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USMNT refusing to overlook struggling Mexico as rivals set to clash tonight


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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mexico might be in its most vulnerable state right now, but the U.S. Men’s National Team surely is not seeing things that way. Not after the number of intense matches the two teams have played over the years and not when considering the fact that this might be the most dangerous Mexico team the Americans have ever faced.

The U.S. and Mexico are set to renew their well-documented rivalry at Crew Stadium on Tuesday night in a game that is equally as important for both sides, but for vastly different reasons. For the U.S., the match could mark the special moment in which they assure qualification for the 2014 World Cup. El Tri, meanwhile, need a win to position themselves in a more favorable place in the Hexagonal and relieve pressure from the same blood-thirsty fans and media that recently got their wish of seeing head coach Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre dismissed.

Truth be told, Mexico right now is like an animal pinned in a corner, left with nothing to do but fight with everything its got to try and assure survival.

The Americans are well aware of that.

“I don’t look at it like that. Mexico is a team that has quality in it,” said forward Clint Dempsey when asked if Mexico is vulnerable right now. “We need to make sure that we prepare properly. Every game at home is a must-win game. You need to get those points if you have any hopes of qualifying for a World Cup, so we won’t treat it any different than that.

“Hopefully we can get as many points as soon as possible, make sure we make that happen. But we know it’s going to be a difficult game.”

That might be an understatement considering the intensity in which games between the U.S. and Mexico are usually played. In fact, even U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who is German-born, already knows all too well just how vital it is for both sides to win this big North American rivalry match every time it is played, especially one that is a World Cup qualifier with so much on the line.

“In this rivalry, there’s a lot of respect for each other, if it’s on the coaching side, if it’s on the player side, if it’s nation-related,” said Klinsmann, who is 1-0-2 against El Tri as U.S. head coach. “Both countries always strive for more, both countries want to get better, both countries want to be in the top 10 in the world, both countries obviously want to secure (a berth to) the World Cup in Brazil and going in there beyond the group stage, at least. At least.

“Ambition-wise, it’s very similar to our case and there’s a lot of admiration in this rivalry for each other and obviously a lot of emotions. We’re going to see those emotions tomorrow night on the field, so it’s going to be very, very tense, it’s going to be very aggressive. But at the end of the day, both teams have a lot of respect for each other.”

There certainly is respect from both sides after playing in so many memorable games, including dozens of friendlies, numerous Gold Cup finals and World Cup qualifiers, and one well-known World Cup Round of 16 match back in 2002.

That does not mean that the second-placed Americans (13 points) and fourth-placed Mexicans (eight points) will be playing a quaint little game of soccer on what is expected to be a humid Tuesday night in Columbus. Instead, tempers are likely to flare and there should also be a palpable tension in the air even before the two teams take to the field.

Managing all that will be key for the Klinsmann’s side, especially since several regulars will be missing. Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron (all suspended due to yellow card accumulation) and Michael Bradley (injured) will not be in uniform on Tuesday, and that leaves the U.S. in the precarious situation of having to test its depth against its biggest rival.

“I’m not concerned about tomorrow night in terms of switching things around,” said Klinsmann. “Having another centerback in there, making changes if it’s up front for Jozy, if it’s in the midfield for Michael, because I think the players now really understand their roles. They know when they come in what to do, they know how we want to play.”

Among the changes Klinsmann could favor making after witnessing his side fall, 3-1, to Costa Rica in last Friday’s road qualifier in San Jose is inserting recent call-up Clarence Goodson at centerback in place of Besler. Goodson is no stranger to playing Mexico or being counted upon in marquee matches, and his experience makes him as good a bet as any to start alongside Omar Gonzalez in central defense.

Bigger questions seem to remain up top and in the midfield. With Altidore and Bradley out, Klinsmann will need to carefully weigh his options before choosing who to replace his two veteran players with. Some of Klinsmann’s options in midfield are Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud and Jose Torres, and the options up top include Eddie Johnson and Aron Johannsson.

