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So Far From God: Pre-Gaming USA v Mexico
- Updated: March 26, 2013
They stand at opposite ends of a vast continent, separated by rivers, mountains and lines on a map, yet bound in eternal conflict. Two mighty fortresses, one a yellow and black aluminum redoubt on the banks of the Ohio, the other a concrete colossus crowning the hill of St Ursula. Tonight a new series of battles begin, with a half frozen rag-tag band descending from the Rocky Mountains to lay siege to to the heart of a North American soccer empire. This is round one of the heavyweight bout. This is the USMNT and El Tri. This is the Hex. The Yanks are coming.
United States vs Mexico
Hexagonal Round, CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying
Estadio Azteca, Cuidad de Mexico, D.F.
Tuesday, March 26th
TV/Online: ESPN, Univision (Spanish) / ESPN3
Pre/Half/Post Game Coverage: The Best Soccer Show via KickTV
Its very difficult to overstate the importance of this match for either side. For El Tri, what should have been simply an important game has turned into a must win following two straight embarrassing draws to open the Hex. For the Americans, whose start to the final round of world cup qualifying has been hardly less rocky, if more successful, a win at Atzeca would be a body blow to Mexican pride, and would instantly become the greatest victory in US soccer history.
The Tale of Clearance Clarence and the Little Pea. If the US is going to stand any chance against Mexico tonight, the key matchup will be the American centerbacks against the Mexican forwards. Gio Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez are the most dynamic attackers of their generation in CONCACAF, and the US has shown a complete inability, regardless of their centerback pairings, to consistently shut down the Mexican duo. They prefer to attack via the cross from the outside, especially early. The American back line has the physical ability to counter this method of attack, but it will be vital for them to remain organized, and this is where the chances of the US pulling off a monumental upset falls straight to the feet of Clarence Goodson. The most experienced American defender on the roster will be called upon to call the defensive line and assist Omar Gonzalez in marking Chicharito. Good luck, Buenhijo.
Mr. Jones and Me. Jermaine Jones, he of the snow ‘fro and history of ill-considered cards returned to Schalke 04 Sunday after a leg injury sustained at the foot of a Costa Rican forward. Jones was expected to start alongside Michael Bradley in a double pivot central midfield. Regardless of his errors of judgement, Jones is a veteran starter with Champions League experience, and he is a key loss for a young American side. When it comes to which midfielder will step up to replace him, Klinsmann has several options. RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman would be a like-for-like swap of defensive mids, with Beckerman having the added advantage of playing regularly at altitude. Starting Beckerman would also allow Michael Bradley to pick his moments going forward. Joe Corona, the young Mexican- American attacking mid who recently took the Clausura title with Xolos would be a more daring choice, but would effectively commit MB90 to a purely defensive role. Perhaps most likely to get the nod is Anderlect number 10 Sacha Kjlestan. He is primarily an attacking player, but has improved his defensive responsibility and he has played the role alongside Bradley in a big game before, the final of the 2009 Gold Cup against Brazil. The last time Kjlestan started alongside Bradley in a double pivot was the final of the Confederations Cup in June 2009 against Brazil.
Just breathe. Yes the Yanks trained for a week at altitude in Denver, and played a full 90 in a blizzard. It doesn’t matter. The Azteca is an environment unlike any other in North America. The air isn’t simply thin, it is heavy polluted, and as the match wears on and legs get heavy, the lungs burn with more than just exertion. The crowd is 91,000 channeling the spirit of their ancestors, screaming with the anger of the dispossessed. Also, they throw bottles full of urine. Seriously. This is the most challenging match many of the Americans, including Jurgen Klinsmann. have ever or will ever face. It will be up to the very few experienced players on the roster to calm the team, especially early, and make sure they master the moment.
For a great description of what a US / Mexico match at the Azteca is like from the stands, listen to Robert Andre Powell’s account here.
Taco Tuesday. On August 15, 2012 the US scored a stunning upset, defeating Mexico for the first time at the Azteca, bringing their all time record there to 1-8-1. The win was magical, historic, and inspired one of the greatest magazine covers of all time.
It was, however, just a friendly, and its difficult to judge how much can be taken away and applied to this match. We know that fourteen members of the current squad dressed for the match last August, including winning goal scorer Michael (Freakin) Orozco Fiscal, named as a last minute injury replacement for Jermaine Jones. We know that ten of the Mexican starters from that match are likewise on the roster for El Tri tonight. Ultimately the only thing we can really draw from the friendly win is that, despite all evidence to that point, it is possible for an American team to win in the D.F. That might be enough of an edge for tonight.
With all that said, here’s how the Yanks may deploy.
This one isn’t that bold; the US loses. Mexico needs this game more than the US, the match is at the Azteca, where only two visiting teams have ever won, and only once in a qualifier. Its just too much to overcome. That said, there is one potential path to victory for the US. Mexico was booed off the field after their draw at home to Jamaica. The Americans have scored first in their last three qualifiers. If the Yanks manage an early score, and can keep the Mexicans off the board for the first half, the crowd could turn on them. This incarnation of El Tri has not shown a great degree of mental toughness, and that could break them. It’s a long shot though.
Call it 2-1 Mexico, with Joe Corona scoring the US marker.
The PSL Soccer Desk crew will be taking in the match with the Philadelphia chapter of the American Outlaws at the Crossbar in Havertown. Come out an join us, and look for continuing coverage of the USMNT on the road to Rio on Philly Sports live.