USA-Mexico Preview: Attack at the Azteca

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Is it in the cards?

Is it in the cards?

We’ll spare most of the buildup to the game. It’s been hashed and rehashed over blogs, emails, television, radio, locker rooms, outhouses, penthouses, henhouses, etc. etc. for awhile.

It’s the USA away, Mexico home…and the game is a fulcrum point one year away from the (Project 2010) World Cup.

Are the U.S. for real after their revelation against Spain or are they Even Steven, showing bouts of ineptitude vs. flashes of brilliance?

Let’s get right to the tale of the tape then. Let’s get it on!

As usual, we’ll follow the TSG format:

TSG “What We’re Looking For”

11 at the Whistle

*Disclaimers

Ding, ding ding.

TSG ” What We’re Looking For”

- Clint Dempsey to be active, enthused and present a threat.

Fan Chris R says, “Can someone please tell me which formation can mitigate the risk of Dempsey over-dribbling / turning the ball over in the middle of the field?

Coming off a strong Confederations Cup for Landon Donovan, there is small sense of, “Okay, whew, he started playing like we knew he could.” Dempsey, for his part, was effective as well, tallying 3 goals in the tourney. (By the way, the case of “Dempsey being in the right place and right time *is* a talent, not luck. Guess who had the best shooting percentage in the EPL last year. That’s right, Deuceman.)

Apologies for the digression, but we need Dempsey to be a threat. With Donovan coming on, the U.S. having a strike force, we’re really missing that one-on-one breakdown your defender and then maybe more that Dempsey can provide. For the US, he’s looked sluggish or perhaps he’s coming out with a sequel to his 2007 rap hit.

Let’s see the return of Clint in this game so the questions about if or where he should start subside.

- The US to show a veteran presence coming out of the locker room and that starts just after Tim Howard with Gooch and Jay DeMerit (and then correspondingly with the wingfulls)

Gotta play smart

Gotta play smart

The backline needs to control the tempo in the beginning of both halves in unison with outside middies. Specifically, Spector and Boca (or whoever else) need to be at the top of their game so Dempsey and Donovan don’t drift back and have the US huddled campfire-style around their 18.

And the centerbacks….most importantly….need to focus on the 15 minutes out of halftime no matter the score. That’s when the US has proved vulnerable and with the expected fan volume Howard is not going to be able to scream loud enough for direction.

- Jonathan Bornstein will return to form and somehow factor in this game.

Bornstein, if on his game, is a perfect defender against quick striking, ball possession teams like Mexico, Spain and Argentina. It may be Boca in trouble or a late game play. Call it a feeling.

- Speaking of which, Bob Bradley to use a quick hook, especially on Jozy Altidore if he’s in the clouds or whichever wingback is opening up the d.

I know Bob is steady and resists change. I mean how long did it take Charlie Davies to get off the pine. BB has to realize two things here *if they materialize. One, if Spector or Boca are getting beat–then they’re going to get beaten all day. You’re going to have Hedjuk, Cherundolo or as we commented above, Bornstein ready to play. Let’s use them.

Secondly Jozy will be a man for USMNT one day, but right now he’s only on the cusp. Assuming he starts, Jozy will have to be active causing trouble all day long up the pitch. BB will have a tireless and on-game Brian Ching at the ready if not and he should certainly use him if Altidore is out of unleaded.

11 at the Whistle

G: Tim Howard

D: Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Oneywu, Carlos Bocanegro

M: Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey

S:   Brian Ching, Jozy Altidore

Bench: Brad Guzan, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein, Benny Feilhaber, Stu Holden

Last spots: Conor Casey, Jose Francisco Torres, Chad Marshall

Disclaimers

- Charlie Davies to partner Jozy the Tiger up top

Lampard on the mind?

Cech in the head?

I literally just changed my mind here. Originally I was considering Ching and Davies up top. But the more I think about that argument (see: thrown-away commentary below) the more it makes more sense to start Jozy and Ching upfront as a likely scenario over Ching-Davies. My new reasoning: U.S. needs some firepower off the bench. You’ve got Davies who will give the defense fits with his speed in the 2nd half. You’ve got Jozy who as we mentioned is focused on Saturday at Chelsea–better to run him out there in the beginning and see where his mind is than bring him in later when you definitely need a contribution.

That being said Bob Bradley is a steady-as-she-goes sort of captain. Altidore and Davies had success in South Africa so they may get the nod. Remember, the only on here in true game shape is Brian Ching who’s been playing multiple games per week. Davies just got his first start of the season on Saturday and Altidore has yet to begin his season as we know.

Likelihood: 75%

- Steve Cherundolo to spell Jonathan Spector on the right rear flank

Spector has been solid if not a revelation for the U.S. team, but Bob B might choose to go with experience and a player who is arguably in better game shape here (Cherundolo’s season has begun in Germany; Spector gets his first nod this weekend in England). We don’t see it, but it’s possible.

