USA vs. Mexico WCQ Primer and Lineup Prediction
Pick any cliché you want: All good things must come to an end; teams learn more from losing than from winning; it was just one game, or any number of possible options; the US Men’s National Team and coach Jürgen Klinsmann learned some harsh and valuable lessons in their game against Costa Rica in San Jose that should help prepare them for tonight’s clash against hated rival Mexico.
First, the depth they thought they had does not exist. Sure, they have more talent on the team than they have in recent history or maybe ever, but they do not truly have depth. They are like that really good high school varsity football team that is moving up in the state rankings, but has one or two completely irreplaceable players who really carry the team, rather than the true powerhouses who aren’t affected by injuries to even their best players. Michael Bradley is without a doubt the most important player for the US, and they were not nearly the same team without him on the field. They looked completely lost for the first 25 minutes. They had no link between defense and attack, and no one to calm things down and maintain possession to stop Costa Rica’s momentum. The players’ demeanor suggested that without Bradley they were in trouble. Geoff Cameron is a solid Premier League defender and defensive midfielder, but he lacks the passing, playmaking, and overall confidence on the ball that Bradley brings. Bradley has been ruled out for the Mexico game with the sprained ankle he sustained in warm-ups before the Costa Rica match, and Cameron is suspended for yellow card accumulation, leaving Klinsmann with another big decision to make at center midfield for tonight’s game.
Second, the Michael Orozco experiment at right-back was a complete disaster. Costa Rica exposed him all night and he was caught out of position several times. This has been a gaping hole for the US while Steve Cherundolo has been out with numerous injuries. Brad Evans was a steady stop-gap for the time being but he is also out with an injury. Which begs the question; will Klinsmann please explain what Timmy Chandler did to deserve this exile? The US worked hard to get him to commit, he finally did, and now they are leaving him in Germany for every significant game they play when they are desperate for quality at his position. He’s a Bundesliga right back with size, skill, and speed, and the US needs him. Michael Parkhurst is likely to start at right back tonight against El Tri after a solid showing at the Gold Cup, though he has rarely seen the field for his club team in Germany. Recent call-up Brad Davis could also slide back and fill-in, but Parkhurst is the clear choice after Orozco’s fiasco last week.
Lastly, with Jozy Altidore starting on the bench due to injury, Klinsmann saw that his team must start with an established striker up front from here on out. The US employed what’s known as a “False 9”, meaning they are playing without a true striker while one of the midfielders at random drifts forward and acts as the striker. Clint Dempsey is an excellent forward, but he is not a true striker capable of playing alone up top. He is at his best as a playmaker behind the striker; same with Landon Donovan. Ahead of the match excitement was building because the US was supposed to start their first game with a full “A” team, yet with Altidore starting on the bench, arguably their two best in-form players were not on the field (Bradley being the other after a strong start with Roma in Serie A). Why did Klinsmann choose to go with Graham Zusi or Donovan instead of Eddie Johnson or Aron Johannsson, both of whom are established strikers with a nose for goal? We may never know, Klinsmann is a mad scientist who rarely explains his decisions, but expect to see Klinsmann’s standard 4-2-3-1 lineup against Mexico tonight following another failed experiment with a 4-2-4.
During the 12-match winning streak it seemed like every odd decision Klinsmann made paid off, but in Costa Rica the magic ran out against a talented team with a chip on its shoulder. Mexico is desperate coming into this game. They need to escape with at least a draw to keep hope alive of getting into the third place spot in CONCACAF, qualifying automatically for the World Cup, and avoiding a two-legged playoff against New Zealand with a birth in Brazil on the line. He needs to have the team prepared for the intensity they will face, they absolutely cannot come out flat like they did against the Ticos, and he has to be sure of his lineup decisions. That being said, here is my prediction for the US lineup tonight against El Tri:
GK: Tim Howard
LB: DaMarcus Beasley
CB: Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson
RB: Michael Parkhurst
CM: Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones
LAM: Fabian Johnson
CAM: Clint Dempsey
RAM: Landon Donovan
ST: Aron Johannsson
Starting from the back, Klinsmann called in Goodson after Cameron and Matt Besler were suspended for yellow card accumulation. With John Anthony Brooks being sent back to his club team Hertha Berlin, Goodson is the best choice over Orozco at this point. Had Brooks stayed, I would have made him the favorite to start, which would have permanently cap-tied him to the United States over Germany. Goodson had a solid Gold Cup for the US and carries a wealth of international experience, plus he is a force in the air on set-pieces. I have Parkhurst starting at right back for the reasons stated earlier, and Beasley remaining at left back due to his experience even though he had a rough outing against the Ticos last week.
For center midfield, I will admit I am not the biggest fan of Kyle Beckerman’s game. He is not a flashy player, but he is steady and gives Jones the freedom to push forward. They both have a knack for picking out a long pass and are capable distributors in attack. Though neither contain the goal-scoring prowess of Bradley, this is the best combination Klinsmann has available, with Beckerman more likely to stay back and assist with defensive duties. Mix Diskerud is another option here if Klinsmann chooses to go for a more attacking player in Bradley’s absence.
The only change I see in the attacking midfield is dropping Zusi to the bench and moving Dempsey back into his more natural center attacking midfield role. Yes, Zusi played a great pass to Fabian to set up the US penalty kick opportunity, but he was virtually invisible the rest of the time he was on the field and his corner kicks were downright awful, seeing Donovan replace him in that role to start the second half. With Fabian Johnson’s speed, playmaking, and recent form with the team, there is no way Klinsmann will bench him in this game. Out of all the German-American imports he has convinced to play for the US, Johnson has been the best by far and exactly what the team needs on the wing. Donovan and Dempsey showed how well they can work together during the second half of the Costa Rica game, so I don’t see Klinsmann splitting them up. That leaves Zusi as the odd man out for the team to bring in a true striker.
Speaking of that true striker, Aron Johannsson, the Kevin Bacon doppelganger nicknamed the Iceman, looks primed to start this game with Altidore out due to yellow card accumulation after his moronic act near the end of the Costa Rica match. I believe I speak for several US fans when I say I want to see this man in action for a full 90 minutes. Iceland was livid that he chose the United States over them, and it hasn’t taken long to see why. He has five goals in seven matches for his club team AZ Alkmaar, and was impressive during his time on the field against Bosnia-Herzegovina last month in his US debut. Eddie Johnson is the only other possibility here, and may get the nod based on his experience against Mexico and CONCACAF opponents, but I really see Klinsmann going with Johannsson here due to his form, skill, and Mexico’s lack-of familiarity with him. He’s unlike any other current US player and may be the spark they need in this game. He has seemingly infinite energy and he has a hunger to score goals.
Off the bench, I expect to see Alejandro Bedoya get his chance in this game. He has been impressive for Nantes in Ligue 1 (France), especially against European power PSG. He could come on for Donovan or Dempsey in the second half if the US wants more action on the right wing to provide more width to their play. Edgar Castillo could also see action at left back or left wing with his experience playing in Liga MX (Mexico) while providing more speed than Beasley is capable of at this point in his career. The final potential substitute will depend on how the match goes. Diskerud provides more attack in the midfield than Beckerman, Jose Torres is a steady midfielder who can string passes together to kill clock at the end of a match, or Eddie Johnson could come on if the team needs a goal late.
Regardless of who Klinsmann puts out there, the United States must make a good showing in their biggest game of the year against their fiercest border rival. Hype around the team has never been this high, and if they want to keep some of their new fans around, a win on National television in primetime will go a long way to building even more momentum ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Check out the game tonight 8 pm ET/5 pm PT on ESPN.
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