Trailing in the group stage of World Cup Qualifying by one point, the U.S. Men’s National Team faces a tough match with Mexico tonight at a venue that hasn’t been especially friendly in the past.
Estadio Azteca is a hostile arena with a lot of history. The U.S. won its first match in Mexico City last year, though, so the mounting pressure of traveling to the venue for a qualifying showdown may not be as prevalent this time around.
The U.S. has a win and a loss to its name in the group stage, while Mexico is without a victory after playing to a draw in both of its qualifying bouts. A win for the U.S. brings it within striking distance of a first-place finish in the group. A loss for Mexico would mean falling behind Panama and Jamaica in the standings.
With a lot on the line in Tuesday’s action, we’ll highlight some premier players to watch as the U.S. attempts to pick up its second victory in Mexico City.
Javier Hernandez, Mexico
Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez will be one of the best players on the pitch when Mexico and the U.S. square off on Tuesday. After scoring two goals in Mexico’s 2-2 draw with Honduras on March 22, he’ll look to build on his stellar play against one of his squad’s fiercest rivals.
With his two scores against Honduras, Hernandez brought his tally with Mexico to 30 goals. The 24-year-old has been in excellent form of late, but he’ll need some help in order to oust the U.S. in the group stage.
With Chicharito on the bench following 65 minutes of play in that contest, Mexico failed to hold the 2-0 lead he built against Honduras. If Mexico hopes to best the U.S., it will need another big performance from Hernandez.
Jozy Altidore, United States
This contest should prove to be a physical match, and 23-year-old striker Jozy Altidore will be at the forefront of the action. One of the more physical players on the pitch, Altidore has to set the tone for the American squad.
The striker seems ready for the showdown. He shared his thoughts on the upcoming match in The New York Times soccer blog:
The goals for Tuesday night’s qualifier are the same as the ones for the match against Costa Rica: a win and three points. There may be no bigger rivalry on the world soccer stage, so having this opportunity to play for my country in a match of this magnitude at Estadio Azteca is an honor and something I’m looking forward to.
Altidore has played well for AZ Alkmaar this season, scoring 18 goals in 26 appearances to lead the Dutch club. He even recently broke the record for most goals scored by an American in a European club season. For the U.S. to find success against Mexico, his strong play will have to carry over into this match.
Giovani dos Santos, Mexico
Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos has struggled of late, and getting him going will be key to taking some pressure off Hernandez. The right-winger has just three goals in 19 La Liga games this season, though his best asset is in his terrific passing ability.
Dos Santos won’t find a better time to step up. Hernandez has played well, and Tuesday’s action against the U.S. will take place in a very favorable home environment. If Dos Santos gets hot early, the U.S. will face an uphill battle on the road.
Clint Dempsey, United States
Rivalry games often bring out the best in veteran captains like Clint Dempsey. After scoring the match’s only goal against Costa Rica in a snowy contest last week, Dempsey is primed for a follow-up performance in Mexico City on Tuesday.
The 30-year-old midfielder is a crafty veteran with plenty of big-game experience. His contributions to the U.S. squad have been significant in recent years, scoring goals in multiple World Cup affairs for the Americans.
Dempsey’s action with Tottenham has been limited this season, but he’ll look to have a big impact for the U.S. squad in the World Cup qualifying stage. If Dempsey and Altidore play as they are capable, this match should prove to be as exciting as any in the history of this rivalry.