In what is quickly becoming the greatest rivalry in international soccer, the United States Men's National Team renew hostilities tonight in San Antonio. With the match selling out in a little under 2 weeks, almost 60,000 will be in attendance at the Alamodome tonight promising an electric environment belying the seemingly low stakes of an exhibition between two sides enjoying strikingly dissimilar form at the moment.
Mexico have one 6 of their last 7 matches including a nice win against the Netherlands in Amsterdam late last year and have been strong in general since the limped in to the World Cup last year with the help of Graham Zusi. They'll be enjoying the bulk of the fan support tonight in San Antonio and should come out fast despite complaints about the temporary grass field.
For the US, they've only enjoyed one win in their last 7 (and 2 in their last 12), and have given up 15 goals after the 75h in the last 15 matches. Numerous excuses have been thrown at this depressing trend- fitness, substitution, experimental lineups- but they do not pass muster when you consider how traditionally stingy the US has been late in games prior to Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as the national team coach. Here's the squad and some thoughts:
DEFENDERS (8): Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy),
Michael Orozco (Puebla), Brek Shea (Orlando City SC), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Perry Kitchen (DC United, late addition)
1. Midfield setup- The classic match-up between Mexico and the US is a 3-5-2 for El Tri vs. a flat 4-4-2 for the Yanks. However, this is your daddy's Guerra Fria, and the inclusion of Kyle Beckerman strongly points to a diamond 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. In the last friendly between the US and Mexico, the Yanks went diamond with Michael Bradley at the top behind two strikers. Bradley delivered one of the most dominating halves ever displayed by an American field player in leading the US to a 2-0 halftime lead. Against Switzerland, the US were the better side in a similar setup until Jozy Altidore was sent off for the magic word. What we see tonight should give us a hint of how the US will play heading into the Gold Cup this summer.
2. "Home" field advantage- Due to the large number of Mexican-Americans rooting for El Tri, the crowd at the Aladome will probably be more hostile than what the US experienced weeks ago in Denmark and Switzerland. When I went to the game in Houston in 2008, the crowd mix was about a 3 to 1 ratio of Mexican to American fans. I am suspecting it would be similar tonight, and if you look back to a missed offside call and a missed penalty in last year's friendly, this may amount to a slight advantage to Mexico (although they are already hedging against a poor performance due to the field). If this ever turns into a true 50-50 affair a la OU-Texas, these 'friendlies' will be absolutely nuts.
3. Juan Agudelo- The youngest scorer in USMNT has come in from the cold. With his size and bag of tricks, Agudelo on paper is the heir apparent to Clint Dempsey. His finishing has been inconsistent so far with New England, and that shouldn't be surprising he missed out on last year due to work permit issues with Stoke. With Altidore and Dempsey both out tonight and Landon Donovan long ago, Agudelo offers a unique wrinkle to the attack that is otherwise absent. Tonight would be a great night for him to get hot- don't be surprised if he gets the start tonight.
Match date/time: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. CDT
Venue: Alamodome, San Antonio
TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), Unimas and UDN (Spanish)
Streaming: Fox Sports Go