Date: Sunday, June 11
Time: 8:30 PM Eastern, 7:30 PM Central, 5:30 PM Pacific, 12:30 AM UTC
Venue: Estadio Azteco, Mexico City, Mexico
Television: FS1, Univision, UDN
Streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, Univision Now
All-time record: 18-34-14 All time. 6-16-6 in World Cup Qualifying. 1-8-2 at the Azteca. Last Meeting: Mexico 2, USA 1 in WCQ on Nov. 11 2016 in Columbus, Ohio.
The United States Men’s National Team heads south to face their biggest rivals Mexico in the most anticipated matchup of World Cup Qualifying. El Tri has looked unstoppable in the Hex with 13 points out of a possible 15, and playing in the Estadio Azteca will be very tall proposition for Bruce Arena’s squad. The United States has bounced back nicely after their nightmare start to the Hex, and sit in third with seven points.
The USA is coming off of a solid but unspectacular 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday in Denver, where Christian Pulisic scored both goals and flashed his credentials for best player in the squad despite being just 18. Mexico coasted by Honduras, 3-0, on Thursday at home with goals from Oswaldo Alanis, Hirving Lozano and Raul Jimenez.
Coming away from the Azteca without any points would not hurt the USA’s chances for qualification, and frankly, it should be expected. But in the never-ending battle for North American superiority, a Mexico sweep in the Hex would be demoralizing. Christian Pulisic said after the match on Thursday that the USA would win, and if anything, the teenage phenom has sold an incredible amount of hope. It will be a huge measuring stick for this side and for Bruce Arena, and any points will be a positive result.
What to watch for Mexico
Mexico has been incredible in the Hex and is firing on all cylinders. They have the more talented squad, they have been playing better and they are at home. The only things to worry about right now for manager Juan Carlos Osario are the handful of injuries nagging his squad and that very quick turnaround to the upcoming Confederations Cup in Russia in a week’s time.
Rafa Marquez, Andres Guardado and Miguel Layun will not appear tonight, and neither will Carlos Salcedo, who exited the Honduras match with an injury, nor star winger Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, missing time for personal reasons. Osario has a number of options to work with in his squad, and rested Javier Hernandez and Marco Fabian on Thursday.
Expect some sort of 4-2-3-1 from El Tri with Javier Hernandez up top and Fabian underneath him. Hirving “Chucky” Lozano will certainly start and is every bit as dangerous and creative for the Mexicans as Pulisic is for the Americans. Carlos Vela or Raul Jimenez could see time on the wing, with Hector Herrera and Jonathan Dos Santos in the central midfield. Giovanni Dos Santos is another attacking option, and will likely appear at some point.
With the wealth of talent going forward, the Mexicans will dominate possession at home and look to put the USA on their back foot. They have struggled breaking down resolute defenses, however, and the Bruce Arena will certainly craft a defensive minded game plan. Mexico has been bailed out by their excellent set pieces, including the first goal against Honduras on Thursday and with the winner in Columbus the last time both teams met.
Defensively, the only real concern for the Osario will be Pulisic and how closely his midfielders and defenders track the Dortmund star. DeAndre Yedlin could be a bit of a worry if he uses his pace to overload the Mexican left side .
What to watch for the USA
Arena will likely rotate his squad a little bit in between two matches at altitude and will not be able to play a lone defensive midfielder like he did against Trinidad and Tobago. Expect Michael Bradley, who played that role well last time out, to be joined by Kellyn Acosta, who was excellent in the last 30 minutes and offers a sturdy midfield pairing.
Clint Dempsey likely won’t start but will make an appearance at some point. That allows Pulisic, the creative hub of the side to play centrally as a No. 10 behind either Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood as a lone striker up top. Wood has scored against Mexico in his last two appearances against them. Fabian Johnson and Darlington Nagbe are the best options for Arena out wide, but having played on Thursday, Arena might need to rotate in players like Paul Arriola or Union designated player Alejandro Bedoya. If Bedoya appeared, he would reprise his role as a defense-first outside mid to control tempo and possession.
Defensively, Yedlin, Brooks and Cameron should all keep their spots from Thursday, after a clean sheet, although Brooks looked a little lost, especially when losing Kenwyne Jones for an unmarked header that hit the crossbar. Villafana, who plays for Santos Laguna, could keep his left back role, but he has been rather unimpressive. The next logical option, however, would be DaMarcus Beasley, but his contribution would be a total unknown. Tim Howard will remain in goal.
Arena and his side will need to turn in a gritty, defensive performance and will have to grow comfortable with defending deep with nine or ten men behind the ball for long stretches of the game. The problem is that the defense can’t hone in on one man and shut him down, as there are too many threats. That being said, stopping Chicharito and Chucky would be a start. They must bring extra diligence to their set-piece defending as well.
Going forward, there likely won’t be much for the USA outside of the counter. Wood offers real pace and power up-top, as does Altidore. This will be one of the biggest tests of Pulisic’s young career to deliver an incredible performance on the biggest stage. He now must deal with weight of the unreasonable expectations on his shoulders, and the fact that Mexico will certainly be game-planning for him.
What to expect
Mexico will bring the game to the Americans in a very cagey and physical affair at a rowdy Azteca. The USA is improved since their last encounter in November and mentally disciplined after maybe losing that edge under Klinsmann. There is too much Mexican talent to contain, but if it gets chippy enough, the USA could bring the tempo of the match down to their level.
Prediction: 2-1 Mexico. The USA will put in a valiant effort and maybe score one, but to pick anything else at the Azteca would be a pipe dream.