Every time the United States and Mexico faceoff there are serious implications, but the stakes have rarely been higher than when the neighboring nations meet in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday. A win for the home side could well have the champagne corks popping in celebration at their place in next year’s World Cup having been secured, while the result will leave Mexico’s hopes of even a playoff spot unthinkably hanging by a thread.
Both sides suffered disappointing defeats last week, but the consequences were far more severe for Mexico. A 2-1 home reversal to Honduras proved the final straw for the Mexican Football Federation as they dispensed with coach Jose Manuel de la Torre after a woeful collection of performances throughout 2013. A qualification that was expected to be a formality for a not-unjustifiably much-hyped generation of players has proved anything but.
Luis Fernando Tena, the man who helped build that expectation by leading Mexico to Olympic gold in London last year, now takes the reins. Qualification is still more than possible with even a potential playoff set to come against New Zealand, but there is now no margin for error. El Tri’s much-vaunted home fortress at Azteca had already been punctured by three successive goalless draws, including against the U.S. in March, even before only their second ever qualifying loss at the Azteca. Now Mexico, which will be without the experience of suspended midfielder Gerrardo Torrado, faces having to get results on the road, starting at the home of their old enemy.
El Tri will, though, be facing a U.S. side that arrives not only on the back of a humbling defeat but having lost four players through injury and suspension. Sitting atop the Hexagonal and on a record 12-game win streak there was genuine hope that the U.S. could record a first ever win in Costa Rica. Instead, inspired in part by the injustice they felt at what happened in the snow in Colorado earlier this year, the Ticos stormed to a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes and never looked back.
The defeat occurred in the absence of Michael Bradley, who suffered a sprained ankle in the buildup, while the trio of Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron all received yellow cards during the contest to leave them ruled out of the clash with Mexico. Those losses represent a significant blow to Jurgen Klinsmann. Cameron provides vital experience, Besler has formed a dependable center-back partnership with Omar Gonzalez, while Bradley is the heartbeat of the side in the midfield and Altidore was on a phenomenal international scoring streak. Brad Davis, Joe Corona, Clarence Goodson and Jose Torres have been called up in their place, while young defender John Brooks has been released back to his club Hertha Berlin.
There is far from any reason to panic for Klinsmann, however. A second-straight defeat would be most unwelcome, but it is hard to envisage it seriously denting their aspirations to be in Brazil. Still, the chance to not only beat Mexico, but to have it potentially secure qualification -- if Panama fails to defeat Honduras -- is a stirring motivation.
The big question is whether the U.S. will be meeting a Mexico team in disarray or a wounded animal set to roar back to life. Given the axing of De la Torre and how the players played under him, it could well be the latter. The quality that Mexico has at its disposal cannot be questioned. There are a number of fine players and fine young players, but they have looked shackled by De la Torre’s conservative tactics and increasingly it appeared that they had also been worn down mentally by the now former coach.
A change of approach and especially bringing in a man who many of the squad have enjoyed success with at the Olympics could be the perfect tonic. Even a makeshift U.S. lineup should have enough to avoid a rare home defeat to Mexico, but El Tri’s revival could well start with a valuable point.
Prediction: USA 1-1 Mexico
U.S. roster GK: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando DF: DaMarcus Beasley, Edgar Castillo, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco, Michael Parkhurst MF: Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya , Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Mix Diskerud, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Jose Torres, Graham Zusi FW: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Aron Johannsson, Eddie Johnson
Mexico roster GK: Jesus Corona, Jonathan Orozco, Alfredo Talavera DF: Severo Meza, Hiram Mier, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Salcido, Jorge Torres Nilo MF: Fernando Arce, Christian Gimenez, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Angel Reyna, Jesus Zavala FW: Javier Aquino, Damian Alvarez, Giovani Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta
Details: The Concacaf World Cup qualifier will kick-off at 8 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN in English and Univision Deportes and UniMas in Spanish.