Andres Cantor is one of the world's great announcers, the vocabulary of the game is sparse (pelota is ball, partido is game), and they concentrate on what is in front of them.
What was in front of them yesterday was some good football. For once I can't fault USA coach Bob Bradley for either his game-day selection or his second-half tactics. The players just didn't execute.
(Notice how in this picture from SoccerbyIves both fans are smiling, and they're not segregated from one another. An example for the rest of the world. I love Mexican soccer fans, by the way -- really enjoyed them during the recent AC Milan-Club America match in Atlanta.)
The USA got a small lead when Charlie Davies got a through ball from Landon Donovan, beat the off-side trap, got behind the defense and finished brilliantly. (The Usher-at-the-microphone celebration was also first-rate.) That was the idea. Long balls from Tim Howard (brilliant all game long), from the defense, anything to get over the midfield fast and hit them on the break.
Under Javier Aquirre Mexico is playing like Mexico again. The first half was a Cuauhtémoc Blanco festival, the old warrior (now with the Chicago Fire of MLS) firing in passes from the wing, keeping everyone moving like a great quarterback. Made this old man want to cry it was so beautiful. It was Blanco's cross that led directly to Mexico's first goal. He saw Tim Howard was off his line, the shot went right over his head and dipped just under the crossbar.
The series turned in America's favor because Bruce Arena got Aquirre's number. You beat a team of fancy dribblers and quick passers by playing physically, by out-hustling them, by playing ugly. Then you fall down near the box and look for a set play where you can bounce the ball off a defender's head or fire it in over the wall. It's German-style soccer, it's not beautiful, but it worked.
Bradley hasn't accepted the need to switch back to this style yet. He has stylish players of his own to choose from, he has European pros, he has some depth, he has forwards like Davies and Jozy Altidore who can score. We can play Mexico straight-up, no more need he figures for the smash-and-grab.
Except when you're in Azteca Statium. It's 7,000 feet above sea level, a Denver-and-a-half, and they cram over 100,000 glorious maniacs into it. This gets into your head, into the referee's head, and you have to adjust. Even Brazil would play smash and grab in this place.
The adjustment for the second half made sense. Stay back, absorb the pressure, and look for a fast break. It didn't work because our midfielders never could break out. Stars like Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Stuart Holden got outplayed. When they tried dribbling out they got tackled. When they tried the Mexican game of quick passes they were picked off. When they tried the long ball it was just a clearance, the Mexicans turning it around quickly. Aquirre told them to wear out the Yanks, to take every re-start immediately, to swarm the box. Eventually it was one-way traffic and the second goal was inevitable.
So all credit to Mexico, to Blanco, to Aquirre, to the fans, to Azteca Stadium. But if Bradley listened to Bruce Arena more, he now has the players who can win this kind of game, against this kind of team, in this kind of atmosphere. It's the slow, deliberate, fall-down-and-die, set-play game that wins World Cups, Coach. That's how Italy did it, and it's the only way we'll ever do it.
When Mexico or Brazil or Argentina is on its game we can't beat them playing their way. We need the flexibility to slow it down and win ugly when necessary. That's the only way we'll ever have a chance at Azteca. Or in South Africa.