The U.S. Men's National Team will take the field at Estadio Azteca tonight trying to beat a Mexico team riding a wave of confidence and good form. The Americans will also be trying to win in a stadium they have never won in, a city they have never won in, and a country they have never won in.
All while playing with what can be best described as a B team.
No problem. Right?
It won't be an easy task, but Jurgen Klinsmann is using tonight's match as an opportunity to get some younger players playing time, and to try some new things (like Maurice Edu at centerback). It could lead to an ugly loss, but Klinsmann is confident his team can give the Mexicans a real battle.
Before we dig into tonight's clash with some observations and a breakdown of the match-ups, here are some stories for you to read to get you ready for tonight:
Here is a good profile on struggling Mexican midfielder Pablo Barrera
Several USMNT players discuss the challenge of playing at Azteca
Now, let's take a closer look at tonight's match-up, starting with the projected lineups for both teams:
PROJECTED LINEUPS FOR USA VS. MEXICO
Maurice Edu isn't completely unfamiliar with playing centerback. He played it for the USA in the 2008 Olympics, and started a match there against Poland under former head coach Bob Bradley. He could be liability in the aerial battle, but he's strong and technically solid, which gives the USA someone who can distribute out of the back. Now he just needs to sort out the defending part of the game.
Geoff Cameron will face his toughest international test to date in this one. Whether being matched up with the speedy Chicharito Hernandez or the tricky Aldo DeNigris, Cameron will need to be very sharp or things could get ugly in a hurry.
This projection has Mexico starting Edgar Gerardo Lugo, but Chepo De La Torre could easily go with Angel Reyna as the playmaker in the 'El Tri' attack. Both are mobile players who will cause problems for Kyle Beckerman if Beckerman is the player given the deep-lying midfield role for the USA. If Klinsmann goes with Jermaine Jones in that role then the USA would have the athlete to neutralize Mexico's leading playmaker.
The Pablo Barrera-Fabian Johnson match-up is a vital one (assuming Barrera starts). Barrera has been struggling on the club side, but De La Torre has a lot of faith in the former West Ham winger. If Johnson can neutralize him, and also get into the attack, the USA will have a much better chance of earning a result in Mexico City. In fact, I would make the argument that if Fabian Johnson was on the USA 2011 Gold Cup team, the USA beats Mexico in the final.
If there is match-up that has to worry U.S. fans, it's Andres Guardado taking on U.S. national team rookie Steven Beitashour. if Klinsmann does, in fact, start Beitashour at right back, that will be a make-or-break decision for the United States. Guardado is the best midfielder Mexico has, and if Beitashour doesn't play well, and lets the Estadio Azteca environment overwhelm him, then Guardado could wind up doing what Barrera did to the USA in the 2011 Gold Cup Final. That said, if Beitashour comes out and locks down Guardado, Klinsmann will suddenly have himself a new right back option (which would make Tim Chandler's indecision that much easier to take).
Who else could play at right back if not Beitashour? Michael Orozco Fiscal has experience at fullback. Much like Edu's centerback experience, Orozco Fiscal played fullback at the 2008 Olympics. It wasn't exactly a memorable stint there for him, as some may recall.
Terrence Boyd will be in for a good physical battle against Francisco 'Maza' Rodriguez, a big centerback who won't be pushed around easily. Boyd isn't just a bruiser though. He has wheels for a big man, and could could give Rodriguez if he gets service in space.
The better match-up up top could be Mexico standout Hector Moreno against U.S. striker Herculez Gomez. Moreno is Mexico's best defender, and will likely match up with Gomez if he doesn't wind up trying to contain Landon Donovan.
Yes, Donovan is the key to the U.S. attack. His mobility and ability to attack from a variety of places on the field will make him difficult for Mexico to account for, but you wonder how much the altitude at Azteca will keep Donovan from being able to buzz around for a full match. Donovan will also need to help out defensively when Mexican right back Severo Meza gets forward.
Tim Howard is the wild card. No, he didn't have his best game in the 2011 Gold Cup Final, but he has had outstanding performances in the past that have helped overmatched U.S. teams gain results against strong competition. The U.S. will need one of those from Howard tonight in order to have any chance of securing a win or tie.
What do you think of tonight's match? What battle are you most looking forward to? How do you see the match going?
Share your thoughts below.