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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Preview: USA vs. Mexico at the Azteca

            On Wednesday, the United States and Mexico are set to face off in another chapter of the two nations’ heated rivalry, one that seems to be reaching a boiling point.  The World Cup qualifier will take place at 4 pm ET in Mexico City at the Azteca Stadium, where the United States has gone 0-19-1 since 1937. 

            If there was ever a time for the Americans to end their winless streak, it is now.  After beating Spain and pushing Brazil to the brink in this summer’s Confederations Cup, soccer in America is at an all-time high.  The Yanks must feed of this success to overcome the nation’s biggest sporting challenge ever, and also to show that their brilliance this June was no fluke.  After an American b-squad suffered a crushing 5-0 defeat to the Mexicans on home soil in the Gold Cup final two weeks ago, a strong response this Wednesday at the Azteca would be ideal, to say the least.

            Here is my recipe for American success on Wednesday:  The Americans should organize a traditional 4-4-2.  We need Oguchi Onyewu and Jay Demerit as our center backs.  With Demerit starting alongside Gooch, Bocanegra is able to start as an outside back, where he plays with Stade Rennais in France.  (While often a center back with the national team, Bocanegra is much better on the outside.)  Jonathan Spector, the former Manchester United man, will then be the remaining outside back.

            In the midfield, we need Donovan and Dempsey on the wings, with Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark in the middle, where Clark should take on a more defensive role and Bradley then just in front.  The key for Bradley, though, is not to become too offensive.  He makes brilliant runs through the middle in attack, which he should absolutely continue to do, but if he can remain defensive with Clark at times, the two of them can free up space for Donovan and Dempsey, our team’s two best playmakers.

            Up top, we then should have Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies.  As two of America’s up-and-coming talents, these guys love working together.  I expect Altidore to use his strength to get rough with the Mexican defense.  Once the Mexicans become preoccupied with the big man, Davies will be terrific at latching onto the resulting extra space.

            Timmy Tourettes is a given in goal.  I don’t need to explain why.

            Now, Bob Bradley knows that this is his best squad, so expect to see an identical XI on the pitch come 4:00 Wednesday afternoon.  However, it all gets tricky with substitutions, Bradley’s biggest weakness as a coach.  Against Brazil in the Confederations Cup, all Bradley’s second-half replacements were absolutely ineffective and ultimately, disrupted the chemistry of the American team.

            First of all, if Altidore shows any hesitancy, I want him out come halftime.  When the big man is on, he is on.  But when he is off his game, do not expect any quick turnaround.  Work ethic is an area where the 19-year needs quite a bit of improvement.

            Secondly, I know he plays with AGF and Denmark is hard to find on the map, but don’t forget about Benny Feilhaber.  He is easily good enough to be in the United States’ starting squad.  So with his flexibility, if any midfielder needs to come off, I want Feilhaber to be his replacement.

            And lastly, if a third substitution is to be made, Jose Francesco Torres is the man.  Now, the issue is, while Torres may be my man in this situation, he certainly is not Bob Bradley’s man.  The Mexican-American midfielder has got the skills (and even the smarts to avoid MLS and play with Pachuca in the Mexican Primera), but for some reason cannot find the pitch with the national team.  Torres, while choosing to represent the red, white, and blue, will be keen to impress on his ancestral ground.

            This formula will give the Americans their best chance to succeed.  But perhaps in what cannot be strategized, confidence will be the biggest asset for the United States.  On Wednesday, the game will be played in traditional mid-day scorching Mexican heat, at a high altitude familiar to the El Tri, in front of over 100,000 red and green supporters.  After all, this is the Azteca.  But for the Americans to succeed, this cannot be the place of 20 games and zero wins.  Remember, the pitch is always neutral ground.  God bless us, I hope we win.

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