The vuvuzelas wailed and the horns honked and the fans filed into Lincoln Financial Field. Some of the revelers were naturally festive, others fueled by alcohol. Many wore green or black Chicharito jerseys.
Javier Hernandez a dynamic Mexican striker known the world over as Chicharito is a sort of acrobat on the pitch, able to twist and contort his body and move into impossible positions for impossible goals against top-tier competition. He is hugely talented. He is also hugely popular.
If you walk down 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, merchants peddling all sorts of wares some legal, others illicit will approach. Among other items, they love to unload multi-colored Mexican wrestling masks on tourists with disposable income. Luke, a friend of mine with wads of American currency in his pocket, bought one during a recent group excursion. The complicated negotiation went like this:
Rey Mysterio? the man asked.
Yes, Luke replied.
Luke was able to secure the mask at a reduced price, but when he requested a similar bargain on a Chicharito jersey, the sidewalk salesman balked. Couldnt be done Chicharito is a national hero, he said, and serious business.
The good news for the U.S. team was that Chicharito didnt show for Wednesdays international friendly. Hes still mending from a concussion suffered after Mexico downed the U.S. to win the Gold Cup back in late June. New U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann probably wasnt too broken up about that.
In the end, after a spectacular early goal by Mexicos Oribe Peralta and a second-half equalizer by American Robbie Rogers courtesy of a fine feed from Brek Shea, Mexico and the U.S. tied, 1-1, in front of 30,138 fans at Lincoln Financial Field.
And so began Klinsmanns much-anticipated reign. Barely a week ago, Klinsmann was installed when Bob Bradley the teams long-embattled coach, and a polarizing figure for many American soccer fans was dismissed.
Klinsmann was a big get for the U.S. program, an international name brand with a serious pedigree that includes playing for the West German team that won the 1990 World Cup. Over his World Cup career, Klinsmann scored 11 goals sixth on the all-time list, just behind Pele.
In 2004, Klinsmann took over as coach of the German national team. In 34 matches, he compiled a 20-8-6 record and helped his side to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup.
On Wednesday, the 47-year-old Klinsmann said he was very satisfied with his new teams result, and added that the Americans were fun to watch, pushing the pace against the high-pressure Mexican side and working through individual tasks that he had assigned his club before the match.
And yet, despite seeming relatively pleased, Klinsmann said the process of transforming the U.S. team will be a long one. He explained that a largely different approach from grassroots youth soccer to the highest national team level is needed. At his introductory news conference at Niketown in New York City (soon, all street corners will have a Niketown or Starbucks or both, possibly mandated by federal law) Klinsmann noted this wont happen overnight. He reiterated that sentiment on Wednesday.
We definitely have to work on a lot of things there are many, many areas where we can improve, he said.
Some of the U.S. teams key players, such as Clint Dempsey, werent in town for the friendly. That gave Klinsmann the chance to tinker with the roster and use the evening as the first of what figure to be many open auditions in the hopes of molding the U.S. program as he sees fit. It also afforded him the opportunity to send a subtle signal to all who hope to earn a roster spot for the next World Cup.
In the recent past, U.S. team members have picked their own numbers and worn jerseys with their names written across the shoulders. Not on Wednesday. Instead, Klinsmann sent his starters onto the pitch wearing numbers one through 11. The subs donned numbers 12 through 18. No one had a name on his jersey.
It simplifies it a little bit. Maybe people get confused when they see a player with the No. 98, maybe they dont know where to put him, Klinsmann joked. For me as a coach, it makes it easier.
But was he sending a message?
I think theres a little bit of a signal that theres a fight going on for those numbers, Klinsmann admitted.
And what about the names?
Oh, not enough time, I think, to put the names on, Klinsmann said, laughing. I just told them this morning that we have a different way of doing things now. Our equipment manager was a little bit stressed.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org.