USA vs. Mexico: What to Watch for in Crucial USMNT Friendly
It's never just a friendly between USA and Mexico. Jurgen Klinsmann's side will take on the Mexican national team in Glendale, Arizona to renew one of the greatest rivalries in international soccer.
Granted, neither team is bringing its "A-team" to the affair, but there's plenty to watch for as the United States men's national soccer team takes the pitch on Wednesday night. With only a few months left until the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there aren't many games left for either nation to play before heading to Brazil.
Both teams are looking to build some confidence leading up to the World Cup, and a win against a hated rival can do just that. For the U.S., the friendly isn't just a potential momentum-builder. The team has to answer plenty of questions, and this game can help put them to rest.
Here's what you should watch for in the United States' crucial game against Mexico.
In this game, players on the bubble will have to prove that they deserve a trip to Brazil this summer. It will be the last chance for Klinsmann to see the national team play before the May 12 deadline to submit the preliminary 30-man World Cup roster.
Maurice Edu looks to be the player with the most to prove against Mexico. He's been fantastic for the Philadelphia Union to start the MLS season, but he'll have to impress Klinsmann on Wednesday to get back in the mix. With Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as the starting central midfielders for the World Cup and Kyle Beckerman as one of Klinsmann's preferred backups, Edu has a tough task ahead of him to fight his way onto the roster.
Chris Wondolowski, Eddie Johnson and Brad Davis are among the other fringe players who are looking to earn a ticket to Brazil. Wondolowski has shown that he can score for the U.S., so he seems to be the most likely of the three to make the final roster.
As for Johnson, he's had a tough start to the MLS season with his new club and has to show that he can offer something positive on the attack. Lastly, Davis will have to prove that he should be the backup left midfielder over Brek Shea.
The Back Four
There's no question that fans are most worried about the back four of the U.S. before the World Cup.
Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler will likely be the starting center-backs against Mexico. They've proved to be a good pairing against CONCACAF competition, even shutting out Mexico in the Azteca last year, but it's hard to have confidence that they'll be rock solid in the World Cup against the likes of Portugal and Germany.
Individually, they've been great for their MLS clubs. Gonzalez was the MLS defender of the year in 2011, while Besler earned the same honor in 2012. However, on the national team level, the big question is whether or not they've developed a strong enough chemistry to go up against some of the best players in the world. Unfortunately, it seems as though that question won't be answered until this summer.
The full-back situation for the U.S. is an even bigger question mark. With Brad Evans injured and DaMarcus Beasley denied release from Puebla, Klinsmann isn't left with many options at full-back for the friendly against Mexico.
DeAndre Yedlin, Tony Beltran and Michael Parkhurst are the only natural full-backs on the roster. It seems likely that Yedlin will get the start on the right with Parkhurst on the left. Another option would be to experiment and try out a wide midfielder like Brad Davis at left-back.
When the World Cup rolls around, Klinsmann will have a big choice to make. Fabian Johnson looks to be the best option on the left side, but he has also been one of the better left midfielders that the U.S. has.
On the right side, we could see Geoff Cameron, whose experience as a right-back in the EPL could prove to be a valuable asset going up against players like Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup. Or perhaps Klinsmann will like what he sees from Yedlin or Parkhurst against Mexico and consider them for a starting role.
With all these options, it's safe to say that full-back is the position that remains most unclear leading up to the World Cup.
Although the U.S. roster for this friendly consists mostly of players who have a chance to make the trip to Brazil in the summer, Klinsmann did call in a few younger players who could play a big role in the next World Cup cycle.
DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil are both up-and-comers for the U.S. The two 20-year-olds haven't seen much action for the national team thus far, but Klinsmann seems to think that integrating them into the national team setup early is the way to go.
Yedlin, who typically plays right-back for the Seattle Sounders, still has a small chance of making the World Cup roster. It's a long shot, but with the lack of healthy full-backs in the national team pool, he could provide some much-needed depth at right-back. His speed and ability to go forward and join the attack are qualities that not many U.S. players can bring to that position at the moment.
Gil, a midfielder for Real Salt Lake, made his national team debut earlier this year in a friendly against South Korea. He had a considerable amount success at the U20 level for the U.S., but he'll have to wait until 2018 to play in a World Cup.
With all the midfield depth the U.S. has, his chances of making the final roster are much slimmer than Yedlin's. Look for Gil to come on as a substitute against Mexico.
Julian Green is the new kid on the block that everyone can't wait to see. Actually, he's more than that. He's the most exciting prospect that the U.S. has seen in years.
The 18-year-old Bayern Munich player's switch from the German national team to the U.S. national team was approved by FIFA less than two weeks ago, and USMNT fans couldn't be more excited. Of course, it's still way too early to tell whether or not he will be the next big thing. He's good enough to be on Bayern Munich's roster though, so that must count for something.
The friendly against Mexico will be the first we'll see of Green representing the U.S. Look for him to come on as a substitute and play out wide. Despite all the hype, his spot on the World Cup roster is still up in the air, but if he can make a difference in the game against Mexico, I'd say his chances look pretty good.