By Jon Levy
USA–Mexico: TYAC Preview
There is no such thing as a “friendly” soccer match when the USA and Mexico meet, so you won’t see that term appear a second time in this preview. The Yanks and El Tri will meet in an exhibition match on Wednesday night; a match sure to be filled with bad blood, a coaching debut, and more storylines than you can shake a tainted chicken wing at.
Now you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t address each of those storylines individually; I think a lot of them have been overcooked in the past week. Finally, the time to stop writing about emotion and abstract concepts is beyond us, and it is high time we collectively get to thinking about 22 players chasing after a ball on a nice green patch in Philadelphia. Somebody get me a cheesesteak and beer!
What to watch for from the Yanks:
Width. You’ve probably seen this term a couple times in the past week, and for good reason. Jurgen Klinsmann’s first US roster screams “Width!” with about as much subtlety as Metallica’s moniker hints at the style of music they play. The aim towards achieving width on the pitch isn’t only seen through the players Jurgen selected, but through the preliminary positional designations which usually mean very little.
Specifically, Édgar Castillo being listed as a defender and DaMarcus Beasley appearing amongst the forwards speaks to Klinsmann’s desire to use every inch of the pitch. Castillo was deployed as a midfield substitute while earning his lone forgettable cap under Bob Bradley. So much for the next US left back, we thought.. Similarly, Beasley played midfield almost exclusively for Bobbo, supposedly losing the right to play further up the pitch when Bruce Arena left the building. He even played left back in World Cup qualifying. So much for width. New sheriff in town with Klinsmann. By naming these two in his squad, and designating them as a forward and a defender, Klinsmann left little doubt to the value he places on speed and width, two ingredients that go together like Michael Bradley and yellow cards.
This width should be designed to pull the opposing back line apart, create more passing options for advancing players, and lead to more quality scoring chances in the run of play. I do not expect it to look great on Wednesday night; you can’t do much in one day of practice.
On Wing Forwards: Klinsmann sent a clear message by selecting DaMarcus Beasley that he plans to utilize wing forwards in his formation, and this is great news for two other Yanks at the opposite ends of their international careers. Just as Beasley is once again relevant with respect to the national team, Landon Donovan may see his usefulness on the international level extended significantly by not having to trot the midfield into his mid-thirties. And over in Hoffenheim,Germany, eighteen year old Joe Gyau must be chomping at the bit to get into one of Klinsmann’s squad and terrorize defenders from his natural position, a position that didn’t exist in Bobbo’s rigid 4-4-2.
And what will we see out of El Tri?
More of the same I’m afraid, plus the players who were banned for the Gold Cup Final. This Mexican team finally has an identity that has nothing to do with underachieving spectacularly. All credit should go to coach José Manuel de la Torre. He’s cut the dead weight that wouldn’t do things his way, and turned a group of singular flair artists and underappreciated role players into a cohesive unit. Argentina should swallow its pride and get on the phone with this guy today, before the greatest group of international forwards in the history of the game is gone and has nothing but club honors to show for their careers. I digress, back to El Tri.
Mexico obviously played wonderfully in the Gold Cup, attacking as a swarm and relying on their wingers Guardado and Barrera to rampage on the flanks with the assistance of their fullbacks and Gio Dos Santos. They’ll see this match as a good opportunity to test their game plan against a squad that’s trying to play a very different style than is usually seen in CONCACAF. Yanks fans will of course hope that “trying” is not the operative word.
Mexico may also get a chance to play in a true road environment in this match. Though I am far from a fan of Philly sports and their teams; I love it as a host city for this match. Whenever I mention the venom of Philadelphia sports fans, well, I get killed by…you guessed it, Philadelphia sports fans. But in this case, that venom is commendable, and I hope they bring it to the Linc by the bucket. In 1976 Russia’s Red Army team skated into the Spectrum and got beat up so bad by the Philadelphia Flyers that the supposedly unbeatable national team tried to quit and go home. The US will never get such a plea for surrender from a Mexican soccer team, but after their hero’s welcome in LA, it’s time El Tri’s players had to cope with a chilly reception from the Yanks both on and off the field. At least in the city of Rocky Balboa, that’s a possibility.
