Let me just say, all the pressure is on Mexico. Yep. All of it. After the US Men’s National team victory in the SnowClasico last Friday over Costa Rica, the pressure went south to Mexico.
I’m not making this up either. Mexican press fell the pressure on their squad going into tonight’s big US-Mexico game at the Estadio Azteca.
The Mexicans are winless in 2013. Yep, winless. Tonight’s game marks El Tri’s 70th World Cup qualifier at home, where it has a 63-1-5 record, its only loss coming in 2001 against Costa Rica.
This has little to do with the last trip the US took to Mexico. We all remember that one by now. A sunny August day that saw the US do what had been thought as the unthinkable. A win. In Mexico. At the Azteca. Before it hadn’t been done, the US were 0-23-1 all time there.
But now the demons have been exercised in a way. The stigma of not being able to win down there appears, at least slightly, gone. Mexico is still good and while that day in August didn’t have their best squad, it did give this US squad the kind of hope that it needs to get a result in this one.
So what does the US need to do tonight to win this big game and potentially move into the lead in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings?
- A good start. Nothing quiets the crowd in Mexico more than a strong start. Especially one that finds the back of the net. The longer the U.S. can keep the score at 0-0, or even sneak a goal, the more restless the fans will get. Back in 1997, the year the US got the only draw in Mexico, fans booed constantly throughout and their coach at the time, ora Milutinovic was gone within a month.
- Players stepping up. Let’s face it this US squad looks a tad weak. No Landon Donovan. Tim Howard is out. Edgar Castillo, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo and others are missing because of injury. That means the likes of a Herculez Gomez or Omar Gonzalez will need to step up and have a huge game. Brad Guzan in goal will need to have one of his best performances of his career.
- Set pieces. The US has to rely on getting good set pieces in this game and making the most out of them. They won’t beat this Mexican side on the counter or with a long ball so a set piece mastery will be a big key tonight. Look at how Honduras got a draw against them last week, the second goal was on a corner.
- Bunker down. While the counter attack shouldn’t be expect all that much due to the personnel involved, I do expect an empty bucket of sorts in the midfield. Jurgen Klinsmann loves to bring more defensive players in games where the opposition has a strong attack. Sitting two or even three defensive midfielders above the back four isn’t the worst idea for this road game. I mean after all, it is about getting a point, isn’t it?
- Night game difference. This is a new deal for the US and Mexico, playing at night in Mexico City. Weird. The temperatures will also be more favorable as well as temperatures are expected to be in the 60s tonight, not 90s like in previous visits to the Azteca. So no snow, no heat in Mexico City tonight. The altitude, 7,500 feet above sea level, is no longer a big advantage for El Tri, most of whose players don’t play for clubs at high altitude.