After Friday’s embarrassing defeat away to Costa Rica, the U.S. Men’s National Team has an opportunity to quickly put those bad feelings behind them. On Tuesday, the U.S. hosts struggling regional rival Mexico, and could clinch qualification to the World Cup if Panama fails to beat Honduras. Mexico will be desperate for a win, after suffering only their second home qualifying defeat in history, losing to Honduras on Friday. They sit in fourth in the qualifying group, and a loss would consign them to finish no higher than that, and thus force them into a play-off, at best, to get to the World Cup.
With a raucous Columbus crowd expected, and Mexico needing to take the game to the U.S., all is poised for an exciting encounter. But the U.S., dealing with suspensions and an injury to their talisman, Michael Bradley, will have to dig deep to get the result they desire.
Bradley rolled his left ankle in the warm-up before Friday’s game, and while his injury is not as severe as first thought, he will not be available against Mexico. Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, and Geoff Cameron each picked up yellow cards against Costa Rica, resulting in one-match suspensions. As such, coach Jürgen Klinsmann has called up four players: Clay Goodson, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, and José Torres. John Brooks has returned to his club team, Hertha Berlin.
Goodson, having played beside DaMarcus Beasley throughout the Gold Cup, will likely slot straight into the starting lineup. While both he and Omar Gonzalez are traditionally the bigger of the two center backs, Gonzalez is quite quick and mobile, so the two of them shouldn’t be too slow, as a pair.
In midfield, it’s expected that Kyle Beckerman will start in place of Michael Bradley. He and Jermaine Jones are not obviously complementary players, and the team might be better served benching Jones and inserting Mix Diskerud. However, that seems unlikely, and Klinsmann will probably stick with Jones.
Further changes may be in store upfield, however. Fabian Johnson’s performance against Costa Rica was not inspiring, and Clint Dempsey functions best behind the top striker, not leading the line as he did on Friday. As such, Eddie Johnson, Diskerud, or even Aron Johannsson may be giving starting roles.
Friday’s defeat in Azteca resulted in the firing of Mexico coach Chepo de la Torre, though many would say it was months too late. The U.S. will need to watch out for the “new coach bump,” where a team plays better for a new coach after struggling for the old one, even with no changes made to the team.
Regardless, Mexico has many dangerous players, like Giovanni dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Oribe Peralta, and Chicharito Hernandez, and the U.S. must expect their best effort, not the middling showings of late. While those players have struggled in competitive games, Mexico managed to score four against the Ivory Coast on August 14.
Start strong but smart
Against Costa Rica, the U.S. sleepwalked through the first 20 minutes and found themselves in a two-goal hole that they couldn’t climb out of. The rest of the game resulted in a 1–1 draw, which would have been a decent result for the U.S. On Tuesday, the U.S. needs to open with more energy, but also more control. Sloppy passes taken quickly are still sloppy. The U.S. needs to maintain its defensive shape with discipline but attack the ball when out of possession and look to strike with speed once a turnover has been forced. But please, no more aimless long balls.
One of the hallmarks of this U.S. team over the past year has been an ability to move past poor results without a hangover. Granted, there have been relatively few poor results to speak of, but just think of the general feeling after the defeat to Belgium. Instead of going into a shell, the U.S. came out firing against Germany and rang up four goals.
Clearly, Mexico is not the team they once were, but desperate teams are dangerous teams, and Mexico never plays harder than against the U.S. Still, if the U.S. can shake off the negativity of Friday’s loss and play to its strengths, it will have too much for Mexico, even without Altidore and Bradley. 2–0 to the U.S.