A totally normal day of CONCACAF

At about 7:15 last night, I went to Paramount to watch the opening night of Star Trek Strange New Worlds (Season 2) and they played me a large ad for USMNT v. Mexico. I hadn’t been keeping tabs on what’s going on with the US Men’s team but I did remember that Arsenal forward Folarin Balogun had chosen to represent team USA and wondered if he was playing. So, I ditched the Star Trek and went for the football. Well, ostensibly it was a football match.

I tuned in just in time to watch Christian Pulisic selfishly pass up the chance to pass the ball to an open Balogun and instead blast over the net. For the footballing portion of this post, this would be largely the story: teammates finding Pulisic, Balogun being overlooked and not quite finding where he needed to be to pick up the ball.

Let’s be frank: Balogun had a bad night. I’ve watched him all season for Reims and while he’s sometimes cut a lonely figure I can’t recall a game where he was so clearly out of touch with his teammates. He was not just unable to find space to receive the ball, it felt like his teammates sometimes overlooked him when he was open, and worst of all just pumped in crosses to space, which he was unable to attack because of the close marking of Cesar Montes.

Pulisic would provide the two opening goals, and as if to rub salt into Balogun’s wounds, the man who currently wears the number 9 (Ricardo Pepi) scored a good goal to finish off the Mexican side. Coming on for Balogun, Pepi made a perfectly timed run in the right channel, received a good throughball, rounded Ochoa (who looks too old to be playing starting keeper for a serious national team), and passed the ball into the net. That’s it for the football in this match. The pressing wasn’t serious on either side, and tactically there wasn’t much to offer other than “pass to Pulisic and Weah, they are fast!”

The real “star” of this match was the referee. There’s supposedly a fine line between controlling a game and ruining the contest. Referees are sometimes hesitant to hand out yellow cards or red cards if they will turn a game overwhelmingly in favor of one team and especially hesitant to do so in a big game like yesterday. And I wouldn’t want to be an official in a CONCACAF semi-final between USA and Mexico. But at the same time, I think referee Ivan Barton let too many hard and professional fouls go by Mexico and that is what ultimately led to him having to hand out… four red cards.

Throughout the match, referee Barton let Mexico get away with a number of professional fouls without cards. Time and again, Pulisic, Reyna, and Weah would get free from their defender, only to be hauled down from behind with a grapple or in one case a deliberate slide tackle from behind. The referee would have no choice but to call the foul but his choice not to give out a yellow card in those instances is what led directly to the four red cards.

The match had been percolating up to this point but it was the 56th minute where it boiled over. With USA 2-0 up and cruising, Mexico’s midfielder Antuna pulverized Gio Reyna’s face with an aggressive aerial duel. As we were told by the VAR official, there would have been no complaints if that was a yellow. Reyna was down, blood everywhere and replays seems to show both some deliberation and malice on Antuna’s part. Antuna was already on a yellow card, however, and Ivan Barton chose not to send him off. From here, things just go nuts.

Two minutes later, another player hacks at Reyna, now the ref gives a yellow but it’s sort of too late. Some pushing and shoving ensues and perhaps wanting to look “fair and balanced” he hands a yellow to both a USA player and a Mexican player. This is followed by a yellow for an “elbow” by a USA player and then Cesar Montes is kicked pretty good and close ups show his sock is ripped.

It takes about 7 minutes but Montes gets his revenge: Balogun tracks back and takes the ball from the big center half but gets a deliberate kick from the back by Montes for his efforts. Balogun goes down, the ref suddenly realizes the game is out of hand and gives Montes a straight red. A brawl ensues, Weston McKinney leaves the mosh pit with his shirt torn and kisses the USA badge. Drinks rain down from the crowd (this is being held in Vegas but it looked like the largest portion of the crowd were there to support Mexico) and meanwhile the VAR has a look at what happened in the pit. McKinney can clearly be seen pushing a player away from him by the face and referee Barton gives him a straight red also.

Clyde was watching with me and asked why this was all happening and I have to admit I was at a loss for good reasons. He mentioned that he’d never seen anything like this and I agree with him, probably not since that crazy Brazil Argentina match a few years ago where Brazilian officials tried to get Argentine players thrown in moon jail for bypassing COVID rules.

I get that McKinney shoved another player in the face and that’s bad, he shouldn’t do that. He deserves a red card. I also think that it’s incredibly difficult to just stand there and take it when you’re being shoved by two or three players and someone has a grip on your jersey. I have been in similar situations and have acted considerably worse. So, while it’s easy to say “McKinney needs to be smarter there, he can’t lose his cool like that”, nothing in that statement is easy to actually do when you are being slapped, pushed, and pulled at while drinks are raining down from the stands.

