It was bound to happen eventually, but not like this.
The U.S. men's national team's unbeaten streak against Mexico on American soil began modestly enough back in 2000, when Mexico fielded a patchwork team consisting of the players from just two Mexican league teams. Nobody seemed to care though as the American rattled off a 3-0 victory.
Some nine years and 11 meetings on American soil without a win later, Mexico FINALLY exacted revenge and it did so in brutal fashion, taking apart an understrength and inexperienced U.S. team made up of mostly younger MLS players hoping to make the fringes of the 2010 World Cup team.
Just how strong or weak the U.S. team was is of little consequence to a Mexican team that wasn't at full-strength either. What matters to Mexicans after Sunday's 5-0 thrashing of the United States is that the jinx is over, or so it seems, and 'El Tri' has reason to feel good about its national team program just a few months after Mexico's entire national team program was in a world of hurt following another coach firing and terrible start to World Cup qualifying.
So just what went wrong? How did a U.S. team that had allowed three goals in five previous Gold Cup games (and three goals in its five previous meetings vs. Mexico) suddenly surrender five goals in 33 minutes?
It was simple. It faced a team capable of ripping its defense apart if only it could score that first goal. While the first goal came on a questionable penalty call (Jay Heaps did catch an elbow in the face, but he also had a handful of jersey before the elbow), it cannot be denied that Mexico was already beginning to find cracks in the U.S. defense before Gerardo Torrado's 57th minute penalty kick.
When Javier Aguirre replaced the ineffective Alberto Medina with the extremely dangerous Carlos Vela, and moved Giovani Dos Santos to a roaming playmaker role, the stage was set for the slaughter. The Americans had a handful of chances before that change to score the first goal and put the pressure on Mexico, which is what the U.S. had done so successfully for much of its home unbeaten streak, but those chances were wasted by terrible finishing.
Yes, the penalty changed matters, but assuming the U.S. defense could have held up against Mexico's speedy assault without that call is a big assumption considering the chances Mexico created just before the penalty. In the end, the result wasn't as much about one penalty as it was about one team being perfectly-suited to expose the weakness of the other.
Could this result spark Mexico? It certainly could, but losing 5-0 could also light a fire under a U.S. program that may have grown too accustomed to beating Mexico. Listening to Brian Ching after the game and seeing the anger in his face, tells me there may yet be some value in the lesson learned from Sunday's loss.
Does the loss erase what has been an otherwise great summer for the U.S. national team? Not really, though it might feel that way the day after the slaughter. Once the dust settles and we begin to take stock of what we learned this summer, the U.S. team will still come away having made significant progress and having learned plenty about the talent pool a year before the 2010 World Cup.
For those of you who missed it, here is my piece on the USA-Mexico game for ESPN. The player grades are at the bottom of that piece. I won't re-post them here. I'll only add that of my grade comments I probably overdid the Troy Perkins comments. It's way too early to say that he's locked up the No. 3 goalkeeper spot, but he's certainly put himself in position for it, something I definitely didn't see coming.
If you haven't seen the highlights (er, lowlights), and if you're ready to watch the carnage one more time, here is the video:
What did you think of Sunday's match? Are you angry and irate, or have you put the loss into perspective? Does the result make you even more anxious for August 12th to get here? Do you see the Americans copying Mexico by finally breaking their losing streak in Mexico?
Share your thoughts on the Gold Cup final, and the entire tournament, in the comments section below.