By Ives Galarcep, Goal.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Usually when the U.S. national team and Mexico square off in World Cup qualifying, it is a clash of CONCACAF’s best, but Tuesday's matchup doesn’t quite have that feeling. Not with Mexico’s World Cup hopes in jeopardy, and not with the USA coming fresh off a 3-1 humbling in Costa Rica that dropped the nation into second place in the Hexagonal standings.
In some ways, that adversity has given this match even more importance. Instead of a clash for bragging rights, the latest installment of the CONCACAF Clasico is about survival, and that reality could make it one for the ages.
In one corner, you have a Mexico team that enters the match in fourth place in the Hex knowing that a loss could put qualifying for the 2014 World Cup on life support. Manuel “Chepo” De La Torre has been fired as head coach, leaving interim head coach, and Olympic Gold Medal-winning coach, Luis Fernando Tena with the task of picking up the pieces.
Tena inherits a team long on talent but short on cohesiveness. El Tri looked uninspired in last Friday’s 2-1 loss to Honduras at Estadio Azteca, with Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez left out of the starting lineup alongside Villarreal winger Javier Aquino.
Tena will have the responsibility of deciding on whether to re-integrate the struggling Hernandez or stick with Oribe Peralta, who scored Mexico’s lone goal last Friday.
Mexico’s lineup decisions are no tougher than those Jurgen Klinsmann and the USA will have to contend with. Michael Bradley’s absence in central midfield leaves a glaring void that can’t easily be filled. Kyle Beckerman is expected to slot into the defensive midfield role, which should give Jermaine Jones more freedom to contribute to the attack.
Klinsmann’s greater concerns lie in defense, where the back line has surrendered six goals in two matches, and must contend with Mexico’s attacking missing the team’s best center back in suspended defender Matt Besler. Clarence Goodson should start in central defense alongside Omar Gonzalez in a pairing that is strong in the air, but one that could be susceptible to speed.
What should be of greater concern for USA is the play of the team’s fullbacks. DaMarcus Beasley is coming off his worst game at left back since moving to the position on a permanent basis, while Michael Orozco didn’t exactly instill confidence during his first national team start at right back vs. Costa Rica.
Klinsmann didn’t sound too worried about his defense heading into Tuesday’s match though, saying he is confident his team will play well.
“I’m not concerned about (Tuesday night) in terms of switching things around, having another center back in there,” Klinsmann said. “Making changes, if it’s up front for Jozy (Altidore), or it’s in the midfield for Michael (Bradley), unfortunately, because I think the players now really understand their roles. They know when they come in, what to do. They know how we want to play.
“We have a really strong core of leaders guiding them through that, therefore I’m very optimistic for tomorrow night.”
Klinsmann even gave Orozco a vote of confidence that suggested he could start at right back against Mexico despite what was widely regarded as a poor performance against Costa Rica.
“Michael’s game, here and there in his passing he struggled a little bit,” Klinsmann said. “(But) In none of the goals, Michael Orozco had anything, or any mistake that he did. Not on the corner kick, not on the counter break and especially not on the last goal,” Klinsmann said. “He had no fault at all on those three conceding goals and that speaks for him as well.”
The U.S. attack will look to create chances against a Mexican defense that showed clear signs of vulnerability against Honduras last Friday, with Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan expected to lead an attack that will be coping without suspended striker Altidore. The Americans will look to attack El Tri from the start.
“We’re at home and we have a good attack so we’re going to want to take the game to them,” said U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. “We want to dictate the match and put them on their heels. We will have the crowd behind us and we should be able to feed off that.”
If the USA defense can stay organized and keep Mexico from creating early chances like Costa Rica did last week, the Americans should be able to record the victory they need to secure a place in the 2014 World Cup. The Americans won’t take a victory for granted though. Not against an arch rival like Mexico, even one that is struggling as much as El Tri.
“Mexico is a team that has quality in it and we need to make sure we prepare properly,” Clint Dempsey said. “Every game at home is a must-win game. You need to get those points at home if you have any hopes of qualifying for a World Cup, so we won’t treat it any different than that.”
“You don’t want to be waiting till the last game, or having teams do you a favor because you couldn’t get the job done,” Dempsey said. “Ideally, we’d like to get that wrapped up as soon as we can.”