(Photo Courtesy of Verge Campus)
U.S.A. vs. Mexico in Pasadena. There are so many talking points. Will the USMNT put their recent poor form behind them? How will Mexico perform after the turmoil of Manuel Herrera’s dismissal? Does Jurgen Klinsmann need this win to silence his recent detractors? Most importantly, however, the winner of this playoff nabs a spot in the Confederations Cup in 2017.
Michael Bradley captains the United States in what is arguably the most important rivalry match since the 2002 World Cup showdown. We were supposed to see this game back in July during the Gold Cup, but a resolute Jamaican side outplayed the USMNT in the semi-final. Mexico took the trophy, and the U.S.A. bowed out with their worst Gold Cup performance since 1985. And then, two days after lifting the trophy, Mexican manager Manuel Herrera was released after a physical altercation with a reporter, leaving the resurgent Mexican national team with unnecessary questions about its future.
The USMNT is coming off an inconsistent summer that’s seen them drop 3 out of their last 4 matches, but also score major friendly victories at the Netherlands and defending World Cup champions Germany. Klinsmann has named an experienced squad and will need to rely on his veterans to get a result. Playing in Pasadena means there will be vocal, impassioned Mexican support in the stadium, but it’s still in the U.S.A., and Clint Dempsey and co. will be looking to hand newly appointed manager Juan Carlos Osorio his first defeat.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Andres Guardado
If healthy and back in form, he will be the key to victory. Guardado had a fantastic Gold Cup, tallying 6 goals. Mexico will rely on his ability on the ball to commit defenders to step into the midfield and unbalance the back line. From the United States’ perspective, it will be the responsibility of the holding midfielder (whether that’s Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, or even Michael Bradley) to keep Mexico’s captain in check. If they can unsettle Guardado early and keep him from running with the ball, Mexico will struggle in the final third.
2. Michael Bradley
Klinsmann has employed the central midfielder in every role in the system, but he has recently settled into a more attacking station. His vision will be the key to breaking down the Mexican defense. If Gyasi Zardes gets the start, look for this connection to disrupt Mexico’s back line.
3. Set pieces
Their importance in big matches involving the United States cannot be overlooked, and they have decided this tilt on more than one occasion in the past. Brad Guzan, who will start over Tim Howard, will need to be commanding in his 6-yard box. At the other end, the USMNT will look to use their size to dominate set piece situations. It would not surprise me if this game is decided on a finish from a corner kick.
United States 2, Mexico 1.
This will not be an easy victory, but Jurgen Klinsmann has yet to lose to El Tri and this game will be no different. Clint Dempsey bags the winner and Man of the Match, because that’s what he does in big games. Guzan will need to be big between the sticks, as I expect Mexico to be dangerous on the counter in an open first half. Space will be at a premium in the second half, but that will play to the United States’ advantage.
A bit of an obvious statement, but the first goal will be extremely important. The USMNT tends to struggle if they need to chase the game, and they’ll lose Zardes’ pace on the counter if Mexico jumps to an early lead and starts to sit in. As much as I’d love a Dos a Cero result, I think Mexico will find the back of the net. But Deuce will put America on his back again and book our tickets to Russia in two summers.