And of course we can’t forget to mention the players returning from their Gold Cup ban. Ochoa will be back in goal, Sinha will probably start in the midfield, Maza Rodriguez will be available in central defense, and then there’s Mr. Bermúdez. The good news, of course, is that the Mexicans will be without their superstar, Javier Hernandez, who is injured for this match. Hernandez’s omission ensures the two best field players in CONCACAF won’t be present at the Linc tonight, as Clint Dempsey has Europa duties for Fulham.
Mexico Player to Watch: Christian Bermúdez
The man they call El Hobbit is a pint-size midfield dynamo, and he’s only 24 years old. Get used to hearing his name, because Bilbo Bermúdez could very well be a major pain in American asses for the next ten years. Bermúdez got dealt a nice little unplanned vacation this summer when he tested positive for Clenbuterol after hanging withMexico’s tainted chicken crowd, so manager José Manuel de la Torre will be eager to open the next chapter in his burgeoning national team career.
Activity is the name of the game for El Hobbit, on attack and defense, with and without the ball. He can operate on a wing, but he’s most effective when positioned centrally; more havoc to wreak in the thick of it. He’s been deployed as one of Mexico’s traditional CM’s in the Torrado/Castro spot, but he brings much more movement and attacking flair to the position. Are you wistful for a healthy Stu Holden yet?
Christian can also play second striker; he’s currently serving as the understudy to Gio Dos Santos for the now familiar Mexico hinge position. After Gio’s long summer, which included playing in the Copa America after the Gold Cup, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bermúdez deputize for Gio in the second half against the Yanks, or (less likely) even start.
US Player to Watch: José Francisco Torres
You knew it was coming. It had to.
Who’s the guy most famously spurned, most often omitted, and seemingly most forgotten by US Soccer’s old regime? When an entire slate of jokes surfaces about you having wronged Bob Bradley’s family in various humorous and profane ways, you’re that guy.
So how does a new national team coach easily set himself apart from the last sheriff, while simultaneously reinforcing both points he made in his inaugural presser about the style he wants to play? I guess I kind of gave that one away, but you get it. Gringo Torres. The ball handling Mexican American is the perfect player to hitch your wagon to if you’re Jurgen Klinsmann. Torres is comfortable playing a free flowing style and distributing all over the pitch. He’s calm with the ball at his feet, and at his best he picks out the most useful safe passing option on the field, like an NFL quarterback in the west coast offense. What that means in soccer terms is that when Gringo is on, he’s going to pick out the path of least resistance, but it’ll usually take another pass or two for the ball to get home.
And that brings me to the misconceptions about JFT. There’s a large contingent of USMNT supporters who have been viewing Torres as the regrettably absent would-be savior of the national team for the past couple years. This contingent points to commentary like I’ve written above about José’s ball skills and style of play, and declares him a force in the attacking third, the man with the key to unlocking defenses in CONCACAF and far beyond. They point to isolated incidents like one giant PK for Pachuca, and a 35 yard strike that went just over the bar in Amsterdam. This contingent shouldn’t be ostracized for being hopeful, especially since JFT might be able to become the player they’re envisioning. But it’s of paramount importance if you want to be the smartest guy in the room (or at the bar), that you don’t lose sight of what track record and reality say about Gringo. He plays defensive midfield forPachuca. He does it well. He’s played central midfield for the US, and in his best performance in the shirt he was an “according to Hoyle” defensive mid, digging the ball out from the defenders and starting multiple useful possession-based attacks against Costa Rica that culminated in Jonathan Bornstein’s Honduran hero turn. He played pretty well againstTurkey in a Send-Off friendly for a half, then played relatively badly in a start at the World Cup. He’s a mixed bag, but one with excellent talent.
Now that reality check doesn’t mean I’m not very curious to see how Klinsmann uses JFT, but I think most of us can say that about a lot of players heading into this match.
Prediction: USA 0 – 3 Mexico
Please don’t glance at that scoreline and lump me in with the “sky is falling” crowd that seems to have taken all of Mexico’s positive results this summer as a sign of impending doom. I’m not scared for the future of US Soccer, nor do I think the rivalry with our neighbors will stay tilted southward for a very long time at all. I’m just pessimistic about the Yanks’ chances given that some of them have only had one day of practice with Coach Klinsmann. If he truly is trying to change the way the USMNT plays, then this match may not be very pretty at all. But as is always the case when I predict a loss for our boys, I’ll relish being proven wrong, and in this case, enjoying some overnight success! It sure would be nice to dump a little dog crap on Mexican soccer’s perfect summer.
Enjoy the match, and Go USA!