After disappointing losses on Friday for both the United States and Mexico, the two sworn enemies come face to face Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio in a FIFA World Cup Qualifying game where both teams will want to win for very different reasons.
Here’s what has changed since last week:
1. U.S. Knocked Down A Peg– There were never going to be any easy points to grab in Costa Rica for the US on Friday. But the way the US lost was a little shocking. They came out flat. Costa Rica grabbed control early, and they never looked back. But given the fact they have never won a World Cup qualifying match in Costa Rica, this was the perfect match to lack motivation – it was a even tough ask to get a point. The Ticos and their fans took the USA’s 1-0 victory in March in the Colorado snow personally. They harangued the team throughout their trip to Central America. Great teams fight through, and the US isn’t there yet. The 12-match winning streak dashed, it’s now time to regroup.
2. Michael Bradley Out – Another factor in the US loss to Costa Rica was the injury to Michael Bradley. The efforts by Jermaine Jones and Geoff Cameron to fill Bradley’s shoes were futile. In contrast, think about the U.S being able to top the Hexagonal without Landon Donovan. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann got the midfield wrong against Costa Rica. No doubt about it, he needs to figure out a way to make the midfield work more effectively Tuesday night.
3. No More Chepo – Mexico fired Chepo de la Torre last week. Gone are the halcyon days of the Olympic triumph in London and generally upbeat feelings about the direction of their national team. The dumpster has been alight for awhile. El Tri has yet to win at the Estadio Azteca in this qualifying round, and losing to Honduras from a winning position was the last straw. We’ll have to wait and see how much of an impact new national team coach Luis Fernando Tena will have on his team.
4. Hello Luis Fernando Tena– The man who led that Olympic team to glory last year now takes over a nation that was the best in CONCACAF two years ago after a bombastic 4-2 comeback victory over the U.S. in the Gold Cup. Times are much different now. They are currently in fourth place in the Hexagonal, a position that may dictate a November play-off match against OFC qualifiers New Zealand. Tena’s charge is simple: Get Mexico to Brazil, preferably by claiming one of those top three automatic berths.
Other US tidbits
Another development from the Costa Rica loss was a few key yellow cards that resulted in several players being suspended from the Mexico match. Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler both picked up yellows in the match, and Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore needlessly lashed out in the closing minutes to be suspended for the match.
This leads to many questions about how Klinsmann will adapt. He called in several emergency players including defender Clarence Goodson and midfielder Brad Davis from MLS, and midfielders Jose Torres and Joe Corona from Liga MX. Theoretically, the call-ups of these attacking midfielders allows Klinsmann to use Eddie Johnson or Landon Donovan as pure strikers.
Keys to US Victory
1. Withstand the early onslaught – Mexico will be like a cornered animal — mean and ready to fight their way out. If Chepo had remained, things may have been a little different, but the leadership change should have the team inspired to right their ship. Klinsmann has preached a change in style for the Americans, but this is a match where an incisive counterattacking style would suit them better against a team desperate for three points.
2. Replace Besler and Bradley effectively – With John Brooks heading back to Hertha Berlin over the weekend, Klinsmann’s choice to pair with Omar Gonzalez is more difficult. Whether it’s Michael Orozco or Goodson, someone needs to step up as a capable depth option for the team. As far as Bradley goes, he provided so much in both aspects of the game. He also developed a give-and-take relationship in the central midfield with Jones. How will Klinsmann address this? My best guess is to bring in Kyle Beckerman. The Real Salt Lake midfielder is comfortable as a dedicated stopper in front of the backline. This would give Jones the freedom he needs to make his forward runs, where he has been effective at times in the past.
3. Leadership – This is a painful point to bring up, but Clint Dempsey didn’t look the part of captain in Costa Rica. The Texan made the move back to MLS recently, but hasn’t looked in form since before the June qualifiers. His penalty in Costa Rica was weak but successful. The real leader in this team is Bradley. And without him, someone needs to step up. Will it be Dempsey? Howard? Donovan? Jones? With Altidore suspended and Dempsey out of form, this is a big spot for Landon Donovan to pick up the pieces. His sabbatical hurt his relationship with Klinsmann for a period of time, but the 2013 Gold Cup victory has done wonders. He has a chance to prove himself as being back in a big way, against the USA’s biggest rival.
Lineup Prediction For The US
4-2-3-1: Howard; Parkhurst, Gonzalez, Orozco, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones; Donovan, Dempsey, F. Johnson; E. Johnson
While the points are more important for Mexico than the United States, Klinsmann needs his squad to rebound in a big way. Three points coupled with a Honduras win over Panama would punch the US ticket to Brazil. Columbus Crew Stadium has been the go-to venue for defeating El Tri, with the US never losing there. I see the US enduring a difficult start, but coming back to win 2-1.
Editor’s note: For viewers in the United States, coverage begins Tuesday on ESPN at 7pm ET for a one-hour pre-game show, which is followed by the match at 8pm ET with Ian Darke, Taylor Twellman and Alejandro Moreno in the commentary booth.
After tonight’s USA vs Mexico game, be sure to log on to WorldSoccerTalk.com to watch the live post-match reaction with Kartik Krishnaiyer, Kris Heneage and Dave Denholm.