Monday, September 7, 2009


For the most part, I blew an opportunity to watch Charlton play on tv Saturday morning by, first, failing to wake up until 8 am and, second, taking over a half hour to find a service that actually would allow me to see the broadcast of the match against Brentford. But when I finally got the game on my laptop, it was just in time to see Izale McLeod come on as a substitute and do what I thought no longer possible: contribute positively in a Charlton shirt. Izale's time at The Valley has been no picnic and having been at the center of controversy last season while on loan at Millwall, he seemed to have been one of the many young strikers to have been frozen out of the squad. When Izale was first signed up -- fresh off a 24 goal effort for fake Wimbledon in 2006-2007 -- the YouTube highlights were enough to get me in his corner. But YouTube highlights are, well, YouTube highlights and he, apparently, was unable to build on those performances in practice.

Setting aside the remarkable six-game winning streak that Phil Parkinson has begun the season with -- for a dispirited team, in tough financial straits, that most feared would face another relegation battle -- what has rendered me ashamed of my lack of faith in PP is the turnaround performances of guys like Izale and Lloyd Sam. Sam had another magnificent hour on Saturday and, catching the highlights later on cafctv, he looked like a worldbeater. And I think it is fair to say that the current management has the squad pointed in the right direction.

But what had my tongue wagging on Sunday was not Charlton's continued good run or the U.S.'s win over El Salvador or DC United's pathetic performance against FC Dallas . . . it was what we witnessed when we flipped on Mexico-Costa Rica. Both Izale and Lloyd have been described as "confidence" players, which I understand to mean athletes with tremendous physical gifts that, if their self-belief is shaken, are unable to harness those natural talents. I think the label might also be applied to Gio Dos Santos.

I have an inexplicable and indefensible dislike for Gio Dos Santos. Prior to Saturday night, I thought of Gio as a football primadonna unwilling to play with enough heart to bring his considerable skills to bear for the benefit of teammates in any meaningful way. The consistent theatrical diving seemed like a cheap and cowardly way to avoid having to do the hard work required to compete at the highest level. That is, until last night. I was wrong.

Through most of the first half, Costa Rica seemed intent on breaking Mexico. In San Jose, Costa Rica seemed unimpressed by Mexico and not even remotely intimidated by Mexico's stronger footballing tradition. One of the lasting impressions was a Costa Rican player standing over Blanco with venom in his eyes... CONCACAF has changed and Mexico is no longer the class of the region. And in this setting, under intense pressure (if Mexico did not manage a result, World Cup qualification was in doubt, although still quite possible), Gio alone turned the game around. On a ball that switched the field from left to right toward the end of the first 45, Dos Santos was given acres of space and drilled home a goal of sublime beauty. Two more goals put the game firmly on Mexico's side of the ledger in the second half, both created by gorgeous taps from the left foot of Dos Santos. The second, cleanly converted by Franco, was faithfully replicated by the third, this time sent home by Franco's sub, the very impressive Jose Andres Guardado Hernandez. On all three goals, Dos Santos showed incredible skill; world-class skill that would seem to indicate that he might yet be one of the sport's greats.

Saturday did not play to script. Mexico may not be in the steep decline it seemed to be. With Dos Santos, Guardado and Vela (who did not feature in Mexico's 18), the green and white should scare every team in the region. No other country in the CONCACAF has young talent performing at such high levels. After several embarrassing misfires, Mexico may have its swagger back.

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