USA v Mexico - 2015 CONCACAF CUP
The match has arisen due to Mexico winning the 2015 Gold Cup and the US the same competition in 2013. Previously, with the Gold Cup being held every two years, the champion from the tournament held 2 years before the Confederations Cup qualified for the Confederations tournament. This led to sides fielding weakened teams for the Gold Cup in the year it fell in the same years as the Confederations Cup. The Confederations Cup is a prelude to the World Cup which is held the following year and is really used as a test event to help the host world cup country in their preparations. It features the champions from each of the 6 FIFA federations and includes the host nation of the 2018 World Cup - in this case Russia, as well as the world cup holder. Whilst the tournament is often viewed as a hinderance in Europe due to the additional work loads imposed on some of the top players, it provides countries in the weaker Federations with a chance to rub shoulders with the best players in the world and develop their own game. Held at the Rose Bowl, this play off match could prove to be a defining moment for both sides as it is also the last competitive match before World Cup qualification begins and whilst Mexico will definitely have a new manager for that campaign there are also some mutterings that the US might too.
Currently ranked at 29 in the world the US were hot favourites for the 2015 competition but crashed to a shock 2-1 defeat to Jamaica and then lost the 3rd place play off to Panama. No one expected the US not to make the final particularly after they had come off victories against the Netherlands and Germany. They were perhaps guilty of complacency in the Gold Cup tournament which was something that I was surprised a team coached by German legend Jurgen Klinsmann would have allowed to set in. It is very un-German and the US in the past World Cup had developed a reputation as a team of fighters with a never say dies attitude. In the case of Jamaica, they encountered a side of similar spirit who buoyed by an impressive showing at Copa America, simply wanted it more. Recently the US beat Peru before losing to Brazil 4-1. The upcoming Mexico match is the final competitive fixture before World Cup qualification begins and in a group containing Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala, they will need to be on top form if they are to make the next round. They do have a friendly with Costa Rica sandwiched in between the Mexico game and their qualification campaign but this Saturday is an opportunity for the team to put down a marker as to where they are and more importantly where they want to be.
In the recent match against Brazil I was surprised at the amount of dissatisfaction I sensed from the TV commentator and it was implied that Klinsmann was under pressure for his job. Former national team player Landon Donovan also recently suggested that Klinsmann should not be allowed to continue in his role should Mexico defeat the USA in this one off match. It is hard to determine if defeat on Saturday would mean the end for Klinsmann. To me a decision based off this one game would be nothing short of ridiculous. Failing to qualify for the Confederations Cup is hardly the end of the world and really focus should then move to the World Cup qualification and a drastic change in personal as opposed to a change in manager. Klinsmann has been able to take the US team to different levels having them play the top European National sides in Europe and he has seen his side hold their own. This progression was seen at the last world cup when they qualified from a group containing Germany, Portugal and Ghana and went out to a decent Belgium side. I find it doubtful that such progress would have been made under a US based coach. Klinsmann has respect in Europe and his reputation I believe has allowed the US to develop as a team. Dispensing with him now would be foolish and quite where the US would go for their next coach is hard to see. I am actually surprised to hear of someone with Donovan's experience making such comments if indeed they are true.
For this game Klinsmann has gone for experience with the likes of Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski and Jermaine Jones all on the roster. Realistically, you can only see Cameron and Bradley being around for the next World Cup and so I firmly believe that regardless of the result it is time for Klinsmann to focus on the development of the younger players like DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Bobby Wood and Julian Green. He also needs to establish a feared strike partnership in Jozey Altidore and Aron Johannsson who are lively duo when they want to be. Johannsson is an interesting player in that he played at U21 level for Iceland and it was Klinsmann who persuaded him to make his senior debut with the USA. Iceland are a strong side in Europe at the moment having qualified for the 2016 European Championships and I doubt whether another coach would have had the draw that Klinsmann is able to bring. Similarly, many of the promising young US players are European based and it is questionable whether a coach other then Klinsmann would have been brave enough to give them chances. I believe that the collegiate system in the USA often means that the young US based players are not ready for the top level whereas the European based players have a better grounding at a better level from a younger age. These guys are the future and despite the result on Saturday the future is good for US soccer providing the powers that be do not make a knee jerk reaction that they will live to regret for a one off match for what is in essence a fairly meaningless exhibition tournament.
Manager wise they are a side in transition but they are coming off an impressive draw with Argentina plus their Gold Cup victory. Current interim head coach is Brazilian Ricardo Ferretti who is also current manager of Mexican league side Tigres. Ferretti took the role on a temporary basis in August after previous coach Miguel Herrera was fired for allegedly assaulting a TV reporter. This week Sao Paulo coach Juan Carlos Osorio resigned from his role to coach the Mexican National team on a permanent basis. Given the closeness of the fixture with the US, it is not clear at this point what sort of role, if any, Colombian born Osorio will play in this weekends match.
With a current rank of 27, Mexico have named a strong 25 man squad for the match with the Jonathan Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrara and Carlos Vela all included. Veteran Rafael Marquez and captain Andres Guardado have also been included despite concerns over their fitness. The superb Guardado’s inclusion is a massive boast to the side since he was expected to be absent for up to 6 weeks after hurting his ankle in PSV Eindhoven’s champions league match against Manchester United. However, Guardado was back in the PSV side last weekend so if he is fit he will certainly play. Marquez is another whose inclusion is a boast. Whilst he has not played since picking up a groin injury just over 2 weeks ago, the well travelled 36 year old brings experience and a huge amount of influence to the Mexico side. Mexico will be without LA Galaxy’s Giovani Dos Santos but have the firepower to cope with such a loss. Ferretti will be anxious to end his short reign on a high and sendt his Mexico side to the Confederation Cup finals in Russia at the expense of the US who won their last meeting back in April 2-0. Having won the Gold Cup in July beating Jamaica 3-1 in the final, they showed they were a side who could be sometimes hard to watch and at other times sensational. I saw them play Guatemala in a Gold Cup group match in Glendale, Arizona and they had no answer to the Guatemalans defensive and physical approach and were held to a turgid 0-0 draw. They could be playing that match today and I doubt still whether they would have scored. A few days earlier they turned in a sensational performance against a Cuba side who were better then the 6-0 result suggests. Most recent results included a 3-3 draw against Trinidad and Tobago (they drew 4-4 in the Gold Cup) as well as the impressive 2-2 draw against 2014 World Cup finalists Argentina, having led 2-0 with 5 minutes to go. These sort of results demonstrate the level of inconsistency in their form and results. After the US match Mexico play a friendly against Panama before they too embark on World Cup qualification with matches against El Salvador and Honduras.
Of the 65 meetings Mexico have won 33 of them and the USA 19, with 14 draws. Mexico have outscored the US 131-75 but in the more recent meetings the US have certainly had the upper hand. Defeat for the US should reinforce the need for a changing of the guard and by that I mean player personal not the manager. For Mexico, this is more about the rivalry then the qualification for the Confederations tournament since many of those players will not relish the prospect of playing two tournaments on opposite sides of the world (Gold Cup and Confederations) in the same year given the demanding club schedules they have. This match is hard to call and I think it will simply come down to who wants it more on the day. Regardless, it really is one of the few National team matches you would consider a 'derby' fixture where form really goes out of the window but I expect an entertaining affair that you do not want to miss.