Irrespective of who starts, Klinsmann is likely to stress to his players the importance of avoiding the same type of slow start that doomed them against Costa Rica last week, especially since it is probable that Mexico interim coach Luis Fernando Tena asks his side to try and take the game to the Americans from the first minute.

“That’s the most important thing: the first 20-25 minutes of the game,” said DaMarcus Beasley. “In Costa Rica, we lost the game in the first 10 minutes. We didn’t match their intensity. Now, we’re at home, it’s a little bit different, but we know Mexico are going to come out flying because they need to win as well.

“As long as we match their intensity, match their passion about being here and trying to win the game, I think we’ll be okay and the game will settle down and we can start playing our football like we did in the second half against Costa Rica.”

What is playing in the Americans’ favor is that the likes of Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos will be stepping into a stadium that has been quite harsh to the Mexicans ever since 2001. Crew Stadium, for all its shortcomings and criticisms, has been notorious for proving a tough place to play for El Tri, who have lost, 2-0, to the U.S. in each of the three qualifiers they have played there.

If that was not enough to rattle the already-frail Mexican psyche, then a sold-out crowd comprised of mostly American fans should while simultaneously pushing the U.S. on through even the most difficult of moments.

“We have history here and for soccer in our country, that’s not always the case,” said Bradley. “Soccer is still in its growing stages, and so for us to feel like we walk into a stadium and there’s history, is a special feeling. The people here in Columbus, in this part of the United States, love soccer, they love our team, they love supporting the United States, and so when come here, when we step out on to this field, there’s an overwhelming feeling of American support.

“When you play against Mexico, when you play in these kinds of games where so much is on the line, that can help the bar swing our way.”

Just as the U.S. is not overlooking its sputtering-but-talented southern rivals, it also not overly worried about Honduras’ result at home. The Americans could secure their passage to the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday if they top Mexico and Honduras draws or beats Panama, but even that plausible scenario is not enough to have the U.S. caring too much about what it cannot control.

There is no denying, however, that it would be pretty sweet for the U.S. to celebrate a World Cup berth with a win against its arch-rivals in front of a pro-American crowd.

“It’d be icing on the cake,” said Alejandro Bedoya. “Columbus crowd has been amazing for the national team. To beat Mexico is one thing and to win again in (front) of your home crowd in Columbus is another thing. It would be awesome.”


  1. One of Klinsmann’s great flaws reared its ugly head again against Costa Rica. When Bradley went down, he went back to the “multiple holding midfielder” lineups that caused so many problems for the US in the past couple of years. Neither Jones, Cameron, or Beckerman are attacking midfielders. Beckerman moves the ball well, Jones can attack from time to time – but none of these guys are point guards the way Bradley is. The closest we have is Kljestan, who is home in Brussels scoring a fistful of goals. The next best would be Bedoya or Diskerud, both of whom have proved to be inconsistent propositions more comfortable playing outside than in. Barring that, it would at least be worth giving Donovan a shot there. At least he plays offense. None of it will matter though if Klinsmann goes with another multiple holding mids lineup. We won’t be able to move the ball into the attacking third, and we’ll wonder all night why Mexico suddenly looks so dynamic.

  2. Having Beasley start at left back, Gonzalez start at center back and Howard start at goalie worries me more than Altidore and Bradley being out. Who cares about scoring goals if you can’t stop them from going into the back of the net.

  3. This is THE most important game of the Klinsmann era. This game must not be taken lightly. 3 points is a must for many reasons. Bob Bradley greatly underestimated Mexico in the final of the Gold Cup. At that point in time, Mexico was also a wounded team, and that win against us buoyed them into World Cup, and ultimately cost Bob Bradley his job. Klinsmann must not make the same mistake. We can punch our own ticket to World Cup tonight as well as deal a severe blow to the program that considered our main rival. If Jermaine Jones needs to break Chicharito’s ankle tonight, then that’s what needs to be done! Whatever it takes! 3 points for us and we move forward strongly vanquishing our greatest foe. Not getting the 3 points and we will be backing into the World Cup. Which would you rather? I say we get the 3 points with a close 2-1 victory.

