The U.S. Men’s National Team is set to play Mexico in the North American derby. These matches always bring out the best in both teams, and this game will be no exception. While the U.S. will be playing at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on American soil, expect the crowd to be adorned in a sea of green, as the El Tri supporters will be out in full force.
At stake for the winner is a spot to represent CONCACAF in the FIFA Confederation Cup to compete against the top teams in the world in Russia in 2017. Let’s take a deeper look at these two teams and how they match up.
Since their first meeting in 1934, the two teams have played a total of 65 games, with Mexico having the better of the results (33-19-14). El Tri have outscored the U.S. by a combined total of 131-75. It is important to note that since 2000, the Americans hold an edge over their cross-border rival 13-5-5.
This is largely due to a marked improvement in the player development of the U.S. squad and the overall growth of the sport’s popularity in America, and should not be seen as a waning of talent on the part of Mexico. The narrowed parity gap between the two teams has served to make this rivalry all the more intense, with this match promising to continue that tradition.
What to Expect
Both clubs have been preparing for this match since the Gold Cup, and there will be no shortage of adrenaline on either side of the pitch. Both are aware of the strengths of their rival and will try to exploit their perceived weaknesses. The last game played by the U.S. squad was a friendly against Brazil, and their defense was badly exposed. Expect the Mexican team to try to replicate that result and, although they do not possess the level of individual talent of the Brazilians, they will try to advance the ball quickly towards the American goal.
The U.S. will try to absorb that level of pressure and mount a quick counter-attack, trying to take advantage of a Mexican team that has shown itself to be vulnerable defensively in recent matches.
While they are both on the final 23-man roster for El Tri, it is highly unlikely that Rafa Marquez will be healthy enough to play due to injury, and the ankle injury suffered by Andres Guardado makes him a large question mark for the Mexican team. This represents a huge advantage for the Americans if they are able to exploit the situation.
Marquez has anchored the defense for years, displaying his quality play and veteran leadership in the back four. Guardado has played an integral part in the midfield for El Tri as their playmaker, a critical role for a team counting on quickly moving the ball up the field to the feet of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos. Interestingly enough, the player most likely to take the spot of Guardado if he is unable to play is Gio’s brother Jonathan, but the quality of play at that position will likely be reduced without a match-fit Guardado.
The Americans are the far healthier team and therefore deeper in depth, but they will likely be without mainstay defender John Brooks. While the U.S. does have serviceable options at that position, there will still be a loss of quality defending at that spot, something the Mexican squad will likely try to take advantage of.
Keys to the Match
While both teams are familiar with each other, the key will be the execution of their game plan. Will El Tri be caught up-field and allow the Americans to quickly develop a counter-attack while leaving the Mexican squad short-handed in their defensive side of the pitch?
Looking at the managers for each squad, Jurgen Klinsmann has publicly stated that the Americans will advance past the Mexicans and advance to play in Russia in 2017, in essence predicting a win. Expect the U.S. manager’s statement to be widely available to the Mexican squad to give them more incentive to beat the Americans on Saturday (assuming this proves necessary).
On the other end, this will almost certainly be Mexican manager Ricardo Ferretti’s final match in that position, having been appointed interim manager following the physical altercation involving former manager Miguel Herrera and an Azteca TV reporter just days after the Gold Cup final. How will his squad respond to his game plan just days before his replacement is named?
A healthy Andres Guardado would be a game-changer for the Mexican squad, while a hobbled or sidelined Guardado would be a serious blow to their chances to advance to Moscow in 2017.
For the Americans, the X-factor would be Jozy Altidore, whose size and strength will be needed up front if the Americans are to play in the Confederation Cup in 2017. Altidore has displayed somewhat tepid play recently for the American team, and his offensive contribution will be needed if the U.S. is to advance beyond the Mexican match.
The game will be a fierce back and forth struggle, with both teams giving it their all in a fast-paced match. In the end, however, lacking the defensive leadership of Marquez and having a diminished (or missing) Guardado will be too much for El Tri to overcome.
The U.S will score a goal late in the game to represent CONCACAF in Russia in 2017 against the world’s best squads with a 2-1 victory.