Game: United States Men’s National Team vs. Mexico
Date: Friday, Nov. 11
Time: 7:45 p.m. ET
Venue: MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Television: FS1, Univision
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
All-time record: 18-34-14
The wait is finally over. The biggest fixture on American soil every four years takes place tonight, as the USMNT faces Mexico in Columbus, Ohio for the first match in the Hexagonal, the final round of 2018 World Cup Qualifying in North America. The two teams have renewed their rivalry since the start of the 21st century, with the clash becoming one of the most highly anticipated in world soccer. With the USA defending its sterling 8-0-3 record at Columbus and its 4-0 record there against Mexico in WCQ, all by the famous 2-0 scoreline, Friday night is shaping up to be a blockbuster.
What to watch for Mexico
Since head coach Juan Carlos Osario took over for Mexico just over a year ago, El Tri has boasted a 12-1-2 record with the lone loss being the 7-0 drubbing by Chile in the Copa America Centenario. Osario’s side gets results, even if it is not always pretty.
Mexico is currently ranked 17th in the world and is loaded with talent in its roster, headlined by Javier Hernandez of Bayer Leverkusen, Andres Guardado of PSV, and Giovani Dos Santos of the LA Galaxy. Top to bottom, El Tri are stocked, and head into the Hex with a more accomplished roster on paper than the Americans.
With the USA likely playing with two strikers, Osorio will opt for a 3-man backline. He will stock the midfield with five players, including two wingbacks, and start Hernandez up top with another striker deployed right behind him. The key tactical battles will be 37-year-old Rafa Marquez vs Jozy Altidore and how much havoc Hernandez can wreak among the US backline.
What to watch for the USA
While making the Copa America Centenario semifinals was a nice surprise for the USMNT, the grudge match tonight is the most meaningful match of the year, and the most pressure the USA will have to get a win. While the history at Columbus buoys the spirits of the team, it also can add an unexpected pressure to achieve an assumed conclusion against a superior side, by a dominant 2-0 scoreline nonetheless.
Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has his work cut out for him, but selected just about his best squad possible for the Hex. The only notable absences are defender Geoff Cameron with a knee injury, and striker Jordan Morris, who was a late scratch.
Klinsmann will likely line up in a 4-4-2 with Tim Howard starting between the posts. From the left to right, the defenders should be Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, and DeAndre Yedlin, and the midfield should be Christian Pulisic, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Alejandro Bedoya. If Jones is not match fit enough, Sacha Kljestan could step up. Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood will start up top with Altidore in a more advanced role.
For the USA, one focal point is the right side of the backline with the inexperienced Yedlin and the deputizing Gonzalez instead of Cameron. Expect Javier Hernandez to run at these two all day and make runs to draw them out of position to create space for late runners through the middle.
Another key battle is the central midfield where the USA will likely be outnumbered three to two. The number disadvantage means that Jermaine Jones will have to be at his ball-winning best, and if he isn’t fully fit, there could be trouble. Expect Bedoya to tuck in centrally, especially without the ball.
The USA’s most important player offensively is Chrisitan Pulisic, the 18 year old from Borussia Dortmund. It’s a large responsibility to place on his shoulders, but he has survived every baptism by fire thus far. He can unlock a set Mexican defense, and if the US plays long stretches of the game on the defensive, he represents the best outlet for a counterattack.
What to expect
Mexico comes into this match with the slightly better side, but recent form is mostly a wash despite the USA drawing a New Zealand side that Mexico beat. Mexico will be supercharged to avenge its embarrassing defeat to Chile and to break the ghosts of Columbus and #DosACero. That squarely places the pressure on the USA, who for once are not playing with nothing to lose -- in fact, it has to protect its ground. If recent Mexico-USA clashes are any indication, tonight should be classic, with attacking football on both sides. Klinsmann has perfected the USA brand of reactionary tactics while El Tri will be proactive trying to assert their dominance. Whoever scores first will take home the spoils, and at home the USA might just be able to tip the scales in their favor.
Prediction: 2-0 USA. Ride with history until proven otherwise.