    • I’m all for doing ‘whatever has to be done,’ right up to the point of hoping for injuries. A little physical intimidation here n there? No problem. Intentionally hurting another player? Count me out.

  4. I know it’s generally unwise to put a newbie into a pressure-cooker like this match, but I have a feeling Johansson might be a good fit here as a striker. Mexico hasn’t seen him and his speed, so his lack of experience in these qualifiers might, in a strange way, be an advantage. (Of course, it all depends on how he reponds to the pressure.) This might also allow JK to put Donovan (and his own speed) into the center of the midfield.

  5. I haven’t read the article yet, but that headline seems silly. Not sure I’ll live to see the day when the USMNT can look past a qualifier with Mexico. And the fact they are desperate at the moment makes me understand we’ll see El Tri scratching and clawing for every inch of on-field advantage tonight.

    • Shadowy Operative: “Overlook these rivals you call ‘Mexico'”!
      USMNT: “What? Why?”
      S.O.: “Just do it! Overlook Mexico!”
      USMNT: “…No?”
      S.O.: “Overlook them! Or else!!”
      USMNT: “…”

      i, too, thought the headline was a bit silly.

  6. In 2001 and 2009, Mexico was on the ropes and transitioning to a new a coach going into a match with the USA. Both times, Mexico won and kickstarted their qualifying campaign.

    That’s why this match scares me to no end. Mexico is coming out hell bent for leather and they have the players to exploit our weaknesses through direct play.

    Yes, I know that we are at home and that Aguirre is not the new coach but still…. We are going to have to play a match like we’ve not played since our win over Spain.

    Defense first and offense fast. Weather the first 20 minutes, make Mexico press and catch them on the counter. Don’t let them shoot from the edge of the box (a definite Timmay weakness) and work the flanks to make them work wide to defend.

    • Just looking at the roster additions we’ve brought in to compensate for injured/suspended team regulars, I wouldn’t look past St. Mary’s School for the Blind tonight. Our defense is questionable, our midfield is questionable – the tier in which we seem to be the strongest right now is the one occupied by some Icelandic kid in only his, what, second cap? Great.

  7. good article. can’t wait for this one. And the man in the photo up above looks to me like a darn good captain of the USMNT-no ifs and or buts about it.

  8. Mexico has won zero games at home and only 1 game so far.

    But it is still…..Win you are in. Lose and it will be a stressful last two games.

    • This game scares the heck out of me. No Bradley, no Altidore, no Besler, no right back and Mexico is likely to get the traditional bump that comes when you switch managers. In addition, Mexico is coming in absolutely desperate. It’s also tough for Klinsi to game plan without any idea what Mexico will look like under their new manager. This is a huge challenge for US depth and Klinsi’s system. Go USA!! Go Columbus fans!! Pull one out for us!!

      • Yah…dreading this game quite a bit. Was seriously thinking about not watching at all…but will watch anyway…. hoping we can play to full capability…cause I think it will take that to win.

    • We could get seriously killed this evening. Mexico remains a dangerous team, and we’re missing some key players – Bradley and Altidore come to mind.

      I think that Mexico is much more motivated than the USMNT.

      I hope I’m wrong, but I think it’s going to be ugly.

  9. We need to encourage Ives to incorporate a upvote/downvote system in the comment section (e.g. Reddit) I think it would really improve the site. Who’s with me???

