The Final that everyone expected and, according to some, the Final that CONCACAF had hoped for. The two premier soccer nations in CONCACAF meet for the region’s top prize. The United States will be looking to repeat as champions while the Mexicans are looking to redeem themselves from a string of poor results against the Americans (that 2-0 defeat in Korea is still haunting them). As always, this match will not lack anything in passion and intensity. Expect well over 50,000 to cram into Soldier Field for this one. Sadly for the United States you can expect the crowd to be heavily pro-Mexican, despite the fact this match is being played on American soil.
The depth of the United States will be put to the test today as they try to overcome the suspensions of Michael Bradley and Frankie Hejduk. The absence of Hejduk is particularly hard to swallow. If you remember the friendly in January, arguably the most dangerous player was Mexico’s wide-left midfielder Jose Andres Guardado. In the second-half, he consistently got behind Chris Albright and swung in dangerous crosses that the American center-backs, particularly Jimmy Conrad, dealt with well. With Hejduk’s speed and experience, he would have been the ideal match-up for Guardado from the Americans’ standpoint. However, he is out due to yellow cards and it will be up to either Frank Simek or Jonathan Spector to deal with the quick and dangerous Guardado (Simek was on the subs bench and available for the Canada game while Spector did not dress, if that gives us any indication as to which one we will see). I feel that this is the match-up to watch. Mexico will be well aware of the inexperience of Spector and Simek and will surely look to exploit it. Jared Borgetti is of course extremely dangerous in the air, but how badly he hurts the United States will depend on what kind of service he gets and that’s why it is so important to shut down Guardado. The right-side of defense will also be something to watch. I feel that Jonathan Bornstein has had a shaky tournement defensively, but I’m certain he’ll be in the lineup today (Bob’s stuck with him to this point, I doubt he changes his mind now). That means that Bornstein will really have to be on his game defensively and be mindful not to get caught making one of his overlapping runs up the field because, unlike some of the other teams the United States has faced, Mexico will make you pay.
With Bradley out due to his red card, I expect Benny Feilhaber to step into the midfield, although we could very well see Ricardo Clark, who I feel is a bit quicker and a bit better defensively than Feilhaber. However, based on the friendly against Mexico in February where Mastroeni and Clark paired in the central midfield, I feel that the United States needs Feilhaber’s smooth touch and creative distirbution in there to balance Mastroeni’s toughness and robust tackling.
Up front, it’s anyone’s guess. I expect to see Dempsey up there once again. He’s played up front the entire tournement and done quite well. As for Dempsey’s partner up there, it will be interesting to see. I’m not quite sure about Brian Ching’s status. I know he took a knock and was ruled out of the Canada game. I’m not quite sure he can go today. Eddie Johnson had another below average game on Thursday against the Canadians. Although Taylor Twellman missed some decent scoring opportunities against Panama, I expect him to get the nod over Johnson today. In his post-match press conference after the Panama game, Bradley played off Twellman’s failure to finish as unlucky more than anything else. Plus, Twellman’s tough, gritty, and physical. I think that is exactly what the United States needs against Mexico to complement Dempsey’s skill and creativity. Here’s what I’m thinking for the lineup (Spector/Simek’s a toss-up, but I would go with Simek)
Simek Bocanegra Onyewu Bornstein
Donovan Feilhaber Mastroeni Beasley
Maybe the Christmas tree formation that we saw against El Salvador (probably not)
Simek Bocanegra Onyewu Bornstein
Feilhaber Mastoeni Clark