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No. 4: Mexico makes a statement

12/29/2011
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...

The United States had enjoyed pronounced dominance over its rival south of the border for a good decade, going 10-4-2 in showdowns with Mexico since 2000 -- with three of those losses in smoky, towering Mexico City and the other when the Yanks brought a beyond-reserve team to the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Yet it was clear, in the vibrancy of El Tri's game leading to and through the early encounters in last June's regional nations championship, the positions had changed.

If confirmation was required, it arrived June 25, when Mexico spotted the Americans two goals, then sprinted past their stunned foe again and again en route to a 4-2 triumph in the Gold Cup final in front of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl.

It wasn't unexpected -- this Mexico side, guided by Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, is special, potentially the first in CONCACAF that really could contend for a World Cup title -- but the magnitude of the result shook the U.S. national team program to its foundations. Much hand-wringing over how to close the talent gap, followed by head coach Bob Bradley's dismissal a little more than a month later, and then German legend Jurgen Klinsmann's appointment, with the attendant new ideas, different eyes and a demeanor that is nothing like Bradley's.

The U.S. national team is in transition, which likely will continue into and perhaps beyond the next World Cup. Mexico, meantime, is on the rise, bolstered by a young, golden generation led by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, 23, and Giovani Dos Santos, 22. El Tri play with so much speed, both of foot and of thought, and with so much skill, with passing options at every moment leading to devastating chances that are put away.

We saw that in illuminating detail in the final, at least after Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan provided the Yanks a 2-0 lead by the 23rd minute. Giovani was in charge the rest of the way as Mexico caught up by halftime, went ahead on Pablo Barrera's strike five minutes into the second half and finished off with a piece of magic from Giovani, who chipped inside the upper-left post after a cheeky bit of keep-away from U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Giovani is the most prominent of players to come from the 2005 Mexican team that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup, a prize Mexico captured again this year. More Mexicans are playing in Europe, and at bigger clubs, and impressive talent continues to emerge from the domestic league.

Mexico stands to dominate in the region for some time, perhaps into the next decade -- perhaps forever. The U.S. has long been considered a sleeping (now awakening) giant in the world game, but the real sleeping (now awakening) giant might have been just to the south.