Three days after the United States elected a President based at least in part on his plans to deport millions of Mexicans and to build a wall to keep them out the U.S. MNT plays Mexico Friday night in what is sure to be a charged atmosphere in Columbus, Ohio.
Hopefully, good will prevails and in fairness it usually does when these fierce rivals play here in the United States. Good natured banter and chants of Dos a Cero are to be expected and will be welcome at a packed and raucous Mapfre Stadium, formerly Columbus Crew Stadium, aka Home of Dos a Cero.
Four times the U.S. has vanquished El Tri by that famous 2-0 scoreline in Columbus going back to the Ice Bowl in February 2001, the Grandaddy of them all.
2005, 2009, and 2014 followed but can the U.S. do it again on Friday night? In truth, the U.S. would be happy with any winning scoreline as it kicks off the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, a six-team competition known as the Hex.
With a trip to Costa Rica, where the U.S. has never won, up next on Tuesday the importance of this match is heightened for the U.S. and it should be a good one. Mexico coach Jonathan Osorio has selected a very strong team to face the U.S led by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and filled it out with a host of players starring in top leagues around the world.
Osorio has been criticized by Mexico’s passionate press and fan base for what they see as too much squad rotation and being Mexico, Osorio lives with the knowledge that he could be fired at any moment. Many were surprised that the one time New York Red Bulls coach survived El Tri’s 7-0 drubbing by Chile at this summer’s Copa America Centenario but if he can end the Curse of Columbus Osorio should be on solid ground, if only for a while.
The Mexican supremo must envy the job security afforded Jurgen Klinsmann, who will be manning the sideline opposite Osorio in Columbus, and who has enjoyed unblinking loyalty from his superiors at U.S. Soccer.
For his part, Klinsmann comes into Columbus with his team playing well, although it would be foolish to underestimate the absence of Clint Dempsey, who continues to sit as he deals with a heart problem.
The veteran Dempsey his the ability to score goals when they matter most but Jozy Altidore is in fine form for club (Toronto FC) and country, so Klinsmann will look for Altidore, the USMNT’s third all-time leader with 37 goals to pick up the slack for Dempsey whose 52 goals trail only Landon Donovan’s 57.
So, Klinsmann knows who will lead his attack and the coach cleared up any remaining mystery at the other end of the pitch by naming Tim Howard as his keeper. With former number one Brad Guzan sitting behind Victor Valdes at Premier league club Middlesbrough the move was expected but Klinsmann does have some decisions to make.
At the top of that list is whether to take the training wheels off for rising star Christian Pulisic and the answer should be a resounding yes. With the 18-year-old starring week in and week out with Borussia Dortmund, it is clear that the kid can handle it and I believe that Klinsmann will hand Pulisic the start versus Mexico.
Klinsmann must also determine how much he can get from 35-year-old midfield dynamo, Jermaine Jones. After a long injury stint, Jones returned to Colorado ‘s lineup in time for the playoffs giving the Rapids 83 minutes of his typical all-action style when the Raps eliminated the L.A. Galaxy from the MLS Cup chase on pk’s just last Saturday.
Klinsmann reveres the veteran for his passion and big-game swagger and it is hard to conceive of the coach leaving Jones out if he is anywhere close to 100%.
Jones’ inclusion most likely sees Sacha Kljestan reduced to a subs role after having established what seemed like the beginnings of a fruitful midfield partnership with captain Michael Bradley.
An injury to Geoff Cameron leaves Klinsmann searching for a partner for John Brooks at the heart of the U.S defense and Omar Gonzalez and Steve Birnbaum look like the lead candidates for the job. Klinsmann also has Matt Besler, and Michael Orozco available but the coach prefers Besler at left center back and Orozco seems more likely to be used off of the bench.
I tip Gonzalez to get the nod from Klinsmann, mostly because the big defender plies his trade in Mexico’s Liga MX and has more big game experience with the U.S. MNT.
De Andre Yedlin was on the receiving end of some Klinsmann criticism after the most recent U.S friendlies but the former Seattle Sounder has since started several times for Newcastle and shown well on both sides of the ball. Message received?
Klinsmann could also go for the enigmatic Tim Chandler at fullback over Yedlin. Chandler has never shown much in a USA jersey but he has found his form for Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt and gives Klinsmann an option.
Fabian Johnson might be best used further up field for the Americans but Klinsmann sees the versatile wide man as something of a security blanket in the fullback role for the big teams and Mexico in the Hex is big.
Here is my Klinsmann 11. 4-4-2
DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson.
Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic
Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore.
Goalkeepers (4): Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough; 11/0), Ethan Horvath (Molde; 0/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 32/0), William Yarbrough (Club Leon; 0/0)
Defenders (9): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 8/1), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United; 2/0), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin; 0/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; 0/0), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt; 1/0), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca; 10/0), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach; 13/1), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana; 5/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United; 4/0)
Midfielders (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 6/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC; 29/5), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland; 0/0), Julian Green (Bayern Munich; 0/0), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids; 14/0), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls; 17/2), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund; 3/2), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz; 1/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 14/3)
Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC; 31/16), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen; 3/1), Jordan Morris* (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg; 6/2)
*Morris is out injured -replaced by Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy)