Way to salvage my interest in the U-20s, Mexico.

Now that I’ve caught up on Mexico’s games, I have to say…

That was fun. That was fun the way watching the US in 2008 was fun. Watching the US this week feels like a chore or obligation. There are expectations and standards that they aren’t living up to. Watching Mexico, on the other hand, has been like watching Santa Clara in 2009. Think of CONCACAF qualifiers like the NCAA regular season. If they didn’t advance, then oh well, what else is new? …but I wanted them to advance. When they did, that was great. They were drawn into a group (quadrant, if you will) that they could handle, but if they didn’t make it out of group, then okay, they had a good run and I’d see them again in a few months. They have players in the NCAA, age-eligible U-17s, and full national team players, which means other options for following them.

Mexico opened with that surprising game against Japan. They contained the Japanese side and could have beaten them. But you can’t judge a team by their first game–after all, England drew Nigeria–so I figured I would wait and see how Mexico did against England and how Japan did against Nigeria. As it turned out, Mexico wasn’t a fluke! England, who didn’t pull any wins in group, lost to a persistent Mexican side. Mexico’s work ethic continued in the game against Nigeria, who went up a goal in the 16th minute. This could have been an elimination game for either team, as Japan was leading against England, but Mexico never let up and never wavered. After a series of corner kicks, Mexico pulled even in the 77th, off a beautiful goal from Alina Garciamendez.

While the determination to get forward deserves a lot of praise, Mexico’s defensive efforts do, too. They have a wonderful (and young) keeper in Cecilia Santiago, who has been steady in the back, and a solid group of defenders in front of her. After getting injured in the game against Nigeria and coming back in to continue play, captain Nayeli Rangel pulled off a really sweet save after Santiago was beaten. A second goal for Nigeria definitely could have changed the game’s momentum, and the relief was stark in Rangel’s body language after the save.

Mexico have advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time. Everything after this is gravy. Last season, when Santa Clara finally turned things around in the regular season and made the NCAA tournament, I had the same feeling. At least they made it; at least they were back. They weren’t going to make the Final Four–someone would have to break down the unbeaten Stanford–but the Broncos did go so far as to play Stanford, and to play them well. Even that loss to the Cardinal felt like a win.  And that is what I have in Mexico this tournament.

Mexico U-20 WNT after drawing Nigeria

photo courtesy of el-mexicano.com.mx

When it’s all over, the players will go to their college teams. Garciamendez is with Stanford, Cuellar with Arizona, Figueroa with Pacific, Kotero and Sierra with Auburn, Alvarado with Mississippi State, Garcia with San Diego, and Rodriguez with UC Irvine. With some internationals, it’s hard to invest because I don’t know if I will be able to follow those players through their careers. Although not all of the Mexican players are US-based, a good portion of them are, which means my investment doesn’t have to stop when the World Cup ends.


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