PREVIEW: USA - MEXICO
After Friday's disappointing result in Costa Rica, the U.S. National Team will try once again to secure qualification for next year's World Cup, this time against arch-rival Mexico.
It was a mediocre performance with some outright bad play thrown in that waved goodbye to the 12-game winning streak, and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be relying on a raucous Columbus, Ohio atmosphere to right the ship. Replacement players have been added for four U.S. starters who are on yellow card suspension, or in the case of Michael Bradley, out with an ankle injury sustained during pre-game warmups in San Jose.
Jose Torres, Brad Davis, Clarence Goodson, and Joe Corona have replaced Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and Jozy Altidore. It is a tale of two tales looking at the acts that drew yellow between the two more integral parts of the lineup, Besler and Altidore. In a display of wanton recklessness late in the game, Altidore's frustrations overcame him and he crashed into a defender shielding the ball for his goalkeeper, a no-brainer call for the referee. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Besler was whistled down for a yellow when Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell inexplicably collapsed to the ground behind Besler, started getting back up, caught the referee's eye, and went down again.
It was one of the worst moments of officiating in a long series of officiating blunders in Central America, and has taken out arguably the best defender from the recent 0-0 tie in Mexico City. Despite the bad yellow cards playing a heavy toll on the starting lineup, the worst loss was Bradley, who severely sprained his ankle while taking the final shot of warmups. His absence was felt throughout the game, and Jermaine Jones appeared especially lost without him. With Cameron now also out, it remains to be seen how Klinsmann attempts to plug the hole where Bradley would normally go. The most obvious choice is Kyle Beckerman, though it shouldn't be a surprise if Mix Diskerud gets some time to try to replace Bradley's influence on the attacking third.
While the U.S. lost to Costa Rica, their situation still allows them the possibility of clinching with a victory. In contrast, Mexico's situation is getting ever more desperate, taking a 2-1 loss to Honduras at home last week, and firing their coach. El Tri still holds the fourth place position with eight points, giving them a potential playoff with New Zealand, but they are only a point ahead of under-performing Panama with three games to go.
The U.S. has never lost to Mexico in Columbus, and Crew Stadium has become the hub of the most important domestic games for the National Team, being the go-to destination for the predicted must-win matchups leading up to World Cup competitions. One of the largest organized fan contingents in program history will fill almost half the stadium tonight, providing a never-before-seen atmosphere in American soccer.
The weather tonight is expected to be in the low 80s at kickoff, with clear skies.