  10. I see Klinsmann starting Beckerman and Jones. Jones can’t hold possession by himself and Beckerman will be playing too deep. The only solution I see is to move Donovan into the midfield to support Jones (either as an attacking central midfielder or more likely playing narrow on the wing like he did at the end of the CR game). Possession is not Dempsey’s game, so he will need to be pushed up high or cutting in from a wide position. If the US plays a 4-4-2 (which I hope they do) who plays up top with Dempsey? Maybe EJ. I don’t see him playing on the wing in this game, the wingers will have to run non-stop (attacking and defending). What about Johansson? Hold up play is going to be very important to slow down the speed of the Mexican attack/counter-attack. Can the Iceman handle the occasion?

  11. Right now the most in-form strikers for the US are Johansson, Donovan and E. Johnson. They must be on the field, wither start or sub, and produce against Mexico or provide enough threat to allow another mid/defender to sneak a score.

    The US is heading for a loss if they do not get a good start and let Mexico determine play and pace.

    Mexico will try and force set pieces, through corners and free kicks, as they too have noticed the US has been weak in defensing these threats.

    Klinsmann must get away from the lone striker formation and go to the more conservative but workable 442.

    Above all the US cannot allow the wingers to get service into the box like they allowed against Costa Rica. The US was terrible, which is not like them. Allowing unchallenged service to the box and Chicarito is a recipe for disaster and US loss.

    Mexico is coming to this game in a bad way, but at the right time. They could win as:

    1)Unpredictability of new coach. Will he stay with the regular Mexico offense, or introduce something unexpected or new and surprise the US.

    2)They have a MUST win situation against the US more so than in any other game against the US (save the US/Mex. WC round of 16)

    3) They generally play well against the US.

    4) They are not playing at Azteca, which has lost it’s mojo (more ties and losses than wins in this WC hex)

    5) The US is missing two key players (Altidore and Bradley) and one of it’s best threats (Dempsey) is still in “pre-season” form.

    I think there is a better chance for the US to lose this game than win it. Klinsmann must make better defensive adjustments and hope his mojo on subs returns.

    • Agree, except for #4: I’m happy they’re not at Azteca. How’d you get the idea that being away from Azteca is good for Mexico? They’re against the wall, and they have some good players with reason to bring their best.

      But I’m still doubling down on the dos-a-cero bandwagon, and predicting a 4-1 ‘cuz the defense won’t get a shutout. But the first few minutes are key, and the US will have to wear triple-strength-shinguards today.

      • WRT to the Azteca question, so many Mexican players play in Europe now that they suffer from Azteca the same way visiting players do.

  12. klinsmann regarding fill-ins for injured starters:

    ‘I think the players now really understand their roles. They know when they come in what to do, they know how we want to play.’

    if that’s true, then great! but it certainly didn’t look like that in costa rica. it looked like nobody knew what they were supposed to be doing (and they sucked at it, too).

    • Well we really don’t have a suitable replacement for Bradley. Although others may know what should be done in that position does not mean they are capable.

      • Kyle Beckerman is a serviceable MLS player, but he just doesn’t have the awareness, the touch, or the positioning to be effective against teams like Mexico. I for one am hoping that someone else can step up and have a career game in Michael Bradley’s place.

      • No replacement? Then we should quit now.

        No one can replace Bradley if “replace” means “fill in seamlessly, doppelganger-like.” But the team can and must adjust for Bradley’s absence (or any other player). Beckerman can marshal a midfield against Costa Rica or Mexico, provided the rest of the team knows his specific role and limitations (e.g., no roaming all over the earth by Jones). Beckerman could also organize the team to maintain possession.

        If Beckerman just doesn’t bake your brownies, then a second option would be Donovan. “Oh no, but he’s a forward and we will die if he’s not up top!” some will cry. Well, we saw what happens when forwards up top get no service from a gutted, inept midfield. So make Donovan play the #6 or #8—-does anyone doubt that he could do it? And he could do it even if Jermaine “Jeremiah Johnson” Jones is playing CM too.

        Other options would require a bit more adjustment—and more importantly, convincing Klinsmann that Jones is not always needed on the field. Mix or Kljestan paired with Cameron or Beckerman, for example, could work.

