It’s Germany. It’s Argentina? Let’s get it on….
Okay, not quite, that’s the look the US (Germany) and Mexico (Argentina) are going to give you. However, as is well known, these two neighbors battling it out for CONCACAF supremacy–much more so in the wake of Jack Warner’s demise–are very familiar with each other.
This Saturday the prize? The Gold Cup trophy and a trip to the World Cup 2014 warm-up tourney the year before.
As the two favored nations to reach the Final before the tournament started, both teams took decidedly different, but also dramatic, paths to Pasadena.
The United States played, and dreadfully lost, an ill-advised pre-tournament friendly against the world’s number one team Spain.
They followed it up with an uneven group stage that saw their first ever loss–to a well-organized Panama side–in group play.
Coming off that monumental match, the States swapped out their backline–which has now been their key to their organization and defense–made it through the group stage, dismantled an overmatched though on-form Jamaican side, survived a war of field position against Panama and…now here they sit.
Oh, manager Bob Bradley–as is now custom during any camp or tournament of more than two matches–again came under the fire and the US sat their all-time caps, goal leader, and flag boy Landon Donovan on the bench.
Mexico arrives in the final with no less a dramatic drive. Hard to figure what was the bigger headline for El Tri in their group stage?Their tainted-chicken-steroid-player suspension situation–five players are no longer with the team but were replaced–or their overall attack dominance. El Tri lit the lamp 14 times in the group stage. 14 times!
More drama? FIFA is investigating irregularities in some of those matches early-on.
As the US neighbor headed through the knockouts they looked decidedly more earthbound, however that was merely because of better competition and tiring legs.
Make no mistake in this one, Mexico is and should be favored going in.
Let’s get to our customary preview. It goes:
About the Opponent: Mexico
TSG What We’re Looking At
11 At The Whistle
About the Opponent: Mexico
Nothing unfamiliar here for the States. Discussion of whether Mexico is running a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-1-1 here is mere semantics. Mexico plays a very adaptable game with players interchanging frequently.
One quick note here, the speedy and on-form Andres Guardado is questionable for the match having received an ankle knock in Wednesday’s match against Honduras. If he can’t go–as is presumed–manager José Manuel de la Torre will insert Aldo de Nigris in his place. We’re not talking a big drop-off at the position because De Nigris himself has been solid in June. (Saturday update: Guardado is now expected to play.)
Up top, the Mexican attack will feature Manchester United frontman Chicharito–he of the supreme poaching skills and six Gold Cup 2011 goals–in the center of the pitch.
Off him, Gio Dos Santos (who notoriously always seems like the anti-Donovan to the Yanks despite his big club team failures) will pick his spots and flip from one flank to the other depending on the match-up advantage.
Mexico uses their two wide midfielders Barrera and, Saturday, De Nigris to provide support if they are sharing the flank with Dos Santos or out wide if they are on the opposite flank from Gio.
Next, Israel Castro pushes up to fill in the center with Gerardo Torrado providing Castro with support as well as another option centrally or with Torrado staying home–effectively forming a 3-man backline up the pitch with central defenders Rafa Marquez and Hector Moreno–the fullbacks advancing. Castro and Torrado have been maligned for their speed, but they are smart players who know where to be on the field and that makes up for it.
Carlos Salcido–a teammate last year of Clint Dempsey’s at Fulham–mans the left with Efraín Juárez, Celtic, to the right.
Most folks and media previews will focus on Chicharito in this one, but it’s the 18-yard box-extended and the flanks where Mexico initiates its attack.
Supporting Dos Santos, Barrera and De Nigris well, El Tri likes to push wide and when a help central defender moves to provide cover either issue a cross or play it back on the floor to a trailing midfielder. That is the bigger battle in our opinion.
Mexico is very fluid and very good in tight spaces, so a disciplined shape from the Yanks is essential.
One more note, I’ve been somewhat surprised by just how frequently Mexico is issuing crosses in the air this tournament, perhaps a result of their confidence in Chicharito.
The Yanks have had one notorious breakdown–against Panama in the group stage–on a set piece cross and Saturday, if Mexico chooses that route, Clarence Goodson and Carlos Bocanegra–both very able aerially–will need to be on their games here.
