s about the qualifiers.
“It’s an opponent that all Mexicans want to beat. It’s a rivalry match and a rivalry match you always want to win. But the important thing is qualifying.”
Mexico is in little danger of missing the next World Cup. The top three teams in the eight-team CONCACAF tournament will go to Qatar and halfway through the qualifying competition Mexico has a three-point lead over fourth-place Panama. However, it has a massive game Tuesday with Canada in Edmonton, where the wind chill is forecast to drop as low as 3 degrees and warnings of heavy snowfall Monday and Tuesday have been issued.
Canada, which trails El Tri by a point, is the only unbeaten team left in the tournament, having earned important road draws against the U.S. and Mexico.
The U.S., meanwhile, continues its battle for respect in Jamaica against an opponent it insists it can’t overlook — especially given the Americans will be without McKennie (yellow card accumulation) and Miles Robinson (red card). Both have returned to their club teams.
“Confidence is through the roof,” Weah said. “But the most important thing is to stay modest, stay humble. We all feel good right now.
“No egos on the team. Everyone’s happy to be here. It’s a good vibe.”
Added Pulisic: “To be in this position is unbelievable. But we haven’t accomplished our ultimate goal yet.”
That goal is a World Cup berth. Respect, though, isn’t far behind.
CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table
Team Pts. W L T GF GA GD
U.S. 14 4 1 2 11 4 7
Mexico 14 4 1 2 10 5 5
Canada 13 3 0 4 11 4 7
Panama 11 3 2 2 9 8 1
Costa Rica 6 1 3 3 4 6 -2
Jamaica 6 1 3 3 5 9 -4
El Salvador 6 1 3 3 3 8 -5
Honduras 3 0 4 3 4 13 -9
U.S. vs. Jamaica in Kingston, Jamaica
Honduras at Costa Rica
El Salvador at Panama
Mexico at Canada
Irvine knocks UCLA out of NCAA tournament
World Cup qualifying isn’t the only place where the mighty have fallen. In the first round of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament last Friday unbeaten and third-ranked UCLA, the two-time reigning Pac-12 champion, was upset by UC Irvine 1-0. It was first time the Bruins lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament since 1995, which also was the last season they lost to UC Irvine.
Eleventh-ranked USC and No. 19 Pepperdine were easy winners in their openers, the Trojans thumping Grand Canyon 6-0 and Pepperdine routing South Dakota State 7-1.
UCLA entered the postseason riding a 26-game unbeaten streak and primed, coach Amanda Cromwell thought, for another deep run in the national tournament. That changed early in the first half when UC Irvine’s Alyssa Moore, a redshirt freshman returning from ACL surgery, headed in a Destinee Manzo cross.
“We practice those kinds of plays all day long at practice,” Moore said.
It marked the first time UCLA conceded the opening goal and the second time it trailed all season. The Anteaters didn’t get another shot on goal, but they didn’t need one, not with sophomore keeper Glo Hinojosa making seven saves to extend her scoreless streak to five games and 515 minutes.
“That was the highest-level goalkeeping performance you’re going to see,” Irvine coach Scott Juniper said.
Hinojosa’s 10 shutouts in 19 starts are tied for fifth in the country.
”It doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Juniper said of his team’s success. “I could talk for hours about each of their individual journeys. But all of their journeys have brought them to this point.”
Cromwell had a different sentiment for her team.
“I’m just so heartbroken for our seniors,” she said. “This team has so much talent and so much camaraderie and just love for each other. The anguish at the end is heartbreaking.”
UCLA, which opened its season with a win over Irvine, finished 16-1-3, while the Anteaters (16-5), winners of seven in a row, advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history. They will play Wisconsin (9-5-6) in a second-round game Friday in Washington, D.C.
USC (14-3-2) rolled into its second-round matchup against Penn State with Croix Bethune scoring a hat trick in the first nine minutes of the Trojans’ rout of Grand Canyon. Bethune finished with three goals and two assists. The Trojans will host Penn State (12-7) on Friday.
Meanwhile Pepperdine (16-3-1) got goals from six players en route to a school-record seven goals in an NCAA tournament game. The Waves will go on the road for their second-round game and will face North Carolina State (9-8-2) in Tallahassee, Fla.
On the men’s side, UCLA will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018 after earning an at-large bid Monday. The Bruins (10-6-1) will play host to UC Santa Barbara (12-4-4) at Wallis Annenberg Stadium at 7 p.m. Thursday. The winner will face No. 7 Duke (13-4-1) in Durham, N.C., in the second round.
