The United States vs. Mexico — one of soccer’s biggest international rivalries takes the primetime stage Saturday night with a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup on the line along with possible World Cup implications.
By Jeff Weisinger
The United States vs. Mexico — all that really needs to be said. There’s no point for me or any other soccer writer to tell you how important this game is for both sides. However, with a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup on the line, Saturday night’s matchup at the Rose Bowl (9:30 p.m. ET, FS1) just became a lot more intense.
The USMNT is coming off of a terrible finish in this summer’s Gold Cup, where they were upset by Jamaica in the semifinals – who were then defeated by Mexico in the Final, thus creating the matchup we have in front of us.
The winner of tonight’s match will represent CONCACAF in the Confederations Cup next summer in Moscow.
While a spot in the Confederations Cup is on the line, the USMNT’s future for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow is also at stake, potentially along with manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s job.
Former USMNT captain Landon Donovan believes that Klinsmann should be fired if the U.S. loses to Mexico Saturday night.
“Around the world, if a player plays poorly and a player has had a bad string of results, they get dropped from the team,” Donovan said in an interview with ESPN FC. “Jurgen said many times he wants our players to feel pressure — so if they lose a game they can’t go to the grocery store the next day. If they lose a game, they are getting hammered in the press.”
While spots with the team are on the line, all focus is on the game at hand.
“It’s a dry run for the World Cup,” USMNT captain Michael Bradley said. “You get to spend time in the country a year before, you play in the stadiums, you stay in the hotels, you get a feel for what the weather is like and the way things work.”
Bradley played in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa where the USMNT came back in the tournament after opening losses to Italy and Brazil, before defeating Egypt 3-0 to start a run where they’d beat Spain 2-0 in the semifinal and went up 2-0 in the final before losing 3-2 to Brazil.
“The biggest thing about the Confederations Cup is the competition you get to play against,” Jozy Altidore mentioned. “Those teams you play against are usually the ones in the World Cup.”
But before everyone gets too excited about next year’s big tournament, the United States has to focus on the task at hand Saturday night: Mexico.
El Tri still holds the bragging rights of defeating the U.S. at the Rose Bowl four years ago, however the USMNT hasn’t lost to the Mexicans in the following six matches.
Overall, Saturday’s match is about more than revenge. It’s about the U.S. re-establishing itself as a growing, potentially top-country in the CONCACAF, especially after the Gold Cup disaster.
“I was very upset with what happened in the Gold Cup, very upset, but that’s in the past, it’s gone, it’s out the window,” Klinsmann said. “Now we have a sold-out crowd and we have a lot of guests coming in, that live here, but maybe wear their green jersey first.
Hopefully by the end of the game, they pull that jersey off and have the red, white and blue underneath that.
“This is our goal. We want to win over a lot of our Mexican friends. We’ve won a lot of them over already in the last four or five years.”
Many questions about both teams going forward will be answered Saturday night.
Most expect the USMNT to start Tim Howard in the net despite his year off away from international duty, thus benching Brad Guzan who has done a solid job with the No. 1 shirt. Meanwhile, El Tri will be with an interim manager in the Tigres’ Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, adding a sort of mystery as to how Mexico will come out after Miguel “El Piojo” Herrera was let go shortly after the team’s Gold Cup victory after he attacked a journalist.
The United States roster consists of 15 members of the 2014 World Cup team, although it’s still a team on the verge of transition. Saturday night’s game could mark the end of the road for several of the older players on the roster.
“These are special games,” Bradley added. “It’s always important to take a moment in weeks like this and take it all in because there will come a day when I’m not playing anymore, and you’ll miss this. For all of us, it’s something we don’t take lightly, to represent the national team, to play in games like this.
“I think you’ll see 11 guys, and a bunch more on the bench tomorrow whose performance show that in every way.”
It’s been a while since the USMNT has played in a high-pressure, winner-take-all like game. Saturday night already has all the makings of a classic. The U.S. hopes that it’s a “Dos a Cero” classic.