The biggest rivalry in North American soccer will be on full display in Mexico City Tuesday night, as the United States will be looking to earn at least a draw while Mexico really needs the three points after drawing its first two games in World Cup qualifying.
The United States received bad news Sunday, as key midfielder Jermaine Jones had to withdraw due to injury. Still, after beating Mexico at Estadio Azteca in a friendly last August, the United States will have plenty of confidence that it can pull off the feat once again.
The two top teams in CONCACAF squaring off in a vital match for each country—it doesn't get any better than this, folks. Let's break down this heated rivalry.
When: Tuesday, March 26 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico
Streaming: TWC TV (for Time Warner Cable subscribers)
What They're Saying
Grant Wahl wrote an excellent article for Sports Illustrated detailing the many reasons Estadio Azteca no longer represents an impenetrable fortress to the United States (which you should definitely check out).
As Wahl notes, many of the United States players already play in Mexico and the team has practiced for the past week in higher elevations. But the biggest reason the Azteca has lost some of its fear factor may simply be that Mexico hasn't been all that great at the Azteca of late:
Mexico's recent results at the Azteca haven't been very impressive, either. In El Tri's last five games here (friendlies and official games), Mexico has won just two. Last month, Jamaica—the least-regarded team in the Hexagonal—got a 0-0 tie against Mexico here in a qualifier, and the Reggae Boyz probably should have won. Even lowly Guyana scored a goal at the Azteca in a 3-1 qualifying loss last June.
It's important to note—as Wahl does—that the United States has never won an official game at the Azteca (last summer's 1-0 victory at Azteca was a friendly), and that Mexico has only ever lost one World Cup qualifier at the stadium. Those are daunting facts.
Just not as daunting as they once were, perhaps.
United States Player to Watch: Jozy Altidore
Clint Dempsey is clearly the United States' best player, Michael Bradley is the lynchpin of the midfield and Brad Guzan has a huge task filling in for regular keeper Tim Howard.
But no player is more important to the United States against Mexico than striker Jozy Altidore.
Altidore has been brilliant for AZ Alkmaar this season, scoring 18 goals (fourth most in the Dutch Eredivisie this season). Unfortunately, Altidore has never delivered on the international stage on that level despite his obvious potential.
The United States has been searching a long time for a dynamic striker and Altidore is the closest the team has. If he can borrow his scoring touch from his play for AZ Alkmaar, the United States has a legitimate chance to go into Mexico and earn three points.
Mexico Player to Watch: Javier Hernandez
El Chicharito is far and away Mexico's most talented player, but he's also its most important. Against Honduras, he scored both goals for El Tri in the 2-2 draw (watching from the bench as Honduras erased the two-goal deficit he had created).
Against rival United States, he'll once again need to show off his scoring touch.
Hernandez has been excellent across the board this season, with 16 goals in all competitions for Manchester United and five goals in World Cup qualifiers for Mexico. Hernandez is a pure goal-scorer, capable of running at defenders and creating space for his shot, finishing in the air and putting himself in dangerous positions.
The United States will know where his is at all times. If he gets in space or a clear look at the goal, look out.
Which team wins?
This isn't the strongest United States squad, but Mexico has underwhelmed in Hexagonal play. I don't see the United States picking up the win at Azteca, but the Americans will be more than thrilled when they earn a 1-1 draw.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets believe win number two is coming for the United States in Mexico.