Mexico City, Mexico – “This is what they do, this is their life.” That is how Herculez Gomez described the importance of Tuesday night’s game versus the United States to the Mexican people. Born to Mexican parents and raised in Las Vegas, Gomez plays professionally for Santos Laguna, and he has been playing in Mexico’s top league since 2010. So Gomez knows what he’s talking about.
Gomez elaborated, “There is no Hollywood here, there is no NFL, there is no MLB, no NBA, no Nascar, NHL, any of that. It’s football,” Gomez said. “They breathe and die this, this is what they do.” “Their national team plays,” Gomez explained, “everything stops.” “The whole country will be watching, so it’s important to them.”
That level of interest can of course, translate into pressure on the team. Mexico’s hugely passionate fan base is not happy that this team has played to two draws in their first two matches, including a scoreless tie at home versus Jamaica to open the Hex. Blowing a 2-0 lead at Honduras cost Mexico a win on Friday and this soccer-mad nation was predictably outraged. Coming off of an Olympic Gold Medal in London last summer, El Tri were widely considered to be the best team in the region entering the Hex, and this relatively poor start has the soccer press and public on edge.
Gomez alluded to that pressure when he spoke to reporters at a press event Monday at the U.S. team hotel. “I think, externally, they have a lot of pressure on them,” Gomez remarked. “Maybe not within the group,” Gomez said, “because they’re a very good group.”
“But,” the versatile U.S. attacker noted, “I think externally, they have an enormous amount of pressure on them.”
Mexico’s national team coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, or “El Chepo,” is feeling pressure just as Jurgen Klinsmann was feeling last week, when his leadership was called into question with the Costa Rica match looming. Well, El Chepo is feeling that pressure magnified by how much Mexico cares about soccer, in comparison to the U.S.
Just that quickly is how things turn around in sports. Whatever the result Tuesday night, seven games remain for all the teams in the hex. Nothing is close to being decided, yet the pressure is real. The U.S. win over Costa Rica lessened that pressure on the Americans, and has the squad confident and relaxed as the big game approaches. Captain Clint Dempsey said that the team also, “got confidence from our place in the table.” Omar Gonzalez said that the challenges from the teams difficult, controversial week, concluding with a win, had in fact brought the team, “even closer, than it was before.”
Jurgen Klinsmann did express a little frustration at Monday’s press conference, when asked about the controversial column in Sporting News, that sparked last weeks fuss. Klinsmann is clearly fed up with talking about the subject, and if facial expressions are anything to go by, then the coach has had his fill of Landon Donovan questions for now also. The, “do you miss Donovan,” question was addressed to captain Clint Dempsey, while Klinsmann looked on somewhat bemused.
The U.S. will have to make do without Jermaine Jones against Mexico and when asked who would replace the rugged midfielder, Klinsmann conceded that Jones would be missed, calling him, “one of our leaders.” Klinsmann, though expressed confidence in his potential replacements, with Maurice Edu being the most likely.
Klinsmann spoke of, “the spirit in the group,” in that Costa Rica game. “Coming out of a very, very good performance from those guys,” the coach said, “you don’t want to make too many changes.”
100,000 plus are expected to be on hand Tuesday night in Azteca for this showdown between old rivals, as the Americans try to pick up their first ever qualifier victory over Mexico in Mexico. Tuesday morning we will take a crack at picking the U.S. team.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (World Cup Qualifying Caps/Goals)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa – 6/4 SO), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire – 0/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake – 0/0)
DEFENDERS (6): Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake – 0/0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City – 0/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City – 7/0), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy – 2/0), Clarence Goodson (Brondby – 6/0), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes – 0/0)
MIDFIELDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla – 27/6), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake – 3/0), Michael Bradley (Roma – 21/5), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana – 1/0), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo – 0/0), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor – 11/0), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht – 13/0), Brek Shea (Stoke City – 2/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City – 5/0)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar – 19/6), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna – 2/0), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur – 28/12), Herculez Gomez (Santos – 7/2), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC – 13/10)