There is no bigger game in CONCACAF than when the USA faces Mexico, and for the USMNT there is no more challenging fixture than traveling to Estadio Azteca for World Cup qualifying. Goals have been hard to come by for the United States in Mexico City, and results have been even more rare. While American hopes in the Hexagonal have improved under Bruce Arena to the point that today’s result is not crucial in the standings, a win today would be nonetheless monumental for the USMNT.
One of the few things Jurgen Klinsmann did right during his tenure was to seemingly remove any fear the US had of playing at the Azteca. The last American visit to this hulking venue saw the teams play out a 0-0 draw, and before that the US managed a surprising 1-0 win early in the German’s tenure. It feels strange to say, but that Klinsmann-era mindset in this fixture can and should be replicated. If the US approaches this game tentatively, Mexico will jump all over them. A USMNT that frustrates El Tri while creating their share of chances, though, has a real shot at getting something out of this game.
Key player: Christian Pulisic
The day has come. The best USMNT player is also its most hyped. The Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder has become a vital goal threat for the US, on top of being a major driving force out of the midfield and a chance creator. The US midfield had lacked a direct player to turn possession and potential counter-attacks into danger before Pulisic burst into the lineup, and he’s making a huge difference.
Coming off of a two-goal performance playing as a central attacking midfielder, Pulisic will have to be extremely sharp whenever the US has a chance to attack. Mexico will likely hold more of the possession in this one, so the United States needs to not let their attacks go to waste. It’s not just on Pulisic, but it seems hard to believe that the US is getting a result today without another star-making turn from the Hershey, PA native.
Location: Estadio Azteca (Mexico City)
Kickoff time: 8:30pm Eastern (but Fox is going to say 7:30 so you watch their pre-game show)
Projected USMNT starting 11: (4231) - Tim Howard; DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, DaMarcus Beasley; Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta; Alejandro Bedoya, Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe/Fabian Johnson; Bobby Wood
Bench: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Graham Zusi, Jorge Villafaña, Dax McCarty, Paul Arriola, Johnson/Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore
Player rotation due to the short rest between games is a must here, and that explains a few things I expect to see. Namely, look for Jorge Villafaña - who should be locked in as Bruce Arena’s starting left back these days - to rotate out, along with Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and one of Nagbe or Johnson. In that scenario, Beasley, Bedoya (yeah, I know, but his skillset fits this game), Acosta, and Wood would all step in.
However, this is a pretty uncertain situation. We could easily see Arena move to an empty bucket 442, for example, especially since Dempsey played just 61 minutes on Thursday. In that case, Dempsey would partner Wood, Pulisic would play on the right wing, and one from Nagbe, Johnson, and Bedoya would set up on the left with Acosta partnering Bradley in defensive midfield.
There are also some other things to consider. Could Arena rest Yedlin and play Cameron at right back (with Omar Gonzalez coming in)? Sure. What about Brooks and the quad contusion that made him questionable against Trinidad and Tobago? And will Arena really sit his most in-form striker? Having to play this game two days early due to Mexico’s Confederations Cup obligations has done the US few favors.
Projected Mexico starting 11: (433) - Guillermo Ochoa; Diego Reyes/Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, Oswaldo Alanis, Luis Reyes; Orbelin Pineda, Hector Herrera, Marco Fabian; Giovani Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano
This one’s a tough call due to multiple factors. Juan Carlos Osorio is always going to tinker with his lineup in any circumstances, and this game will kick off under 70 hours after their last game ended. On top of that, El Tri leaves for Russia and the Confederations Cup tomorrow, and they’ve placed a ton of importance on doing well in that tournament.
As such, there are a lot of possibilities in this lineup. One thing we do know: Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun, and Satan himself Rafael Marquez are all out of this one due to injuries. Layun and Marquez had the goals as Mexico beat the US 2-1 in the first game of the Hexagonal, while Guardado is a crucial two-way figure in midfield. Layun’s absence also underlines the lack of fullback depth Mexico has.
That’s the good news. The bad news? Chicharito can rotate in after not participating against Honduras, as can Fabian, Moreno, and “Chucky” Lozano. Mexico is good, y’all.
Available TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), Univision (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go (English), Univision Now (Spanish), Univision Deportes app (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: With the high pushing above 90 today, I think I’m going to grab some kind of gin cocktail before kickoff at Dock FC.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.