Likelihood: 40%

- Ricardo Clark to give way to Benny Feilhaber in the starting 11.

Fan Matthew N says, “Feilhaber can be this player, but he really brings so much to the game that he should be starting.”

We think so too, but we think it will be Clark. We’d like to see Benny out there at the top of the diamond moving around and possessing the ball. We know Bob will play conservatively though and bring on Benny for needed offense or 2nd half possession, that is if he goes to a 1 striker formation.

Likelihood: 50%

- Jonathan Bornstein to start at left back if Captain Carlos is in the middle

Yeah, I know, we’re on a bit of a Bornstein kick. And no we won’t mention the time that he and Lionel….but if Boca plays center back you can be damn sure that Bornstein will get the nod at left.

Likelihood: 25%

Conclusion

Ok, as we mentioned, we’ll update the rosters tomorrow when they come out.

Tell us what you think. Who do you have on your scorecard at the final bell? Or will it be a knockout early?

(Note on the boxing pic: If it wasn’t immediately clear, the boxing pic is from the January 1994 fight between American Frankie Randall and perhaps the most famous Mexican-born boxer, Julio Cesar Chavez. Randall registered a stunning defeat of Chavez which was Chavez’s first loss of his professional career. In the fight, Chavez got knocked down as well for the first time ever as a professional.)

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14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/07 at 10:56 AM

    I loved Bornstein in the past and I was really excited to see him get so much playing time in the Confederations Cup, but he was just flat out awful. If he can manage to play some solid defence without getting blatant penalties, I’d like to see him on the field (though I think Boca/Gooch/Demerit/Spector are all better than Bornstein). I hope Bradley doesn’t play him at Mexico mostly because I think Bornstein needs some time to get back to playing well.

    I like Ricardo Clark but he often seems timid when he needs to possess the ball. His one and two touch skills are great, but he gets too flighty and has a heavy foot (often losing possession) when forced to dribble through traffic, which is something the US needs its midfielders to be able to do consistently.

    I’ll freely admit I don’t know enough about Jose Torres. A lot of people said he played very well during the Confed Cup, but I wasn’t that impressed. Sure, the kid has a lot of confidence and is comfortable possessing the ball, but I am not sure what he brings to the table other than that.

    I think the US is better, but I am expecting a loss. The US is definitely a better team, but the altitude, temperature, and home-field advantage will tilt the scales in favor of the Mexicans. I’m thinking it will be 3-1 Mexico with the US scoring a late goal at the end. I wouldn’t be surprised if the US won this, since I’ve said they are a better team, but the US has had trouble with other teams when playing them on their home turf– I think it was Costa Rica(?), and Costa Rica isn’t half the team a full-strength Mexico is.

    Reply

    • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/07 at 10:57 AM

      Also, I’ve never seen that Clint Dempsey rap video before and it is definitely awesome. It makes me want to go kick around a ball right now. Oh, and is Cherundolo fit to play at this level? I thought he had been injured and as far as I know he hasn’t had much playing time in quite awhile.

      Reply

  2. I like the Davies off the bench call, nice logic.

    Question: Any idea what the deal is with this Jones gentleman we heard so much about in the spring? The guy coming over from Germany that was meant to be this crushing midfielder…

    Reply

  3. Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/07 at 11:45 AM

    @ Matthew N

    I read somewhere (forget where) that Spector can play LB as well. So, we could see a line-up of Spector / Cherundolo outside with Gooch / Boca in the middle. I prefer the line-up you suggested with Boca and Spector wide and Gooch/Demerit in the center.

    I am guessing the Bradley saw enough of Cherundolo in the group stages to consider him fit.

    @ Chris R

    I really would like to see Altidore / Davies up top to start. If the US is down 70 minutes in, I think Davies speed will be neutralized as Mexico packs it in to hold on for the victory. Ching can do better work in a crowd. In addition, Ching has only played one game with Altidore and I don’t think a WC qualifier at Azteca is the right time to develop the partnership.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/07 at 12:18 PM

      Good posts — per the story, I definitely considered Davies / Altidore strongly. If were to bet my money on it, I probably wager it on that.

      Having said that, say the U.S. is down 1 goal with 15 minutes left, who do you turn for a spark. It’s not Ching, Landon and Demps have been playing the whole game.

      This is far from a new problem with the U.S. team — I just remember Ghana // Italy last World Cup where the loudest fan cries were for the introduction of Eddie Johnson (who I might add was not ready).

      The U.S. certainly needs to develop that type of striker. From our current assembly of folks, I can see that as a Marcus Tracy–yet he needs to get more time on the national scene.