Things settled down for a minute and Matt Turner was forced to make a save after he also made a terrible pass to the DM. But then Pepi scored a third goal and Mexico decided both on the pitch and in the stands that the game was over so they might as well turn it into a Hockey match.

The final scrum was just a disaster of refereeing. Mexico gets away with a clear foul from behind with no yellow card, then a player runs over and kicks Sergino Dest in the chest and then another Mexico player runs over and shoves Dest in the back, and if you’ve ever been in a middle-school fight that’s what it started to look like: random people shoving Dest and yelling “fight fight fight” in order to get him to throw a punch. Dest obliges, referee shows two red cards again followed by a number of yellow cards for various infractions. By not wanting to “kill the game” with a red card earlier, the referee all but ensured that this would be the outcome. You just can’t let a team get away with drawing blood.

The one thing the referee did get right was stopping the game due to homophobic chanting by Mexican supporters. They have a chant whenever a keeper takes a kick where they use a homophobic slur which everyone in the USA now knows is strictly forbidden. There is even a special protocol for this if (when) it happens with the referee stopping the game and giving a warning followed by the referee deciding if he wants to call the game off. Ivan Barton stopped the game after the first chant, the warning was read out, the fans did it again and he didn’t do anything, but on the third time he called the game.

It was a disaster of a way to end a match that was a disaster from about the 46th minute onward. FIFA and CONCACAF really need to fix this problem with homophobic chanting because the USA and Mexico host the next World Cup and this very real problem could derail the spectacle.

Just a final word here, the CBS coverage of the game was a shit show. The half-time show was the most disjointed, weird, uninformed, and nearly unintelligible bit of football “analysis” I’ve seen in years. I know that “Deuce” is a men’s team legend and all and it’s fine to have him on but you can’t have two more idiots in addition. With the exception of the host, the three other guests just didn’t seem to know what they were talking about with one of them just spouting off weird stats and the other one basically saying Mexico needed to come out and kick people (which to be fair, is exactly what they did). They spent most of the time talking about Gregg Berhalter being appointed the coach and yet didn’t seem to have any idea about how that would affect the team other than to say they weren’t sure if Gio Reyna could play, but he really needs to play, etc.

And after the match a CBS reporter interviewed Folarin Balogun and when he said he was “buzzing” to play for the USMNT (mind you this is after coming down from the adrenalin high of just playing in a match where an egregious foul on him was the catalyst for four red cards) she said “sorry, you don’t look like you’re buzzing.” As if, what? Was he supposed to fly around going “buzzz, buzzz, buzzz”? It was just a weird moment in an entirely bizarre football match.

And to cap it all off US Soccer announced that Gregg Berhalter was being reinstated as head coach.

Welcome to the USMNT, Folarin! No, this isn’t a super weird day, this is sort of what it’s like. This is sort of what America is like now.



  1. I’m a proud Canadian, but I love America. I have a first cousin in Sacramento and a 1st cousin (his brother) in Boston, and all kinds of friends and relatives between the coasts. I grew up on rock n roll and Hollywood. I play Chuck Berry licks for living. I love, love America.

    But I hate the USMNT and all American national teams, just behind Russian and Chinese national teams. I f$&kin’ HATE you guys in your national colours (see, I spelled that the Canadian way). Especially of course, in hockey. Almost as much as Manchester United.

    Really enjoyed the 1st episode of the 2nd season of Star Trek SNW on Paramount. Such a great show. Hands down the best Star Trek project since the original and Star Trek TNG.

  2. One of the best episodes of Star Trek of course is the riff on the story of Gilgamesh, “Darmok”

    “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” This most famous phrase (which appears on some hilarious T-shirts) means, basically, “working together.”

    “Darmok and Jalad on the ocean.” Building on the last one, this is when two strangers, or foes, work together against a threat and succeed.

    “The beast at Tanagra.” This is the foe that Darmok and Jalad fought, but has grown to represent any problem that needs to be solved. The lack of communication between Dathon and Picard is a “beast at Tanagra” of its own.

    “Temba, his arms open.” This means “take or use this.” A gift.

    “Temba, at rest.” When a gift has been rebuffed.

    “Zinda, his face black, his eyes red.” Hearing this means bad news. Something one says when in great pain or very angry.

    “Kiazi’s children, their faces wet.” This also means pain, but also sadness or frustration. It may also mean “oh, leave me alone!”

    “Shaka, when the walls fell.” Failure. I’ve decided to start saying this when anything doesn’t go my way. Works just as well as “oy vey.”

    “Mirab, with sails unfurled.” This means travel or departure.

