Photo Credit: USMNT Website
On October 10th, 2015 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) hosts Mexico in the final game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. This tournament is held every two years, and the winners of two successive Gold Cups will play each other for a spot in the Confederations Cup. The U.S. won the 2013 Gold Cup, Mexico won the 2015 Gold Cup, and the winner of this final game takes it all and moves on to the Confederations Cup. Here are a few of the biggest storylines heading into the game.
A loss against Mexico spell the end for Klinsmann?
After an exciting World Cup performance, the United States have been in a transitional period. They have many up and coming players like Gyasi Zardes, Deandre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Fabian Johnson, who all have loads of potential, but have a long way to go before they are good enough to build a team around. At the same time, the players who have been the face of the U.S. men’s soccer for the past decade are slowly fading and may not be available for the next world cup like Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey. Overall, this is a tough position for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who hasn’t produced to the liking of US fans recently. If he fails to win the game vs. Mexico the US will not be happy with not winning the gold cup and not securing a Confederations Cup spot. A loss may not be the end, but it will be the beginning of a long process of asking questions in preparation for the America’s Cup in the summer of 2016.
Lack of Defensive Continuity adds importance to Jermaine Jones’s Return
The United States have been changing their backline a lot in the past few months and it has really hurt their performance on the field. There have been injuries to John Brooks, the top CB for the USMNT, Matt Besler, the starter from the world cup, has been absent with his club team, and Omar Gonzalez, a common starter who rested against Brazil, but all of them should be back for the game against Mexico. Even if all of them are back it will be the first time that they have played with each other recently and it will be tough to communicate effectively and that places a lot of stress on the midfield, especially the center defensive midfielder. In this case, that is Jermaine Jones. He is returning from groin surgery and in his return to Brazil looked awfully slow and unable to keep up with Brazil’s speedy attack. Brazil penalized the US every time the ball was turned over in the midfield by Alejandro Bedoya or Jermaine Jones leading to a barrage of chances and a 4-1 win. Against Mexico, the key will be very similar and it starts with Jermaine Jones. He played superbly in the world cup contributing as a strong defender that can push anyone off the ball, a man who can keep possession shoving any defender off to take pressure off the inexperienced defense, and sometimes even adding on the offensive end with rips from outside the box like he did against Portugal. Jermaine isn’t in top form. Could it be because of rust, his age or his recent injury? We will know rather quickly against Mexico by the success of this US team. If Jermaine Jones is back healthy it should be a rather easy win, but if not the United States defense gets exposed by the counter attacking Mexico team it will lead to another blowout possibly ending Jurgen’s tenure as head coach of the USMNT.
Mexico’s Head Coach Is…Oh Wait They Don’t Really Have One
The U.S. isn’t the only team having head coaching struggles, in fact, Mexico’s problems are far greater than those of the U.S. After Mexico won the Gold Cup final this year, the team was heading home out of Philadelphia Airport when a reporter ran into Mexico’s squad by the airport security gate. (Ex-)Head Coach Miguel Herrera proceeded to punch the reporter in the neck and ask him to settle things out on the street. So unsurprisingly, this got him fired, and now Mexico has no real head coach. The Brazilian-Mexican former midfielder, Ricardo Ferretti, has stepped in as interim head coach and signed a short-term contract lasting up to two more games (he has already coached two friendlies). Constant changing of the head coach position not only creates uncertainty in the minds of the players but also requires the players to make on-the-field adjustments. On the other hand, Mexico just tied World Cup finalists Argentina, robbed of a victory by a last-minute goal by that god they call Lionel Messi. Will Mexico be able to continue their strong play against the U.S.?
Key to Victory: Michael Bradley and the Midfield
As mentioned before, the U.S. midfield will be the deciding factor in this game. Aside from Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley will be the most important player on the pitch. In their friendly against Argentina, almost every single one of Mexico’s chances came from Argentinian turnovers leading to quick counter attacks. Mexico is extremely effective on the counter because of their speed on the wings paired with Chicharito’s eye for the goal. For this reason, the U.S.’s ability to take care of the ball and eliminate these counter attacks is pivotal, and it starts with the USMNT captain, Michael Bradley. Any ball intercepted or stolen in the midfield will lead directly to having to frantically defend Mexico’s speed. However, Bradley will be happy for the return of MLS superstar Clint Dempsey, whose offensive skill and shot-taking ability will alleviate pressure in the midfield due to his ability to draw in multiple defenders. Bradley’s ability to balance keeping the ball and playing conservatively with being creative and generating offense makes him the key player in this game. A top notch performance from the US captain will almost certainly lead to a U.S. victory as well as a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.