Clemente Lisi previews the US vs. Mexico exhibition on Wednesday.
A new era starts Wednesday when Jurgen Klinsmann makes his debut as United States National Team coach against old rivals Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field. The friendly in Philadelphia will be the first game for the USA since losing to Mexico in the Gold Cup final in June. With that Gold Cup final loss still fresh and with players looking to impress a new coach, this August friendly takes on considerable meaning.
Although a USA-Mexico match is always a highly anticipated date on the calendar, this game will be viewed with even greater scrutiny given that it is the first for Klinsmann. If the National Team can play well, and even get a win, it would be a positive omen for Klinsmann as he embarks on a three-year journey that is expected to end with a competitive World Cup appearance in Brazil.
“It’s a very, very good team,” Klinsmann said of Mexico. “They have done a tremendous job over the past few years with a generation of young players and a record of really performing well at the highest level.”
Asked how he felt to play Mexico in his debut game, Klinsmann said, “It's a great start.”
For now, Klinsmann has his plate full assessing players and scouting after being officially introduced on August 1st. Mexico may be an attack-oriented team, but Klinsmann, a former striker, will likely field a US squad that will seek to dominate its opponent in the final third.
The game is the 59th meeting between the sides. The USA has an all-time record of 15-32-11 against Mexico dating back to 1934, but the USA has a 13-8-9 edge at home since 1957. The USA also holds a 13-10-8 advantage since 1990.
The match falls on a FIFA international fixture date, meaning both sides will have their European-based players at their disposals. Mexico is riding high after a string of stellar performances this year. Nine wins and two draws in 2011, with the three group stage losses at the Copa America explained by CONCACAF requiring Mexico to use a second-string squad made up largely of Under-23 players.
For the game, Mexico’s 20-man roster will not include Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but still boasts an impressive offensive trio – Giovani Dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera -- who dominated at the recent Gold Cup. All three scored against the US in the Gold Cup final. Hernandez will miss the game after suffering a concussion during training with Manchester United on the eve of last month's MLS All-Star Game.
Chicharito’s absence not withstanding, El Tri will be at full strength and feature the return of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who was suspended during the Gold Cup after testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol. The goalkeeper was later cleared of wrongdoing by the Mexican Federation because he was found to have unintentionally eaten tainted meat. Three others suspended for the same violation – Christian Bermudez, Francisco Rodriguez and Antonio “Sinha” Naelson – also make their return to the roster.
De la Torre like to use a 4-4-2 formation that often transforms into a 4-2-3-1, allowing the Mexicans to use the wings to move the ball into the opposing penalty area while allowing the midfield to push forward. De la Torre may employ striker Omar Arellano as a lone striker, although he is more comfortable playing on the right wing. Arellano, who got the call-up in place of Chicharito, said he is looking forward to playing the USA.
“It is a revenge match. Both sides will come out fighting,” he said.
The 24-year-old Chivas Guadalajara goal poacher is one of the Mexican league’s budding stars. Arellano played on Chivas’s youth team alongside Hernandez and played in the recent World Football Challenge against Barcelona. Chivas beating Barca 4-1 prompted Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola to heap praise on his opponents.
“Mexican football is very dynamic and entertaining,” he said.
Indeed, this current Mexico team has excelled as a result of the Mexican Football Federations' continued investment in youth players. Mexico’s recent Under-17 World Cup title and reaching the knockout stage at the ongoing U-20 World Cup are indications the future looks bright for Mexico.
For now, the US needs to worry about the team Mexico fields on Wednesday night. Klinsmann’s side appears to be a little more “Mexican” than past US teams following the call-ups of Michael Orozco, Edgar Castillo, Jose Torres and DaMarcus Beasley – players who all play for Mexican clubs. Veterans like Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Landon Donovan, all of whom have plenty of experience playing Mexico, form the core of the lineup.
The Americans can definitely compete with Mexico. For Klinsmann, the game is his first test. More importantly, the match at The Linc is a dry run for what awaits both nations as they embark on the road to Brazil 2014.