    “Uzani, his army with fists open.” A tactical move to lure your enemy closer by spreading out.

    “Uzani, his army with fists closed.” A tactical move to close-in on an enemy after luring him in.

    “The river Temarc, in winter.” Be quiet. Possibly based on “freeze,” as in “freeze your thoughts/mouth.”

    “Sokath, his eyes open.” To translate this to TOS, this means “We Reach!””

    – One Trek Mind

  3. Yeah, the game was a total embarassment, for both sides, if Im going to be honest. As a Californian, Ive always been on the “Mexico is America’s other team” bandwagon, but their play was so carppy, so chippy, and their fans so offensive, that I regret buying my kid that El Tri jersey in PV last year. My daughter plays goal, but the negativity of these games is going to make me skip them, even with “Arsenal’s Matt Turner” as the #1. Ive never really given the men’s team a chance–why would you, when you have the women’s team?–and I regret doing so now. What a shitshow.

  4. https://www.football365.com/news/opinion-kai-havertz-marginal-gain-arsenal-need-giant-leaps-forward

    Fair piece I thought, even though I disagree with some of it, especially “the Gunners should really work on the assumption that Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Odegaard will not reach double figures every season.”

    I think spreading the goals around is a decent way to build a team. On the other hand, you do feel that between the 60m we’re apparently willing to spend on Havertz and whatever we get for Eddie and Balogun, we could/should get ourselves a really elite goalscorer like Osimhen.

    1. from the wenger school of thought, arsene didn’t place the greatest value in having prolific goal scorers…..rather players capable of creating good goal-scoring chances. the likes of pires, hleb, rosicky, fabregas, arshavin, van persie, ozil, samir, etc. were more his preference.

      from the guardiola school of thought, pep prefers to have 2 players of championship quality at each position. this ensured 3 things; competition for places, no let up when an injury to a “key player” occurred, and preventing player burnout. for me, havertz is meant to be the second quality cam with odegaard. i think arteta believed fabio could be that second cam but the drop off is significant; he’s nowhere near odegaard’s level.

      from the pep school of thought, while all are significant, the one i fancy most is the competition for places. it’s why city are the best team i’ve ever seen. every day, their training sessions are often more challenging than the games because everyone is quality and they’re all competing with each other to be in the next matchday squad. this brings out the best in everyone everyday; an absolute pressure cooker for the players. the matches are almost like a day off. so we should adopt that philosophy. your backup is no longer a backup when he’s just about as good as you and is desperate to play; he becomes your competition, which makes you train and play closer to your best every single day.

      1. The invincibles had a squad of that quality. Several players (if memory serves me right) Wright, Bergkamp, Henry, Viera (?) have said training often ended in fist fights they were so competitive.

        1. It was a different time; there were only really two teams to compete with before Chelsea were formed in 2004, scouting systems weren’t as developed, nutrition and training weren’t well developed, and football tactics weren’t very complicated. It was a time when people with marginal information gains could have huge real gains on the pitch.

          As for Arsenal having two worldies in every position, like City do now, that is absolutely not the case. The drop off from Henry (who played 37 matches) to Kanu was pretty steep. I like Kanu, Parlor, Edu, and those guys but that squad had Pascal Cygan start 10 games, Keown started 3 games at 35 years old or whatever, and so on. We were really lucky that Henry started 37 games that season and that he scored 30 goals.

          1. Yeah, I wasn’t really suggesting that there were 2 worldies* in each position and maybe I was being a bit too specific in labelling it as the invincibles. The point I was tryna make was more about the competitiveness which the invincibles were famed for.

            *Between the Adams-led late-90s “almost invincibles” (that lost 1 dead rubber game at the end of the season having gone unbeaten until winning the league), and the Vieira-led actual invincibles, I think there might’ve been a season where we came close to a 2 worldie in each position quality squad. Couldn’t be arsed to check the squads tbh, just a hunch/fading memory that the quality was pretty spectacular (if only for it’s period in time).

      2. Yeah but this is what two world class players in each position looks like – 60m for a guy with world class potential who still has question marks over output in this league. And if we want people without question marks, it gets even more expensive. I think I’d rather raise the level of our first team significantly.

        Then again, we have to expand the squad anyway because of the demands of the CL.

    2. Why on earth would Saka, Martinelli, and Odegaard regress?

      They slightly overperformed npxg+xa collectively but it wasn’t something unrealistic like what we saw with Nico Pepe at Lille.

      1. Yeah, if any of them regress significantly, we’re out of the title conversation anyway. We need them all to at least stay at this level plus add some more goalscoring. I don’t know why she made that hypothetical part of her argument.

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