Just three months ahead of the Gold Cup, the United States and Mexico will meet in San Antonio on Wednesday for what, as always, is a friendly in name only. The long-time rivals will battle it out for Concacaf superiority this summer as well as the chance to go onto the 2017 Confederations Cup, with this latest meeting offering both coaches the chance to hand players valuable experience of what is always an intense battle.
In terms of personnel, however, both teams will have a very different look at the Alamodome than they will for the Gold Cup. With the match falling outside of a FIFA international window when European clubs are compelled to release their players, the teams have been largely limited to calling up those who ply their trade in the U.S. and Mexico.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been able to draft in four players from Liga MX, including second call ups for Mexico-eligible duo, goalkeeper William Yarbrough and defender Ventura Alvarado. He has also been granted license to welcome Tottenham Hotspur right-back DeAndre Yedlin and Bayern Munich’s Julian Green, currently on loan at Hamburg, with neither player in the first-team picture at their European clubs. In total there are nine players who were a part of the United States’ 2014 World Cup squad, including Michael Bradley. But Jozy Altidore, following his red card in last month’s friendly against Switzerland, and injured duo Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones, will miss out.
And with striker Juan Agudelo among those back in the frame after long absences, it means that the experimentation that has characterized U.S. squads since the World Cup is likely to continue. Still, Klinsmann believes the match could be hugely valuable to his squad.
“It’s a huge opportunity playing Mexico in any kind of environment and in any kind of game,” he told the U.S. Soccer website. “It’s different compared to how we were put together in Switzerland and in Denmark, and I see this kind of a game as a huge opportunity for players to come in and play in front of a sold-out stadium and loud crowd, a lot maybe pro-Mexico, but these are the games where you mature and where you try to express yourself and show what you have, and therefore we are thankful that we can play this game.”
Klinsmann has gone undefeated against Mexico in five games since taking charge in the wake of the U.S. team’s defeat to El Tri in the final of the 2011 Gold Cup. For Mexico then the chance to get a victory ahead of this summer’s Gold Cup, which they must win in order to earn a playoff with the U.S. in October to go to the Confederations Cup, would appear an enticing one. Yet coach Miguel Herrera, already prevented from calling up the likes of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Giovani dos Santos from Europe, has left out some of his most established players from Liga MX.
Herrera has made it clear that he will select two distinct squads as Mexico compete at both the Gold Cup and Copa America this summer. And his squad selection to take on the U.S. appears designed to present a chance for those unlikely to be starters in either competition to state their case for inclusion in one of the squads. Current first-choice goalkeeper Jesus Corona and Chivas midfielder Marco Fabian have been left out of a squad of just 19 players, while 2014 World Cup striker Oribe Peralta and rising star Jurgen Damm have withdrawn through injury. Instead there are four places who will win their first caps for El Tri if selected -- Carlos Salcedo, Luis Rodriguez, Marco Bueno and Mario Osuna.
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
Defenders: Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Brek Shea (Orlando City SC), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United) Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Julian Green (Hamburg), Jordan Morris (Stanford University), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Goalkeepers: Jonathan Orozco (Monterrey), Cirilo Saucedo (Club Tijuana)
Defenders: Oswaldo Alanis (Santos Laguna), George Corral (Queretaro), Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Julio Cesar Dominguez (Cruz Azul), Gerardo Flores (Cruz Azul), Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Luis Rodríguez (Chiapas), Carlos Salcedo (Chivas), Efrain Velarde (Monterrey)
Midfielders: Adrian Aldrete (Santos Laguna), Luis Montes (Leon), Mario Osuna (Queretaro), Antonio Rios (Toluca)
Forwards: Marco Bueno (Toluca), Carlos Esquivel (Toluca), Eduardo Herrera (Pumas), Erick Torres (Chivas)
Prediction: The evidence from the World Cup and since then strongly suggests that Mexico are currently ahead in the battle for Concacaf superiority. Herrera has been more effective than Klinsmann in implementing his chosen strategy, while the talent pool in Mexico is simply stronger and deeper than that in the United States. Yet there is no doubting that the U.S. will have a squad closer to their first-choice in San Antonio, with Mexico’s selection something akin to a C team. That should at least level the playing field and the teams could well play out an open draw.
Predicted score: USA 2-2 Mexico