USMNT Report: Pressure Mounts for Azteca Clash

Both the United States and Mexico feel the pressure as the World Cup Qualifier as the two set for battle in Mexico
by Herb Scribner   |   Tuesday, March 26, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States Men’s National Team will go from snow to sauna, as it travels down Mexico City way to the always buzzing, always intimidating, Estadio Azteca.

But unlike previous games in the past, the US might have a higher amount of momentum than its Mexican opponents. After braving the elements and barely bringing home a win, the Americans return to the pitch against a Mexican team that just recently surrendered a 2-goal lead to Honduras.

So the pressure, undoubtedly, will be on for both sides.

THE ROAD TO NOW: Last Friday, the US and Costa Rica battled in a Rocky Mountain blizzard that has been earned nicknames such as “Snowmageddon” and “SnowClasico.” The two teams created what some would call a new extreme sport, as the world’s game was there, but invisible (like the US team itself, which wore all white kits). It was such an ordeal that Costa Rica appealed the result to FIFA, which has since rejected the proposal to replay the match.

In this ugly game that was more foosball than futbol, the Americans triumphed with a 1-0 decision. The sole goal of the contest came when forward Jozy Altidore, feeling confident, cleared space on the frigid pitch and sent a shot home. On the rebound, captain Clint Dempsey connected to the ball and knocked it into the net.

And, despite the game being held up at the 55th minute to determine whether or not it could continue, there were few hiccups for the Americans, as they held on to earn yet another home victory.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: After the Costa Rica affair, manager Jurgen Klinsmann spoke on the important of altitude in the Denver match, as it will prepare the team for the Azteca battle.

“Altitude is one of the main reasons being here,” Klinsmann said. “That’s a topic that if you talk to sports scientists, there is almost no ideal time frame. … How much it helps us at the end of day to adjust to higher altitudes in Mexico City, we will see that on Tuesday night, but I think every day on talking to these so called experts helps you. Any altitude helps you.”  

Clarence Goodson talked to US Soccer about how he’s approaching the Mexico game.

“I think that they’re under a lot of pressure,” he said. “I think certainly they’re going to come out and put pressure on us from the beginning of the game. We’re going to have to weather that storm, so to speak.”

Midfielder Graham Zusi thinks the US is in for quite a battle.

“They’re our biggest rival and that stadium has an incredible atmosphere to play. We know the fans are going to come out in huge numbers, so really a battle because that’s what it usually is.” With a short turnaround, all you can do is try to get your body back to 100%.”

The environment will play a big part for the team, according to defensive midfielder Maurice Edu.

“Obviously the last game, we played in what was like a blizzard with the pitch covered the snow,” he said. “It’s going to be the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s going to be hot, humid, altitude as well. But what’s important is we go out there and play. We just have to go out there and focus on playing our game.

ANALYSIS: If I had to pick which of the two sides are heading into tonight’s contest with more of a disadvantage, I’d have to point to the Americans.

While the United States escaped with the victory on Friday, the win came in a fantastical and bizarre environment that will do little to improve the team’s game. Trudging through snow and biting winds likely caused more damage than anything else, especially on players like Dempsey, who just recently came back from a calf injury.

No one, especially Klinsmann and his crew, can look at the Costa Rica match as an example of what the United States needs to do to get victories – because that wasn’t a soccer match, at least in the traditional sense. Players were sliding all over the field and were digging clumps of snow from their cleats just to run a few feet. Free kicks required an extra 30 seconds of attention to clear and shovel out space to take them. Neither US goalkeeper Brad Guzan nor Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas had full visibility either, making it extremely difficult to align and set up the defenders. Both teams were at a disadvantage.

Thus, the Americans were happy, and a little lucky, to get away with 3 points. Remember, it was only a 1-goal decision. And, after the break at the 55th minute, Costa Rica was composed and confident; it had several opportunities at the net that nearly knotted the score. Costa Ricans also aren’t used to Colorado blizzards, either, which definitely handicapped them in Denver.

But Mexico, probably more than the USA at this point, will be feeling the pressure to get a win after El Tri surrendered a 2-0 goal lead and draw Honduras 2-2 on Friday. Chicharito, arguably one of the best players in CONCACAF, will surely steam through the disastrous US defensive backline. If Alvaro Saborio, who isn’t a world class striker, can provide chances and make runs for his side despite mounds of snow, Chicharito won’t have a problem.

Some might be worried about the US’ defensive unit even more since defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones is out because of his yellow card accumulation. Kyle Beckerman, who captains Real Salt Lake and is an exceptional holding midfielder, especially in the diamond formation, should take the spot. His pass accuracy and composure with the ball are second to none on this roster, and Klinsmann would do well to have him fill the spot.

Negatives aside, the Americans are landing in Mexico City with a bit more of momentum than La Verde. The US is currently in second place in the CONCACAF WCQ standings, jumping from the final spot with Friday’s win. Mexico, meanwhile, suffered its second straight draw, last time in Azteca to Jamaica. El Tri performed so awfully in that match that even its own crowd, known for its cruel antics and raucous mentality, gave it a little “Ole, ole, ole.” Confidence must be low in Mexico, and the Yanks should try and capitalize on that.

Then again, pressure has certainly built up for Mexico. With a bright future ahead – made clear by the excellence its U-20 side showed in the CONCACAF Championship tournament – the current Mexico lineup has the world’s eye on upon it, especially after these past two dismal draws. Psychologically, this burden could give Mexico the extra push it needs to push past the Yanks. The United States has never won a WCQ at Azteca either, which could certainly play a mental factor on this team.

NEXT UP: March 26 – USA vs. Mexico, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico. 10:30 p.m. EST, ESPN, Univision.


UMass Amherst
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FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.