The United States and Mexico will renew their storied soccer rivalry in Arizona on Wednesday, with both coaches welcoming a competitive environment for what will be a final audition for several players ahead of their preliminary 2014 World Cup squads being announced.
With the friendly coming outside of a scheduled FIFA date, only players plying their trade in either the U.S. or Mexico will be involved. Apart, that is, from one notable exception, who will garner much of the attention at the University of Phoenix Stadium. After an extended courting program, which included him training with the squad before the most recent friendly against Ukraine, 18-year-old Julian Green has declared his allegiance to the U.S. and is set to make his debut against Mexico.
He will do so under an atmosphere of much excitement, but also much expectation, as arguably the most hyped youngster in American soccer since Freddy Adu a decade ago. With just three minutes of first-team soccer to Green’s name, it is a big leap to suddenly be thrust into the international arena with heavy anticipation of him being an instant contributor.
However, Green is also far more advanced in his development than when the hype machine engulfed Adu. The forward has scored 15 goals in 22 appearances for Bayern’s second team this season. And the German champions’ history of producing young talent in recent years is mightily encouraging, with the likes of Toni Kroos, David Alaba, and Thomas Muller all coming through the B team in the past six years. Certainly U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann does not expect Green to be overawed.
“Julian is very ambitious,” he told the US Soccer website. “He knows about his qualities. He knows about the club where he trains every day with Arjen Robben, with Franck Ribery, with big players who are on the big stage for a long period of time. I think he has the confidence to come in and say, ‘If the coach gives me the chance to play there, I want to show him that I want to go to Brazil.’”
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Having worked so hard to get him to commit, the chances look strong that Green will not only make his debut on April 2 but will also be on the plane to Brazil. For others on the roster to take on Mexico, the situation is less clear.
Foremost among them is Maurice Edu. After being frozen out for the past 18 months at Stoke City, which also included a brief loan spell in Turkey with Bursaspor, the midfielder is now on loan at the Philadelphia Union and is in contention to make his first international appearance in a year. With Jermaine Jones, who won’t be present in Arizona, sure to line up alongside Michael Bradley in Brazil, Edu will be competing with Kyle Beckerman to earn a spot as a backup.
Meanwhile, Green’s emergence on the scene means that there is likely to be one less forward place for which to compete. The pressure therefore will be on Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson to impress.
Despite missing his European-based players, there will also be a welcome opportunity for Klinsmann to work on the chemistry between some of his probable starters at the World Cup. In particular, the trio of Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan has not been in the same U.S. team for nearly two years.
For Mexico, the door now looks closed on some World Cup aspirants, while others still have a big chance to make their claims. Despite current first-choice striker Oribe Peralta being rested, Chivas’ Aldo de Nigris has been excluded meaning that he can in all probability begin making other plans for the summer. Instead Alan Pulido, who scored a hat-trick in a friendly with South Korea in January and also impressed when coming on against Nigeria earlier this month, will get another chance likely alongside fellow young striker Raul Jimenez, whose wonder goal against Panama played such a key role in getting Mexico to Brazil. It remains to be seen if the pair are competing for one or two spots alongside Peralta, Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos.
Unlike Klinsmann, who left out Club Tijuana trio Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Herculez Gomez, counterpart Miguel Herrera has pulled five players out of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first legs to take part in the friendly. One of those, Cruz Azul’s Rogelio Chavez, has been called up for the first time and the 29-year-old will get a chance to win a backup spot for the right wing-back berth.
D: Evans, Besler, Gonzalez, Beasley
M: Beckerman, Bradley
Zusi, Dempsey, Donovan
D: Valenzuela, Marquez, Rodriguez
M: Aguilar, Brizuela, Zavala, Fabian, Ponce
F: Pulido, Jimenez