This article is half of a B/R Creature vs. Creature series detailing the Mexico-USA match on Aug. 12. To read Joe Guarr's countering article, click here.
It has developed into one of the most vicious rivalries in the world of sports.
A combination of factors has now made the rest of the world take notice of a border war that wouldn’t normally arouse much interest.
After all, the matchup comes from a continent that has yet to win a single World Cup. On Aug. 12, 2009, the United States will once again visit the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, for another edition of the CONCACAF classic.
At first glance, the match would appear to be vastly more important for the home side. Mexico currently ranks fourth in the region’s World Cup qualifying tournament, and if proceedings were to end today, Mexico would have to travel to South America to face a winner-take-all playoff to obtain its berth for South Africa.
However, a Mexico win on Wednesday combined with Honduras taking down Costa Rica would mean that the United States would be just one point removed from the all-important playoff zone with only four games remaining.
The U.S. will also be hunting to improve their record on Mexican soil, a dismal 0-22-1. With the Americans coming off a surprising Confederations Cup run, in which they were minutes away from pulling the ultimate upset against Brazil, their confidence is running high.
After all, if Bob Bradley’s team was able to snap Spain’s record unbeaten streak and pin Brazil against the wall for 60-plus minutes, why wouldn’t they be able to defeat a team that has had four managers since 2008, seemingly no defined style of play, and relied on goal difference to accede to the final round of World Cup qualification?
Here are four reasons why that won’t happen on Wednesday:
#1—Cinco a Cero
There are two things that Mexico obtained from their Gold Cup title only a couple of weeks back: confidence and rhythm.
No Mexican team of any kind had been able to defeat an American team of any assemblage in the United States since 1999. While both countries took on the tournament with alternative squads, Mexican manager Javier Aguirre is banking on carrying the momentum from his championship team over to this important match.
Twelve Gold Cup winners are included in Aguirre’s list for Wednesday, a group strengthened by experienced veterans like Carlos Salcido, Ricardo Osorio, Andres Guardado, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, all of whom ply their trade outside of Mexico.
The Americans counter with 17 players who were included in the Confederations Cup, most of whom have not played in a competitive match since the end of June.
With no aura of invincibility on their home soil backing them anymore, Mexico’s Golden Boys will stroll into the Estadio Azteca looking to deliver a double dose of victory.
#2—Checkmate, Mr. Bradley
Back on July 26, in the Gold Cup final, a familiar sight awaited Mexican attackers.
It was a sea of white shirts seemingly locked in their own half of the pitch, awaiting a mistake on offense in order to explode on the counterattack and deliver a punishing blow.
For the first time in the better part of a decade, Mexico was able to pick the lock, exploding for five goals in the perfect marriage of individual talent and tactical wizardry on the part of the coaching staff.
There’s no reason to suggest that the United States won’t play exactly the same way on Wednesday. Truth be told, America’s playbook has been little more than a one-trick pony.
Wait in the back, cede possession, force an error, launch the ball forward, score, and repeat.
Concocting a punishing antidote for this brand of tactical poison, Javier Aguirre will field a formation that will not allow the Americans to execute their plan, much like he did on July 26.
The play of Giovani dos Santos and Guardado in the midfield will be key, and a line of defense (arguably Mexico’s strongest line, even without Barca’s Rafa Marquez) will be ready to destroy any attack, thanks to men like Salcido, Osorio and Jonny Magallon.
Up front, Carlos Vela and Miguel Sabah (the Gold Cup’s Golden Boot) will be the finishers.
#3—The Air up There
There’s a reason why—despite its lethality in almost any other part of the world—America’s strategy fails time and time again at the Estadio Azteca.
Dangerously high amounts of contaminants floating around in the air coupled with 7,349 feet of towering altitude above sea level combine to mess with the superior physical attributes of the United States’ players, making them slow, tired, and groggy time and time again.
Landon Donovan, the US’s star on offense and a thorn in Mexico’s side for nearly 10 years now, explained that all it took in 2005 to lose at Azteca was “one bad five minutes in Mexico against a very good team at an incredible altitude and in nasty smog.”
The conditions haven’t changed, and the United States National Team still hasn’t gotten used to them.
#4—The Underdog Mentality
Though it might seem counter-intuitive, it is often said that Mexico gives its best performances when it is expected to lose.
For months, pressure from fans and the media have hammered Aguirre’s team into submission, leading to some ugly face-offs against reporters, and boos from fans at the Azteca.
Thus, despite the big win at the Gold Cup, detractors remain, saying that it would have been a different story if the US had fielded their A-squad. They claim that the floodgates opened due to a non-existent penalty call, and that there were a few other blown calls that could’ve changed the course of the game.
Truth be told, America’s been eating this up.
They smell blood in the water. For the first time ever, ESPN will provide a live pregame show from Mexico City. Media attention has grown exponentially since the Confederations Cup, and word has spread about the unprecedented opportunity the Americans will have on Wednesday.
The Mexican National Team knows this. And the 110,000 screaming fans that are expected to cram into the Estadio Azteca will be putting as much pressure on them, as they will be putting on the Americans.
They will be in strange territory, albeit, walking around familiar surroundings.
They will be underdogs.
They will win.