The US soccer team — Mexico’s newest savior

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    US midfielder Graham Zusi's goal saved Mexico in World Cup qualifying.

    Graham Zusi of the U.S, left, and teammate Brad Davis embrace after Zusi scored the goal to tie with Panama, in a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Panama City, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. The United States rallied for a 3-2 win at Panama on Tuesday night that left Mexico’s World Cup hopes alive and knocked out the Panamanians. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    There’s an old saying that when the United States sneezes, Mexico catches a cold that perhaps was never truer than in developments of recent days.

    Poor Mexico, the lament has been historically, it is so close to the Americans geographically that political hegemony has always been inevitable.

    But there was always soccer. Soccer was the one aspect of life that the Mexicans had always held over the Americans’ heads, and this was important in a world where soccer so often has carried symbolic significance in the bragging order of nations.

    In the past decade, though, the US had slowly edged toward equality on the soccer pitch, in part because of the American national effort to become a world class soccer power but also for something few were willing to admit:

    Mexican soccer had slowly crept into mediocrity.

    There was only so far that flag waving and “El Tri” sentimentality could carry any team, along with the fact that Mexican nationals living in the US – and there’s a whole country of them – over the years had assimilated and acculturated enough so as to be divided in their loyalty.

    The US has caught Mexico

    Once upon a time, a Mexican soccer team playing against the US on America soil was likely to be cheered on almost as if it were the home team by stadiums packed with Mexican soccer fans living here.

    In recent years, though, that had not been the case, coincidentally coming as the vastly improved US national team equaled its footing with the Mexicans.

    Meanwhile, the Mexican national team simmered in inferiority.

    This year has been the worst for the Mexican national team. The Mexicans have even flirted with soccer disaster. They appeared ready to bow out of World Cup qualifying, which would be an unmitigated sports and geo-political embarrassment for the onetime soccer power that hadn’t missed a World Cup since 1990.

    It’s estimated the Mexican soccer federation along with sponsors and businesses affiliated with the Mexican team could lose more than $600 million if Mexico fails to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil.

    But then the US sneezed again. And, stunningly blew out surprisingly kind results on their south-of-the-border neighbors.

    On Tuesday, the US soccer team defeated Panama 3-2 in its final CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on a stoppage time goal – and Mexico and its soccer fans went ecstatic.

    You might have thought that the US had given the Mexicans back Texas and the entire Southwest, that’s how over-the-top crazed they were behaving.

    The reason, though, was that the US team had figuratively saved the Mexican national team’s asses.

    Mexico will face New Zealand for a trip to the World Cup.

    Mexico’s Javier Hernandez, right, reacts as after the referee disallowed a goal during a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

    That same day, the Mexicans had needed only a win or tie in Costa Rica — where it hadn’t lost in 21 matches – or a US win or tie with Panama for Mexico to advance to a two-leg playoff against New Zealand for a final World Cup berth.

    Mexico lost – and would have been eliminated from World Cup qualifying had it not been for the U.S. triumph.

    “Gol de Estados Unidos!” one Mexican TV commentator screamed into his microphone. “We love you! We love you forever and ever! God bless America!”

    If mediocrity weren’t bad enough, now Mexican soccer – sombrero in hand – had to beg the US for help.

    Orgullo. It’s a beast.

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