Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
Tonight, the U.S. Men’s National Team faces Mexico in an international friendly (7:30pm, ESPN2, Univision, ESPN3). The atmosphere, however, is likely to be anything but, as 105,000 Mexican fans will surely let the U.S. players know they are a long way from home.
The game tonight is not a part of World Cup Qualifying, and comes in an awkward place on the calendar, with many European leagues just days away from beginning play. Most non-U.S.-based players, having not been a part of the Olympic tournament, have only preseason fitness levels. As such, the roster released for the game is heavy on North American-based players, with 10 MLS-based players and 6 Liga MX-based players, and some noticeable absentees. Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, and Oguchi Onyewu were each left off the roster because their seasons are just beginning or, as in Dempsey’s case, their club situations are unsettled. Some players, like Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo, have minor injury problems.
Bucking the trend of Euro-based players staying with their clubs is Geoff Cameron, newly of Stoke City. One imagines he was included because before moving to Stoke he’d been playing with Houston Dynamo, and so has the requisite fitness. It is somewhat surprising, though, that Klinsmann chose to bring him so soon after making the switch to a new team and league. Said Klinsmann, “He has to deal with that, it’s as simple as that. … [H]e just has to settle in as fast as possible and keep his nerves under control.” That’s an understatement, as it looks like Cameron is a sure starter, being the only center back from this summer’s 5-game “mini-tournament” to make the roster.
Who Cameron’s partner will be is unclear, but it might be Michael Orozco Fiscal(!), who currently plays for San Luis in Liga MX. Whether or not he plays, returning to the roster is a sign of the comeback Orozco Fiscal has made in his playing form.
In midfield, some interesting selections include Brek Shea and Graham Zusi. Zusi has only two international appearances, both this past January, but his MLS season has been strong. Shea, of course, seemed on target to be a breakout star last winter, but whether from physical burnout or mental fatigue, he has hit a real slump in form over the past six months. His call-up is a vote of confidence from the U.S. coaching staff. Of Shea, Klinsmann said, “We are happy to have him back and we’ll have a couple good talks over a few coffees.” Klinsmann sounds like the best coach ever.
Up front, the most interesting inclusion is Chris Wondolowski. His domestic form continues to be scintillating, but he has never replicated that internationally, with admittedly few chances to do so. Herculez Gomez is also on the roster, and seems a lock for one of the starting forward spots.
What to expect from the U.S.
We know that this game would be very difficult under any circumstances, but without our first-choice eleven, and only two days of prep for the squad, difficult becomes daunting. With two World Cup Qualifying games coming up in early September, however, Klinsmann is surely hoping to make as strong a showing as possible, while still giving a run-out to some younger players to gain experience playing in a game of this type. Klinsmann may not realistically expect a win, but getting embarrassed is not an option. Expect senior squad members with experience playing in hostile environments to start the game, with the younger and fringier players getting on after halftime.
What to expect from Mexico
Mexico is surely on a high after the Olympic win, and it’s never just another game when Mexico plays the U.S. Looking at the Mexican roster, they mean business. The biggest name for most U.S. fans is likely Javier Hernandez, AKA “Chicharito,” who plays for Manchester United. Watchers of Gol TV or Fox Soccer have also likely seen commercials with goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who plays for Ajaccio in France and is very popular back home in Mexico. In short, it is nearly the full-strength Mexican side, minus those players who just finished the Olympics, like Giovani dos Santos, Oribe Peralta, and Carlos Salcido.
Assuming Klinsmann retains the 4-3-3 that has been the team’s signature of late, and that Maurice Edu does not slide back into central defense, as some have suggested, my best lineup guess is:
[Goalkeeper] Tim Howard; [Defenders] Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Michal Orozco Fiscal, Steven Beitashour; [Midfielders] Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Jose Torres; [Forwards] Landon Donovan, Chris Wondowlowski, and Herculez Gomez.
If Edu slides back, I’d predict DaMarcus Beasley to make a rare international start if Klinsmann wants to go for it, or Kyle Beckerman if Klinsmann wants a more defensive outlook.
As for the score, I hate to be a wet blanket, but I am not confident. Between the stadium and the lack of first-choice players, especially across the back line, I think it is likely Mexico win, 3–1. Estadio Azteca has never seen a U.S.A. win, and is acknowledged as one of the toughest places in world soccer to play. All that said, here’s hoping we see a little bit of history made.