USA-Mexico, Dos a Cero, and the Cap On a Great Football Weekend

USA-Mexico, Dos a Cero, and the Cap On a Great Football Weekend

An official holds up a red card against Mexico in a World Cup qualifying soccer match against the United States, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009, in Columbus, Ohio. The United States won 2-0. (AP Photo)

Sports fans love to talk about bandwagoners. That word has a negative connotation in nearly every sports context, and "real" fans love to rag on anyone they think just bought their first replica jersey at the team store. "Yeah, well I had an Eagles onesie AND a Rodney Peete jersey!"

I join in often when it comes to some people (I'm looking at you, Lakers/Heat fans), but when it comes to soccer, I always open the door. Everyone can have a seat on the bandwagon. The more the merrier.

When it comes to the United States national team, that is especially true. So settle in, cancel all your calls, and find a (preferably large) TV.

(And yes, I know, this is a Philly sports blog. But as the cradle of liberty, it's our duty to out-American all the other American cities)

The United States hosts archrival Mexico tonight in Columbus, Ohio. The Americans play Mexico often, usually at least once per calendar year. Most of those games are relatively meaningless, and serve to provide a decent test and make a boatload of cash for the U.S. Soccer Federation (see August, 10, 2011 at the Linc, the one USA-Mexico game I've seen in person).

The fact that tonight's game (8 p.m. - ESPN) is in Columbus shows it means something. It means the U.S. will have a true "home" game.

If that seems odd to point out, realize this: When U.S. Soccer needs to sell a lot of tickets and make a few bucks, they schedule USA-Mexico friendlies in big stadiums near large Mexican immigrant populations, like Philadelphia, Houston, San Diego, Miami, Chicago, etc.

When they need to win, they play at cozy Crew Stadium -- a 20,000 seat building that holds the distinction of being the first real soccer-specific stadium in America.

It's also where "Dos. A. Cero." was born.

The guys at SB Nation have a great rundown of the history of "Dos A Cero." ("2 to 0" if you chose to take French in high school). Basically, it began during World Cup qualifying in 2001, when the Americans beat Mexico, 2-0, at Crew Stadium, in a critical match. The Mexicans were cold, the crowd was -- for the first time ever -- intimidating for the visitors, and a trend was born.

It peaked at the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea, when the U.S. won the biggest game in the history of the rivalry, beating Mexico 2-0 to reach the quarterfinals -- the high-water mark for American soccer. A game I vividly remember waking up to watch at around 3 a.m. during vacation at the Jersey Shore.

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Tonight's match doesn't have as much at stake, but there's still plenty to play for. The Americans are pretty safe bets to make the World Cup, and would do so with a win tonight along with a Panama loss or tie in Honduras (a Panama win would be a big surprise). If that doesn't happen, there are still two more qualifiers.

The big storyline is the complete and total dumpster fire that is the Mexican team right now. "El Tri" fired its coach on Saturday, lost a qualifier at home for the first time in a bazillion years, and is in very, very real danger of not earning one of CONCACAF's three automatic berths for next summer's World Cup (a fourth-place finish means a home-and-home playoff vs. New Zealand for a berth).

People like to make American sports analogies to explain the disappointment level in Mexico if "El Tri" miss the World Cup. There really is none I can think of. That's how bad it would be.

The United States will be without a few key players tonight due to injury and CONCACAF's ridiculous rules that combine yellow cards issued more than a year ago with those issued in last Friday's loss in Costa Rica. Michael Bradley gruesomely turned his ankle during Friday's warmups (NSFW photo at left), while Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler are all suspended. Besler's yellow card came on the most ridiculous soccer dive in history.

Mexico will be hungry tonight, while also playing with the weight of 112 million Mexicans (and countless more fans worldwide) on its shoulders. If the United States can survive the first 20 minutes, and control the possession at least a little bit in the midfield -- something it didn't do Friday in Costa Rica -- the raucous Columbus crowd could be celebrating a World Cup berth before midnight. But give up an early Mexican goal (goalkeeper extraordinaire had arguably his worst game I've ever seen him have in red, white and blue on Friday), and things could get really dicey.

Whatever happens, it's must-see TV for any sports fan, and the end to an incredible weekend of football (and football). If you're watching U.S. Soccer for the first time, or the 100th, follow me on Twitter during the game for incoherent and far-too-frequent live-tweeting.

And finally, after suffering through Jon Gruden on Monday night, I think we all deserve a little Ian Darke in our lives.

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NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It has been an extraordinary 11 months for P.K. Subban.

The defenseman moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. Left his native Canada to live in the American South. Blended in with new teammates, created a new home and learned a new system of money, too.

