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ANALYSIS

Why They'll Win

Mexico: Superior coaching and defense are an unbeatable combination this time.

June 16, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YOKOHAMA, Japan — There are reasons Mexico should beat the United States in Monday's second-round World Cup encounter. Good reasons. Sound reasons. Reasons that include history, tradition, momentum, motivation, form and reputation.

Of course, none of that has meant a plugged yen at this World Cup--don't wave goodbye, Argentina--so forget all that. We need to restart, retrench, scale back and return to the basics. At least until the dart board clears customs.

At this stage of a World Cup, when one mistake or one poor decision can be the difference between advancement and elimination, games usually hinge on three fundamentals: defense, coaching and goalkeeping.

Score it Mexico 2, USA 1.

As good as Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Perez has been--he was the most valuable player of the Croatia match and his off-the-line scrambles left Italy muttering long into the Oita night--Brad Friedel has ranked somewhere between savior and saint for the United States.

But the Friedel highlight show has been a direct result of the turnstile defense in front of him--this way, please, sir--and has U.S. soccer fans now reassessing the national team careers of Alexi Lalas and Mike Burns.

To put it another way: Mexico has Rafael Marquez at the center of its defense, the United States went with Jeff Agoos the first three games until a calf injury sustained against Poland sidelined him for the rest of the World Cup.

Marquez, the Mexican captain, plays professionally for the French club Monaco, but not for much longer. Barcelona has been pursuing his services for more than a year and, after his sterling performance in the 1-1 draw against Italy, Serie A clubs figure to be lining up as well.

In three World Cup games, the Mexican defense has yielded only two goals--as many as the Americans coughed up to Poland in the first five minutes.

As a tactician, Mexican Coach Javier Aguirre has proved to be more adaptable and less stubborn than U.S. Coach Bruce Arena, who has done well in prodding his flawed squad this far. But Arena's loyalty to the outclassed Agoos has been indefensible, nearly costing the Americans the second round with that one decision.

Knowing Aguirre, he'd have switched to a different center back long ago. Probably after the first day of training camp.

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