The Gold Cup is really a trumped up tournament, elaborate foreplay for the purpose of getting here: The United States and Mexico facing off for a moderate amount of Tostitos in front of a large regional audience. Any other outcome is a disappointment. Crack open your Budweisers. Hang freely in your American Flag boxers. Get in touch your inner Arizonan. Just remember. The Mexicans are overwhelming favorites to win this match.
Tactics: Both teams should start in a 4-2-3-1. Both prefer speedy counterattacks to breaking down teams deliberately. The difference between the U.S. and Mexico, however, is that Mexican players are faster, more technically gifted and distribute the ball far more fluidly from the back. The blueprint or facing El Tri is to drop men behind the ball, press hard and bog them down. Honduras nearly did this at midweek. I’m not sure the U.S. has the discipline, the cohesiveness or even the fitness to defend like that for a whole match.
Chicharito: The Man U wonderkid already has seven goals this tournament. It’s his first time facing the U.S. Chicharito presents two primary challenges. First, he’s among the world’s fastest players going against American defenders who struggle handling even modest speed. The U.S. back line will have to sit deep, placing the onus on the midfielders to close the space in front of them. Second, he’s an elite goal-poacher. He has an innate knack for coming out of nowhere, hopping on the stray rebound or loose ball and slotting it into the back of the net. The U.S. needs to be vigilant on crosses, corner kicks and set pieces. One missed marking could cost them the match.
The Donovan Question: Landon Donovan is arguably the best and most experienced American player. He knows what it means to play against Mexico. The U.S. needs his creativity and capacity for brilliance on the pitch from the onset. Sacha Kljestan is not a like for like replacement. There’s no rational reason to start Landon on the bench, except for continuity from the past two matches. The trouble is Bob Bradley has a continuity fetish. He’s excessively continuous. Once he gets a novel idea, he latches. His epitaph could read “refused to rock the boat.” Even if you had a logical argument not to start Donovan, following it would take stones. The fallout from getting rolled by the arch-rivals without Donovan could be job threatening. Expect Donovan to start, but don’t be surprised…
Mexico Squad: Andres Guardado (sprained ankle) and Carlos Salcido (heel) are both injury doubts for Mexico. Guardado is the pivotal one. He’s the only Mexican player who is a real threat to hop into the space left by Chicharito and challenge Tim Howard from distance. If Guardado can’t go, Mexico would slide Dos Santos to the left and play Aldo De Nigris through the middle. It’s not a bad lineup, but it’s a little less menacing, a little more predictable and a lot easier for the Americans to defend.
Prediction: Mexico is young and emerging. The United States is aging and trying to rebuild. El Tri, quite simply, are a better team. Their strength, speed and technical ability up front, highlights the biggest American weakness, a lumbering, tactless back four.
The U.S. must play focused and flawless for 90 minutes, capitalize on chances and hope for good fortune. They need to frustrate the Mexicans to the point where they get trapped inside their own heads and beat themselves. Such a performance is possible, but recent form from the U.S. gives no reason to expect one. Have to trust the brain over the heart. I’m predicting Mexico 3-1 USA.
[Photo via Getty]