TSG What We’re Looking For
Can the USMNT central midfield tandem of Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones hold up for one more game and find the hold-up player?
For US fans, this is the biggest question.
A long-running criticism of Coach Bob Bradley is his insistence on keeping son Michael on the pitch for the full ninety minutes. In fact, it’s earned midfielder the nickname “MB90″ for Bradley’s son as much as the midfielder’s aggressive, never-say-die style of play.
For the States, of course, this will be the grueling fifth game in 15 days. (And remember, no team has a homestand in this tournament. The US went Detroit, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Washington DC, Houston and now Pasadena–that’s brutal).
Towards the 70th minute of the last two matches, Bradley The Son tired.
For the United States, Bradley is critical as the defensive funnel and as the lead ball distributor from the back.
Mexico will flood centrally when the ball is on the flank, Bradley will have to do yoeman track-back work–he typically sits ahead of Jermaine Jones on defense–and will have to find the high-pressure outlet–and this is perhaps the most key point of this preview–after the US wins possession in its end.
If not? The States will play huck-it-up ball to a teenager against a seasoned backline and it could be a long afternoon.
Key match-up: Chicharito vs. Clarence Goodson-Carlos Bocanegra
Both the US centerbacks will be tasked with minding the off-ball work of Chicharito. Whether this means holding a disciplined line, following an angled run or dueling in the air, the communication between the veteran and the up-and-comer in central defense will need to spot on.
Can the US get its flankers up the pitch?
Mexico love to attack the gaps between the wide defenders and the centerback. That will often mean many times–more so than in any other game in this tournament–that Eric Lichaj and Steve Cherundolo will have to be narrow with the centerbacks on defense. Can they make their way up and wide on the pitch to provide support?
Remember it’s the Yanks wide fullback play that has been more key to their width than their midfielders in Summer 2011.
Um, might be nice to have Charlie Daves or Robbie Findley hanging around.
El Tri has been playing a highline for a bulk of the tournament using their front six pressure to create nightmares on a change in turnover. As their opponents have looked for joy up the field to alleviate pressure, they’ve been introduced to the Mexican backline playing far up the field.
The US will have to ping the ball on the floor to get out of the back, but as soon as a Clint Dempsey or Alejandro Bedoya has the ball up field they’ll need another outlet further up the field or risk being closed down by Mex’s “last line” defenders.”
Will Agudelo find the spots and does anyone on the States have enough speed to worry Moreno and Marquez for Mexico and force them to sit deeper?
11 At The Whistle:
The skinny: Two basic questions:
» How does Bob Bradley get his best, in-form players on the pitch together in a cohesive line-up all at one time?
» How does Bradley address the Mexican attack–the toughest one of the tourney–in terms of a defensive posture?
Gut feeling here is that Bradley with the below line-up.
Beyond the regular starters this Gold Cup, Alejandro Bedoya will be used to help Steve Cherundolo over the right flank or Eric Lichaj over the left flank. Only concern about putting Bedoya on the left flank is both he and Lichaj are new to the Mexican rivalry on the same side.
*Thanks to the TSG community for the commentary on the US line-up.
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: Mexico loves the cutback ball, in the air or on the ground. Howard’s going to be challenged on when to come out and when to stay put in this one. Oh not only on the wide balls played-in, but on the counters when the US may be caught out. It’s going to happen.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Eric Lichaj
The skinny: No surprises here, biggest game of Lichaj’s short tenure manning the left fullback spot.
MID: Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan
The skinny: Can Bedoya continue his all out up-down play that’s been the hallmark of a very positive Gold Cup for him. He’s going to need to help Dolo and get ahead in the attack.
On Donovan: If he’s healthy he plays.
FW: Clint Dempsey
The skinny: (Edit from TSG community) Dempsey will play a roving forward and hold-up role. Makes sense.
STR: Juan Agudelo
The skinny: This ain’t gym class; but it’s also not Panama’s Felipe Baloy. This games sets up much better for Agudelo’s skillset. Can he take advantage.
» Maurice Edu for Donovan or Bedoya (with Donovan moving to his flank)
The skinny: Very possible. You don’t think Bradley was perhaps trying out a potential Mexico defensive line-up against the similar Argentina
Oh, and can’t leave this question unattended. Will there be another late game Freddy Adu sighting accompanied by heroics?