2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying has been unpredictable, specifically in the CONCACAF grouping. Costa Rica sits atop the standings; Honduras has itself in third place; and Mexico is left at fourth overall, just one point ahead of Panama.
With a rivalry match against Team USA set to transpire on Tuesday, Sept. 10, the perfect opportunity has arisen for El Tri to break out of their recent funk.
Mexico has dropped to fourth in qualifying, which has it in danger of missing out on an automatic bid to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Should it finish fourth, Mexico would be forced to play New Zealand in a playoff to determine the final entrant in Rio.
Fortunately, a match against the U.S. is exactly what the doctor ordered for Mexico.
On Sept. 7, Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated posted an image of Team USA star Michael Bradley gruesomely rolling his ankle. Even the sight of the injury was gut wrenching, and many feared that it would result in serious damage.
According to Bob Ley of ESPN, the injury has been diagnosed as a grade-two sprain. That is welcome news, as the image appeared to be significantly worse than the reported ailment.
Unfortunately, Bradley will not play against Mexico.
If that's not a green light to attack, I'm not sure what is.
Mexico needs to get on the scoreboard, as it's managed just four goals through seven fourth-round games. The only team with fewer goals scored than Mexico is Jamaica, managing just two, per CONCACAF.com.
Without Bradley, a key midfielder who helps to control the pace both offensively and defensively, Team USA will be vulnerable to Mexico's attack.
The most puzzling aspect of Mexico's offensive woes is the fact that it has been strong outside of qualifying play. Mexico scored four goals against Ivory Coast on Aug. 14 and has averaged 2.0 per game during its past seven outings outside of World Cup qualifying.
The key is Javier Hernandez.
Chicharito has five international goals since May 31, but none have come during World Cup qualifying. In fact, Hernandez has attempted one total shot in his past two appearances in World Cup qualifying.
With Bradley out, expect Hernandez to be aggressive and exploit a major void in the middle for the U.S.
Mexico has played exceptional defense during the fourth round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, allowing just four goals, per CONCACAF.com. That ties Mexico with group-leading Costa Rica for the lowest number of goals allowed.
Against Team USA, that's an important number to know.
Who will win?
Team USA is tied for second among remaining teams with eight goals in seven games played, per CONCACAF.com. The U.S. is also fresh off of a 1-3 loss to Costa Rica on Sept. 6.
The formula for success in that match was clear: Play Team USA physically, and the offense will be disrupted.
Costa Rica strayed on the side of too physical, and that's something Mexico shouldn't attempt. Fortunately, Mexico boasts the top remaining defense and should have no trouble executing an effective game plan on that end of the field.
Assuming things go according to Mexico's style, and this remains a low-scoring affair, El Tri have a chance to break through.
The last time Mexico met the U.S. was on Aug. 15, when the Americans won 1-0 behind Michael Orozco's goal in the 80th minute. That game displayed just how dominant Mexico can be offensively, even against its top competition in this region of the world.
With Team USA a man down and Mexico's defense remaining strong, it's clear that El Tri have an opportunity to save their status as World Cup contenders.