        There are lots of options. None are ever going to be “equivalent” to Bradley on the field. But “suitable”? Sure.

      • Double thanks. Sometimes I think he is the only one who knows anything (there are some really sharp guys here, nothing taken away from them). Beckerman was stellar at the Gold Cup which we won and which MX did not win.

      • EDIT: ‘Beckerman was stellar at the Gold Cup which *our b-team* won and which *mexico’s b-team* did not win.’

        Not really disagreeing with anything the king said above, just trying to clarify why people aren’t assuming beckerman will play as well as he did in the gold cup.

      • either way…Beckerman is in the starting lineup. I just thought he played well enough and shut down alot of plays during the Gold Cup

      • I dont think it’s surprising we don’t have a replacement for MB when he’s a once In a generation type player. He makes short passes with insane accuracy, he makes long passes with similar aplomb, he defends with grit, he defends with guile, his work rate is unmatched, his tactical awareness is unmatched, he takes free kicks and corners, he makes killer runs from deep positions. Unfortunately, the only guy who could come close to replacing him has the knees of an 80 year old grandmother. We couldn’t replace Reyna and we can’t replace Bradley. Oddly enough, Reyna’s only possible replacement was also constantly injured (JOB).

  13. We’ll win if Klinsmann starts this group:

    F. Johnson-Goodson-Gonzalez-Beasley

    Klinsmann has stated that F. Johnson is reliable at LB,LM, RB, RM. Beckermann is the safe choice compared to Torres and Diskerud. Johannsson has proven he can play the lone F position for club and should be given that opportunity for country over E. Johnson.

  14. Klinsmann needs to put out a smarter lineup. The lineup v. CR was stupid, and we got crushed. 3 withdrawn strikers/midfielders playing together (Donovan, Dempsey, Zusi) & 3 CDMs (Jones, Cameron, Beckerman)? Without Jozy, we should start EJ up top and get Iceman on the field.

    • Right, sorry about that. My point is the lineup fared poorly because we essentially had 6 midfielders and no striker, in that LD & CD ‘s natural trend is to play withdrawn. And where did Zusi fit in that? Was he supposed to play centrally, or like a wing forward? It looked like the guys were just rambling around out there with no chemistry.

      It was like a return to Klinsmann’s early days of unsuccessful lineup experimentation, then he seemed to get it.

      I don’t expect Klinsmann to make the same mistake tonight. If Jozy’s healthy, he’ll go, if not, EJ. And Johanny Iceman should see the field.

  15. The key to qualification is winning home games…it’s as simple as that–if the US wins tonight and Honduras wins or draws their home game against Panama then the US are in as we would be on 16 points and the fourth place teams would be on less than 10 points with 2 games left. Costa Rica is 100% perfect at home hence why they top the table–if we win tonight we are also 100% at home….and will likely regain the top spot as Costa Rica is usually dreadful on the road (even if it is Jamiaca) as most CONCACAF teams are. The US usually loses 2 games on the road (usually Mexico and CR) so it’s not like we are that far off from our previous qualification experiences…but we don’t give up points at home which is why we qualify.

    • 23-0-1. That is the US record in its last 24 home qualifiers. That is why the USMNT has been at the WC since 1994.

      Usually there are about 4-5 away wins in the hex. We have seen 3 so far: USMNT (at Jam), MEX (at Jam), HON (at Mex). Most likely there are 1-2 left.

  16. This article is written as if the US is a clear favorite. I don’t see it that way. With so many top defensive players out and the US having shown its vulnerability in back vs. Costa Rica, I am worried that the US will have to score twice to just get a draw. We are capable of that, but the loss of Bradley is huge. At this point I will be happy with a draw and then a win next game in October vs. Jamaica which will clinch a spot. This game has me worried.