Oh, and along the way the former star for the Montreal Canadiens played a key role in Nashville's stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The best way to sum up Subban's approach? C'est la vie.

"I just tried to have the right attitude when change comes my way," Subban said. "I think when you have an open mind, an open mind is like a gold mine. You just have an open mind, you can only go up from there regardless of what comes your way and just always try to approach things in a positive way."

The Canadiens and Predators shocked the NHL last June 29 when Nashville swapped captain Shea Weber for Subban in a rare one-for-one trade of All-Star defensemen. Adding Subban's offensive skills immediately made the Predators a popular pick to be right where they are now as the Western Conference champions.

The stylish Subban has as much flair on the ice with his goal celebrations as off with his hats and stylish suits. The Predators and their fans have embraced all of it.

"When it happened, I came in here with the right attitude and just wanted to be a part of this team and do whatever I can do to help a team win," Subban said (see full story).

Penguins: Team rides maturity, resilience back to Cup Final
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL's marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

"Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim," Crosby said. "We've just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We've done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength" (see full story).

NFL Notes: Vikings' Mike Zimmer says he'll coach with 1 eye if necessary

NFL Notes: Vikings' Mike Zimmer says he'll coach with 1 eye if necessary

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has had a lot of time on his hands this week while sitting at home on his Kentucky ranch as his team went through optional practices in the Twin Cities.

Zimmer was under strict orders to leave the team and rest his right eye, which has needed eight surgeries to try to repair a detached retina. The lingering issues have led some to wonder if he would be forced to shorten his career.

Zimmer has heard the speculation all week long. The hard-nosed coach said he has reached out to some of those doubters personally this week.

"I'll be back shortly," Zimmer vowed in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "One eye or two, it doesn't matter. I'll be back. We can put that retiring thing to bed quickly."

Zimmer missed one game last season due to the problems with his eye . He tried to work through the issues, but said on Friday that he was told to skip this week's practices and go home to allow his eye to recover.

"It's not much fun," he said. "Usually I love it down here in my place here. But I don't love it too much this week. It was kind of a forced situation. But for the long run it's the best thing for me."

Giants: Smith trying to resurrect career
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Geno Smith didn't catch a break in his final two seasons with the New York Jets, and it seems his chances of resurrecting his career with the Giants are facing obstacles.

Not only does Smith have to beat out incumbent Josh Johnson for the backup quarterback job to Eli Manning, his prospects of making the team took another hit in the NFL draft when the Giants selected Davis Webb with their third-round draft pick.

The 26-year-old Smith doesn't seem concerned.

Speaking after the Giants organized training activities Thursday, Smith sounded confident for a player who had a promising rookie season four years ago and then regressed, in large part due to inconsistency.

"Honestly, I don't feel like I have to prove anything to anyone other than myself," said Smith, who has played in only three games in the past two seasons, starting one. "I am just trying to be my best every single day, focusing on trying to be perfect. I know that is a far goal to try and reach, but just trying to be perfect every day and understanding what is required of me once I step onto the field, and then trying to get it done."

Redskins: Injured Moreau final draft pick to sign
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins have signed the final member of their 10-player draft class, third-round pick Fabian Moreau.

The team announced the deal Friday.

The cornerback out of UCLA tore a pectoral muscle at his pro day in March. He was projected to be a first- or second-round pick before the injury and went 81st overall to the Redskins.

Moreau says doctors told him it was a five-month recovery, putting him on track to be ready by late in the preseason. The 23-year-old was at Washington's practice facility for rookie minicamp and the first sessions of organized team activities.

Coach Jay Gruden says the team is playing by ear the injury situations of Moreau and fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson and hopes they learn the schemes for the secondary as they rehab.

NFL: Judge tosses lawsuit over cheerleader wages
SAN FRANCISCO -- A lawsuit accusing the NFL and team owners of conspiring to suppress wages for cheerleaders lacks evidence to support that claim, a federal judge said.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the lawsuit by a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader. The suit sought class action status on behalf of all NFL cheerleaders.

"To state an antitrust claim here, plaintiff must plead not only `ultimate facts, such as conspiracy, and legal conclusions,'" Alsup said. "The complaint must answer the basic questions of `who, did what, to whom (or with whom), where, and when?'"

An email to an attorney for the 49ers cheerleader, Drexel Bradshaw, was not immediately returned. The cheerleader was only identified in the suit as "Kelsey K."

Alsup gave her an opportunity to amend the lawsuit and refile it by June 15.

The lawsuit was among a spate of legal actions in recent years accusing NFL teams of failing to pay cheerleaders for hours they spent practicing and making public appearances.