Friday’s finally the day. More than two months have passed since the last round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying matches, and now we get to see the top two teams in the region face off in Columbus. The rivalry between the USMNT and Mexico has never really faded, and I don’t think that we’ll see any change in that this time around. When these teams last met all the way back in 2015, El Tri narrowly edged the US 3-2 in extra time for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup. A win this time for either side would give them invaluable momentum to start The Hex and it could pave the way for their road to Russia in 2018.
For Mexico’s manager, Juan Carlos Osorio, this will be the first time that he will play the US. Since taking over the team in mid-October 2015, the Colombian has led Mexico to a near perfect record through 15 matches. In that span, he’s won 12 times (including wins over Chile and Uruguay), drawn twice, and only lost once (0-7 against Chile). This unbelievable record has pushed El Tri to the spot in their qualifying group with 16 points out of a possible 18. The next best team in their group, Honduras, only had eight. Osorio has seemingly reestablished Mexico has a force to be reckoned with not just in CONCACAF, but throughout the world. He should be buzzing with confidence going up against Klinsmann and the US.
One thing that really stuck out for me when looking over Mexico’s recent performances was their defensive record. Other than the 7-0 thrashing against Chile, no team has managed to score more than once against El Tri since that Confederations Cup Playoff match more than a year ago. This year alone, they’ve recorded eight clean sheets in just 13 matches. The two players I want to really focus on are Héctor Moreno and Miguel Layún. These two players have begun to establish themselves with their respective clubs (PSV and Porto), and this European experience has made them key cogs in Osorio’s near impenetrable defensive machine. Coming up against an inconsistent US attack, they could really thrive Friday night.
Switching over the US, Klinsmann is really going to have his hands full preparing for this match. In the striker position, he really only has two players that you would consider real threats at this level: Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood. I mean no offense to Aron Jóhannsson and Alan Gordon, but when it’s crunch time, I don’t have a lot of faith that either one is going to be able to test Mexico’s amazing backline. Wood has done his best with a struggling Hamburg side in Germany, and he’s even coming off some extended rest after a blatant elbow against Cologne earned him a three-match ban in the Bundesliga. Altidore, on the other hand, is coming off of a massive 5-0 victory in the MLS playoffs against NYCFC. In both legs of that conference semifinal, the 27-year-old found the back of the net, and in his last five matches, he’s scored four times. Jozy has been known to be a somewhat streaky scorer, but there’s not really a better time for him to be in the middle of one of these streaks than now.
A major question for Friday’s match is how Klinsmann is going to set up his central midfield unit. Michael Bradley is a shoo-in to start, but who will be the attacking presence to counter balance him. The obvious choice would be Christian Pulisic, but I think that Klinsmann will be hesitant to throw him into such a hostile environment for a full 90 minutes. With that being said, Sacha Kljestan has done more than enough with New York Red Bulls to earn a starting spot. Kljestan can spark attacks, and his distribution ability could help settle things down in the middle of the park. Either way Klinsmann decides, his center mids are going to have be composed on both sides of the pitch, and how well they’re able to control possession could be a deciding factor for the match.
As much as I think that Mexico are the better side going into this fixture, I just can’t live with myself picking them to win. Sure, my opinion may be biased, but I’m going to pick the Stars and Stripes to take the result in this one. It’s been a weird week here stateside and we could really use a W to ease the tension. Final result: USA 2-1 Mexico