    • They are the favorite. Both are in very tough situations but the USMNT have it just slightly better on and off the field. Especially off the field

      • For what it’s worth, the USA is currently the bookies’ “favorite” but only very slightly. Paddy Power has them at 8/5 vs 9/5 for Mexico (11/5 to draw)

    • Me too, but it’s nice to have CONCACAF qualifying moving into a higher gear of intensity. It’s a good test. Winning matches like this are critical to getting us ready for making a deeper run past the group stages.

    • I think we all need to get over it. Diving is part of soccer. Rather than complain about it, we should encourage our players to get better at it. Heck, Jurgen was a master at it so I hope he is imparting his skills on the team.

      • I hear ya, and in many respects I am “over” it, but I also think that since we are such an “emerging market” and still finding our voice as vocal fans of the game, we US fans have an opportunity to put our own stamp on what we accept in and reject as poor sportsmanship. A perfect example is the movement to find more classy alternatives to “you suck A–H—” chants.

        Do I think he’ll never dive again? Of course not. Do I think it helps the rivalry for him to get 1000 friend requests on FB from folks in the US, only to have them say something like “stay classy, fella”? you betcha.

      • that wasn’t diving, it was faking an injury away from the ball, which is completely disgusting. I would be embarrassed to be a fan of CR after their week of complaining about “fair play” and would be if one of our players dropped to this level, its well beyond “diving”

      • To be honest, fans won’t see him as a shame for diving, but as a guy who did everything in his power to ensure the win. It’s a different mentality, where rules are made to keep them down and bending them makes a hero.

      • I agree, shameful and spiteful, and I did post a FB message to Joel. As far as being “part of the game”, yeah in some countries. But I have never seen a USMNT player pull a stunt like that.

      • Then I would have to wonder how long you have been watching the USMNT for.

        Jermaine Jones had a pretty disgusting dive/injury fake during the 2011 Gold Cup knockout stages that got a Jamaican defender sent off when the game was still tied and rather competitive.

        There was also Jozy’s laughable dive during the last WC against Ghana (I think) where he tripped over his own feet and tried to sell it to the ref as a foul.

        Or the wrongly denied goal to Canada during the 2007 Gold Cup semis. This one a ref error but most fans looked the other way since it benefited us.

        The 2002 John O’Brien handball against Mexico that should have been a PK for them and give them a chance to tie the game comes to mind as well. Also a ref mistake but again, nobody mentions it and all you hear is whining about the handball that wasn’t called in quarters against Germany.

        This notion that US Soccer players are some sort of boy scouts and do gooders is just false. We don’t embellish or dive as much as other teams but we still do it. There is no acceptable level that gives any fan the right to complain about it when your own players pull the same stunts. Even if it is only once in a while.

      • Your examples are really bad examples. All of them were in the run of play. There is a HUGE difference between a dive in the run of play and faking an injury due to supposed malicious contact.

      • You’re choosing to see that difference.

        In the end, both acts would yield the same result. An undeserved yellow that would cause a player to sit out the following game.

        Surely you understand that the “difference” is purely semantic.

      • Easy there, the Jermaine incident wasnt a dive. The guy clipped him from behind and Jermaine embellished, but did not dive.

      • Of course you are right, but the game is what it is. If soccer can’t get a handle on the riots and the racism, there is no way that this type of stuff gets redressed in our lifetime. We just have to deal with it and hopefully get better at it ourselves

      • That’s rather fatalistic. Unless you enjoy cheating, abuse of the rules should be discouraged. Effective punishment is key to any reform, and it can be done by more post-game review. The player can be smug about it now, and for as long as nobody cares. But if he gets punished once or twice with a post-game card, he’ll think twice before doing it again. This case is about as clear as it ever will be, so we ought to use it. And as far as the racism, there has been real progress away from the hooligans of the 80s.

      • You got this all wrong…it’s only a part of the game because FIFA allows it. It’s poor sportsmanship plain & simple and degrades the essence of the game.

        FIFA needs to step up & address this behavior or more players will reciprocate….then soccer will more resemble theater than sport.

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