Tonite the United States and Mexico meet for the first time since this summers Gold Cup final at Soldier Field which the United States won dramatically 2-1. That game provided all the elements of excitement. Great goals, competitive spirit, emergence of new stars for both squads and as has become commonplace , another win for the United States.
This rivalry and the sport of soccer has brought tremendous attention to Houston . Soccer fans from all over the country have descended on Houston for what has become a great rivalry or “classico”.
The game will be beamed back to Mexico and an entire country tonite will be glued to their televisions to watch this game.
A game that is termed a “friendly” match, a term that personally I can’t stand. It will sell-out Reliant Stadium and much like Houston Dynamo games the celebration, energy, a diversity of the crowd will be nothing like at other sports events in Houston.
When countries meet and are competitive in soccer many different elements come in to play like nationalistic pride and even politics. In the end we all must remember it is a game, but what a game!
Both the United States and Mexican soccer federations stand to make big money. It is the reason you are seeing the frequency of these match-ups in the United States. It is a game that people want to see and does not need alot of promotion.
Soccer dignitaries like MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Concacaf officials and U.S. and Mexican Federation heads will arrive.
What is at stake for the teams? One has to think more pressure lies on Hugo Sanchez and Mexico who are 0-8-1 in the last 9 games on U.S. soil. If Mexican icon Sanchez loses tonite it will be the third time in the span of only a year that he has failed to beat the United States.
A look at the players:
Goalkeeping: Two of the best in this region of the world have inherited the mantle of their nations goalkeeping.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard grew up in New Jersey and was amazingly scooped up by Manchester United in England where he won a “goalkeeper of the year” award. An excellent shot stopper and athlete, Howard now is the starter at another soccer crazed team in England called Everton. His performance at the Gold Cup was superb this past summer.
Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is young in years but has performed amazingly for his squad Club America in Mexico.
He like Howard is in great form and I believe tonite is an indication that he finally will replace incumbent Oswaldo Sanchez on a more regular basis. Both these goalkeepers can win games and could be the difference tonite.
Defenders: The U.S. will be lead by Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu out of the middle I would assume. Lots of strength and power here and both players play in Europe although Bocanegra at Fulham in England has not been a starter as of late.
Will he be the leader of the future at the back? Onyewu is an intimidating prescence and both provide solidarity in the air.
The real issue will be at outside back where experience will be lacking if a combination of Drew Moor, Michael Parkhurst and Heath Pearce are used in this area yet this is a game that coaches have to give opportunity to some young players. Bradley could use Eddie Lewis at left back as well if he wants to be more attack oriented.
Mexico should have the advantage of getting outside backs into the attack more regularly with players like Carlos Salcido, Oscar Rojas and Fernando Arce among others. Rafa Marquez of Barcelona is the leader from this area but has not produced his best games with Mexico against the U.S.
Midfield: Lots of good midfielders here for the U.S. who have depth in this area of their team. Ricardo Clark of the Houston Dynamo paired with the ultra-confident Michael Bradley of Herenveen in Holland would be my choice. Bradley is scoring goals like crazy in the Dutch Eridivise. Clark covers so much ground and was a game changer after his insertion in the Gold Cup final this past summer. U.S. manager has flexibility with Landon Donovan and could use him out wide like he did against Sweden as opposed to up front. Donovan can get isolated in this area and provide danger yet it keeps him farther away from the goal, out of sight out of mind might be a good way to use him tonite. Bobby Convey and Eddie Lewis will give experience on the left side if they get the start.
For Mexico they will have the edge in experience in this area if they use players like Pavel Pardo and Gerardo Torrado in balancing roles. Pardo also is a danger off free kicks and helped Stuttgart win the German title last year. Hugo Sanchez the Mexican manager used to crucify former Mexican coach Ricardo La Volpe for using naturalized citizens like Sinha from Brazil. Well Sinha is here for Mexico and Hugo once again contradicts himself but hey, when your an icon you can do that sadly. Sinha is here because he can help Sanchez win and provides that creative edge in the abscence of Andres Guardado who is out injured.
Forwards: Landon Donovan I believe will play in midfield but if he were to play up front it would be as a withdrawn forward working behind the Mexican midfield and in front of their back four. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore (only 18 years old) could pair up front and one wonders how the two will link up? Dempsey is the leading goal scorer for Fulham in England while Altidore would be playing in his biggest game ever but could be nurtured along for a spot in the 2010 World Cup provided the U.S. gets there which they should.
Mexico should counter with Adolfo Bautista of Chiapas (bring him to MLS) who has the ability to check back into midfield and get turned. He should pair with Pachuca forward Juan Carlos Cacho who is excellent with his back to goal.
The big loss here is Nery Castillo who got injured playing with Manchester City in EPL play and wreaked havoc in the Gold Cup against the U.S.
Subsitutes: Carlos Vela of Osasuna who is the property of Arsenal could come off the bench along with Antonio de Nigris who plays in Turkey and did not make the last World Cup squad.
For the U.S. Freddy Adu and Benny Feilhaber are attacking options.
Tactics: Emotional control is always an issue in these games. With coaches trying to get young players experience (particularly the U.S. squad) youthful decisions or mistakes could be the difference.
Clearly in this game keeping control of midfield is a key for both teams. The U.S. will want to negate Mexico’s passing rhythm. Can Rafa Marquez finally be a leader in a U.S. Mexico game?
Key losses to injury: United States: DaMarcus Beasley
Mexico : Nery Castillo
What do you think about tonite’s game?