      @ Matthew N

      As much as I love Frankie Haircut — I think Hedjuk and Cherundolo are going to have to be phased out and we need to get alot quicker on the corners. I’m not sure where Marvell Wynne went – but he’s that guy — you might actually see him make this trip actually.

      As well, I have not been impressed with Bornstein, but he is very dynamic and if he can make the grade he’d be a real asset. He kind of reminds me of Glen Johnson a little bit (more than Spector :>)

      Ricardo Clark — great backup, a little short on given ability, I really don’t like the U.S. content with two defensive mids, but that’s what BB has been doing.

      @ Mark

      In terms of Davies effectiveness, here’s what we know:

      – We know that Bradley will be conservative to start
      – We know that we won’t know the score in the 2nd half until then
      – We know that Altidore has fitness issues
      – We know that Ching has played only one game with Altidore

      Again, if I had to throw the money down I think you see Altidore Davies.

      But…
      1) You can’t make the argument that Mexico is packing it in because you don’t know the score yet — you’re assuming they are leading by at least more than 1 goal. (strategy is don’t pack it in until last ten minutes up 1 goal)

      2) The only reason you haven’t seen Altidore not play with Ching is because Ching was injured and didn’t make the Confed Cup. Remember games against Italy and Brazil in the early rounds you saw BB go one striker with Davies relieving Altidore — BB was forced into that hand.

      3) Additionally, I think if it’s a hurt Marquez in the middle or a less talented back-up, you want Ching to physically abuse them all game long, because he can — that will soften it up at some point.

      Whew….love USMNT

      If the U.S. had Tracy or Eddie Johnson on the sideline, I think you’d see Altidore / Davies for sure

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/07 at 12:24 PM

        Roster just announced —

        I bet Ching starting — why have Conor Casey for redundancy if Ching is not starting.

        Reply

      • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/07 at 12:27 PM

        It doesn’t matter why Ching and Altidore haven’t played together. The fact is they aren’t familiar with each other and the US can’t afford to spend 20 minutes working out that relationship at the start of the biggest game of the year.

        (Yes, it is bigger than the Confed Cup knockout games as this one actually means something.)

        Reply

  4. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/07 at 12:28 PM

    Mark — Altidore and Davies have played exactly one more game together. I think you’re going to miss this one buddy. :>

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/07 at 1:11 PM

      I am not going to “miss” anything. My OPINION is that I’d prefer Altidore and Davies. I didn’t say Bradley is going to start them.

      Enough with the smiley faces…they are annoying.

      (Anyone in the market for an older brother who thinks he knows everything?)

      Reply

  5. Two things not related to this stream at all:

    * I just tried to crash the Barca press conference at the Intercontinental in SF to hang with Henry, Messi et all. Once I made it in the hotel and into the elevator I found my way to the floor hosting the press conference only to be ushered back into the elevator by hotel security. It was a good try, not great, but good. For what it is worth and those of you in SF, practice tomorrow at Kezar either at 9am or 10am.

    * A lot of posts over the last few weeks have discussed major media coverage of the sport in the US. I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to see ESPN pick up major European games and show them early Saturday against lame Big Ten football / hoops games. Today, they did just that. Here comes major European soccer into every living room in the US on a Saturday (much different from champs league games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays)….See story at the link below:

    http://www.epltalk.com/espn-adds-premier-league-to-soccer-line-up/9899/

    Reply

  6. Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/10 at 12:55 PM

    As I watch the tweets roll in (Altidore, Davies, Holden etc.) about the USMNT gathering in MIAMI prior to Wednesday’s match, I can’t help but wonder why they chose Miami.

    Is it closer to Europe yes, but why not have the boys gather in Denver or Salt Lake? That way they spend two days at altitude (though a couple thousand feet below Mexico CIty’s 7,400ft elevation) and are only one-time zone away.

    Am I missing something?

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/10 at 1:00 PM

      Easiest direct flights in. Easiest flights to Mexico City.

      Denver // Salt Lake would have been way too much travel.

      In terms of playing in altitude they say you have two choices. Train under those conditions for at least a week or arrive and immediately play. Denver and Salt Lake wouldn’ t have helped this late in the game.

      First result on google sort of explains it: http://dopacetic.blogspot.com/2008/05/playing-at-altitude.html

      Reply

      • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/10 at 1:58 PM

        I lived for three years (and trained for a marathon) at 9,200 ft. and I’ve had a much different experience that your internet page says. You begin acclimating as soon as you get to that altitude. An extra day does make a difference. On the other hand, it take s a lot longer than a week for someone to train at their normal levels going from sea level to altitude.

        Reply

  7. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/10 at 2:01 PM

    Right, but remember your not nearly a professional athlete.

    SMILEY FACE!

    Reply

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