Angel City making news but not always for good reasons
Angel City, Los Angeles’ newest professional team, unveiled its inaugural kit Monday night in a three-hour invitation-only ceremony at Banc of California Stadium. We can’t disclose any details here because the uniforms won’t be revealed publicly until Wednesday, but the two announcements are the latest in a well-choreographed series of events intended to build interest and momentum ahead of the club’s NWSL debut next spring.
“It allows our fans that are following us to get excited about us,” said Julie Uhrman, the team’s founder and president. “We have a number of events to get them excited about Angel City. We even included our supporters in the design of the crest. So we engaged them often and early.”
Debuting in 2022, Angel City FC will be the first women’s professional team in Los Angeles since 2010 and the first L.A. team in the National Women’s Soccer League.
However, the fledging team also had a notable series of stumbles, the latest coming last week when it was fined $20,000 and forced to forfeit an additional $20,000 in allocation money for violating the league’s tampering policy in its pursuit of midfielder Allie Long.
That marked the second time in three months Angel City has been fined by the league for breaking NWSL rules. In September, the club was fined an undisclosed amount for announcing the signing of national team star Christen Press before the contract had been approved by the NWSL.
Angel City’s repeated problems with the NWSL rule book have raised questions over whether the team’s overly large and deep-pocketed ownership group, the vast majority of whom are new to the league, didn’t realize they were violating rules or they were pushing the envelope hoping they wouldn’t be punished — and willing to pay the price if they were.
Uhrman suggested it was more the former than the latter.
“We’re learning as we go,” she said. “Angel City is made up of people that don’t necessarily have a deep background in sports, let alone soccer, or even with the NWSL rules, which are very different from every other league.
“It’s unfortunate. We want to be good team member, we want to be a good club and we want to represent the NWSL well. So we’re just working hard to get better every day. And to learn more.”
Some Angel City investors had talked privately of a desire to shake up a league they saw as overly conservative and retrograde. But that was before the league shook itself up last month, with commissioner Lisa Baird resigning and general counsel Lisa Levine being fired following allegations of sexual coercion and abuse by former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley and the dismissals of Washington Spirit manager Richie Burke, Racing Louisville’s Christy Holly and the OL Reign’s Farid Benstiti, who were all tied to various scandals.
The league’s new leadership, led by interim commissioner Marla Messing, proved it was paying attention when it handed down the sanctions relating to the contact with Long, who played this season for new Angel City coach Freya Coombe at Gotham City FC.
“Ultimately, we want to win. And we want to put the best product on the field to support our players and our community,” Uhrman said. “But we also want to be a good partner in the league. And that’s just requiring us to continue to learn and spending more time with the league office understanding the rules.”
And finally there’s this …
The Orange County Soccer Club advanced to the USL Championship’s Western Conference final with a penalty-kick win over the Oakland Roots last Saturday. OCSC, which last played in the conference final in 2018, will host San Antonio FC on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Championship Soccer Stadium in the Orange County Great Park of Irvine. The winner will advance to the USL title game … FIFA officials will visit the Rose Bowl and SoFi Stadium this week during its inspection tours of possible host cities for the 2026 World Cup. The delegation also will visit Mexico City, Guadalajara and Toronto on its third round of site visits. Seventeen metropolitan areas in the U.S. have expressed an interest in hosting World Cup games in 2026. FIFA will select the 11 winners early next year. The 2026 World Cup will be the largest in history, with 80 games in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, 60 of which will be in the U.S. … Five players from the Galaxy and three from LAFC are among a record 127 players eligible to become MLS free agents this winter. For the Galaxy, midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Jonathan dos Santos are out of contract, while defenders Danilo Acosta, Oniel Fisher and Dan Steres have a club option remaining. (Steres’ option was a performance-based one and he has already met those objectives, so the option has been triggered for 2022.) For LAFC, defender Jordan Harvey and midfielder Raheem Edwards are out of contract while defender Sebastien Ibeagha has a club option for 2022.
Don’t miss my weekly podcast on the Corner of the Galaxy site as co-host Josh Guesman and I discuss the Galaxy each Monday. You can listen to the most recent podcast here.
“It’s important just to acknowledge that we fiercely dislike Mexico’s soccer team. We’re fierce competitors and we want to win every time we’re on the field.”
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, after Friday’s 2-0 win over Mexico in a game that turned chippy at the end
Until next time...
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