Glendale, Ariz. — It’s not a secret, but you won’t catch players saying anything about it in the locker room.
The World Cup is coming, and there aren’t many more chances like the one offered by Wednesday’s friendly here between the United States and Mexico to showcase their skills.
“We don’t talk about it between the guys, but everybody knows it,” U.S. fullback Michael Parkhurst said before training Tuesday. “The opportunities are dwindling. This is it. This is the time you have to play. You have to play well in order to be on that plane to Brazil.”
Parkhurst is making a push to get onto the squad, with an offseason transfer to the Columbus Crew showing good early returns and the U.S. continually struggling at fullback. Both teams will be lacking their players who are based in Europe, with the exception of 18-year-old Bayern Munich reserve Julian Green. The U.S. will also be without DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans, who were the regular fullbacks during the final round of World Cup qualification for the U.S after Beasley was denied release from Puebla and Evans was ruled out with a calf problem.
That means Parkhurst and another outside back, likely 20-year-old Deandre Yedlin, will have to cope with a Mexico attack fronted by two of the most in-form players in the region. Marco Fabian and Alan Pulido will start for El Tri, Miguel Herrera announced Tuesday.
Both likely have work to do to make the World Cup but will be eager to face off against the U.S. back four with its inexperience at fullback and young center backs in Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. It’s that matchup which may influence how the match goes - and who makes the strongest statement toward going to the World Cup.
Mexico nearly had no players going to the World Cup after a dreadful qualifying campaign saw it forced to qualify in a playoff. Miguel Herrera took the reins before the two-legged series with New Zealand and El Tri qualified easily, but in the build up to this match he has fielded questions about how much Mexico owes the U.S. for defeating Panama on the final matchday to help Mexico to the fourth-place finish.
“We don’t owe them anything,” Herrera said at a news conference Tuesday. “The opportunity came to go to the playoff, it is soccer and we took advantage to the maximum.”
The manager doesn’t feel the same freedom when it comes to choosing players for the World Cup, noting that while this match is important, it isn’t the ultimate deciding factor.
“I’ve never said that this game will be definitive, we’ll continue watching the league,” Herrera said.
His opposite number Jurgen Klinsmann also said there is time for players to make a final push, with the American manager planning to fill his provisional roster to the maximum allotment and wait until the deadline to cut his squad to 23.
Still, mainstays and newbies alike are feeling the pressure.
“I think for all of us, the end of the tunnel is near,” said Landon Donovan, who will be heading to his fourth World Cup barring unforeseen incident. “We see the light, and we can see Brazil in the forefront. We’re excited about it. One last chance to show Jurgen up close what we’re about, and we’re going to make the most of it.”
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