Mexico vs. United States: 5 Key Battles
There is little to separate the six sides remaining in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
After two rounds, each participant in the Hexagonal has at least one point, while the United States, Panama, Mexico and Jamaica are separated by just one point. On Tuesday two of those sides—Mexico and the United States—will go head-to-head at the Azteca in Mexico City, after which the schedule will be half completed. It is to be a match of monumental importance, and not only because of the rivalry between the continental neighbours.
While Mexico-United States encounters are typically laced with animosity, this time around the stakes are even higher than usual. Given the tightness of the table and the overall quality of the teams involved, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that one of these two sides could fail to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Victory on Tuesday would go a long way in avoiding that fate, although for the United States even a draw would suffice.
Following are five battles that will likely have more than a thing to do with Tuesday’s outcome.
Javier Aquino vs. DaMarcus Beasley
DaMarcus Beasley, the former Chicago Fire, PSV Eindhoven and Rangers winger, scored seven goals in his first season with Mexican side Puebla, although it wasn’t his attacking ability that prompted his recall to Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.
Beasley, 30, is also versatile enough to operate at left-back, and he did so quite admirably in Denver. On Tuesday, however, his assignment will be rather more difficult as he’ll be going up against Mexico winger Javier Aquino at the Azteca.
Aquino, one of Mexico’s stellar under-25 generation, plays his club football in the Spanish Segunda for Villarreal and will be keen to give the Americans’ makeshift left-back a thorough examination. If he can win this matchup, striker Javier Hernandez will have even more service than usual on Tuesday.
Omar Gonzalez & Clarence Goodson vs. Javier Hernandez
The United States will be deploying a rather second-choice defensive corps in Mexico City, what with Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo injured and Carlos Bocanegra omitted from the squad altogether.
Los Angeles Galaxy centre-back Omar Gonzalez and his Brondby counterpart Clarence Goodson will work together in front of goalkeeper Brad Guzan as they did against Costa Rica, although in Javier Hernandez they’ll be facing a much more dangerous striker than Ticos front-man Alvaro Saborio.
Hernandez scored twice in Mexico’s 2-2 draw at Honduras on Saturday and has five goals in qualifying so far. He is quick, he is hard to stick to and he will rarely drop deep, meaning Gonzalez and Goodson will have to be aware of his position at all times.
The Manchester United forward faced a rather better defensive tandem in San Pedro Sula on Saturday and still blitzed them for a brace.
Carlos Salcido & Jesus Zavala vs. Clint Dempsey
Assuming Clint Dempsey plays just behind lone striker Jozy Altidore at the Azteca, the Tottenham Hotspur playmaker will no doubt draw plenty of attention from Mexico midfielders Carlos Salcido and Jesus Zavala.
This is a battle Dempsey should be able to win. He typically finds good space despite the tight marking of English Premier League midfielders, so the prospect of facing Salcido and Zavala will hardly intimidate him. But he’ll need to make quick decisions and move into areas that allow Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez some freedom, especially if one of Salcido and Zavala is stuck to him like glue over the 90 minutes.
For the Mexican pair, it’s quite simple: shut down Dempsey and El Tri should be able to get all three points. Although it’s a far less straightforward assignment than it sounds.
United States vs. Azteca
Only once in the history of their 75-year rivalry with Mexico have the United States claimed a victory at Azteca Stadium.
The good news is that result came just last August—a 1-0 win. The Americans have also managed to score on each of their last three trips to the Mexican capital.
History, however, overwhelmingly favours Mexico. They have won 33 of their 61 matches against the United States while outscoring their archrivals 131-69.
Of the 20 matches these teams have played in Mexico City, Mexico have won 18 of them. It took the United States 15 attempts to even get a draw—a result that came in 1997.
Mexico vs. Their Own Concentration
Mexico led 2-0 in Honduras on Saturday before goals from Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengtson in the space of three minutes late in the second-half pulled the hosts back to level terms.
El Tri cannot afford similar lapses in concentration against neither the United States nor any other team remaining in the Hex. While in previous qualification cycles they were assured of a World Cup berth simply because of a massive superiority in quality, that is simply not the case anymore.
Yes, Mexico remain the best team in CONCACAF, and yes, they should qualify for the 2014 World Cup by topping this group. But there is quality in each of the six sides—skilled attackers who need only a moment to find the back of the net.
Mexico can be a genuine World Cup contender in 15 months if they don’t beat themselves. No doubt manager Jose Manuel de la Torre will be reminding them of this over the next few days.