USMNT

Preview: USA vs Mexico

USA! USA!

USA! USA!

On a sunny summer day in 1934, Violet McKenzie, a clever entrepreneur from a small town just south of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, made a discovery that would revolutionize the frozen dessert industry.

Like many great inventions, it came less as the calculated conclusion of a detailed scientific study, and more by fortunate happenstance. In this monumental instance for Ms. McKenzie, it was a 1933 Packard 120 backing into her garage that set the wheels of history in motion. In the damage from the crash, an ice chest full of what she was then calling “iced-water” was upended, fusing together three flavors into a solid block of frozen sugar water with an accidentally patriotic, and delicious, color scheme.

The rest, as they say, is history and only the discovery of Neopolitan ice cream can hold a candle to the Rocket Pops’ hallowed place in the history of tri-flavored desserts.

None of that is even remotely true, but ever since US Soccer recently released their boldly-colored second jersey, I’d wager that a great many of the fans who support the Cherry, Lemon and Blue Raspberry, I mean Red, White and Blue, have struggled to move past the design and focus on Wednesday night’s “friendly” in Mexico City.

With the World Cup kickoff only two months away, the USRP (don’t make me spell it out) have a unique task at hand when they host El Tri in Phoenix tonight (11 pm: ESPN, UniMas, Watch ESPN). The result does not matter.

Seriously, it doesn’t.

Go Rocket Pops!!

Go Rocket Pops!!

Obviously the same can be said for most friendlies the world over, yet anyone who follows this rivalry knows well that both sets of supporters and pundits don’t hesitate to get riled up about the result, whether good or bad.

And while many of the American headliners — see Donovan, Landon and Bradley, Michael — will feature, the Mexican test will likely be the last opportunity for fringe players like Michael Parkhurst, Brad Davis and Chris Wondolowski to leave Jurgen Klinsmann with a positive impression when he sits down to make his final roster. Even more intriguing are the number of surprising outside candidates Klinsmann has included in his side, whether it is the recently captured Julian Green, the similarly young and impressive Luis Gil, or the recalled from the cold, Maurice Edu.

Between each of those players looking to leave Klinsmann with a lasting reminder of their abilities, and Monday’s backroom shake-up that now sees former Germany, Scotland and Nigeria manager Berti Vogts join USMNT’s staff, there’s plenty for US fans to consider before the team even faces its much-improved, attack-minded opponent.

Storylines to follow for USA v Mexico

1. Getting the most out of Clint Dempsey

It’s hard to remember if there was ever a similar stretch in Dempsey’s career when he was so utterly bereft of form. Whether it was a move to Tottenham where he was largely mis- and under-utilized, or his high price move back stateside with the Sounders, Dempsey has found himself squarely in the spotlight. Perhaps Klinsmann would do well to make a minor tactical shift, swapping Dempsey with Donovan to get Clint back out onto the left side of the pitch where he enjoyed so much joy with Fulham. Dempsey has never been the type of player through which a consistent offense runs. Rather, he likes to operate on the periphery, finding space for himself, taking quick touches in the build-up, and popping up at the opportune moment to bury his chances. For Klinsmann to get the most out of his captain, he would do well to recognize this and allow Dempsey the freedom to roam outside of the always packed center of the pitch.

2. Getting the American groove back

At the end of qualification, the Yanks were flying high. Yet, as the side has set their focus firmly on Brazil, some of the shine has come off the apple. Whether it has been the struggles of Dempsey or Jozy Altidore at the club level or dour, clumsy performances like the one the US turned in against Ukraine, Klinsmann has some motivation to do, and he has precious few matches in which to do it.

3. Will there be a rethink of tactics?

With the supply of goals relying so heavily on one or two players in top form to steal results, might Vogts appointment signal the Klinsmann feels that something needs to give for the USMNT? Perhaps. Jozy Altidore is the only target forward in which Klinsmann has consistently showed faith and, with the young striker’s ongoing struggles at Sunderland, the US manager needs to show that he can effectively incorporate other types of goalscorers — like Aron Johannsson — into his side in a meaningful way. While it may be too soon to expect any large-scale changes out of the US, watching the Americans’ shape, and with how many numbers they press forward, will be an interesting insight into how Klinsmann plans to develop a varied, shared attacking load going into this summer’s tournament.

4. How will the US deal with the Mexican pressure? 

If American fans are expecting the same lackluster, toothless Mexican side who needed help to limp over the qualification finish line, they will be sorely mistaken. Under Miguel Herrera, El Tri has rediscovered some of its attacking verve with an an aggressive 3-5-2 formation which will make them a difficult matchup for any team come World Cup time.

Against the Americans, Herrara will likely turn to a small, technical pairing of Marco Fabian (Cruz Azul on loan from Chivas) and Alan Pulido (Tigres) to lead his line. How Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Kyle Beckerman deal with the quick, talented duo will go a long way to deciding the match while also shedding light onto how, at the least, Besler and Gonzalez will cope with the pace that all three of their World Cup opponents can throw at them. Considering that Mexico tends to use at least one more powerful forward, with either the bullish Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna) or the 6’3″ Raul Jimenez (America) often preferred, it stands to reason that Herrara may be keying in on a perceived lack of pace in the center of the American defense.

4. What can Klinsmann expect out of Julian Green?

He’s 18 and he’s already on the fringes of the Bayern Munich first team. That’s pretty impressive for a player who has now permanently committed his international future to the US. But can Klinsmann get, or even expect, anything out of Green for this World Cup? There are varying schools of thought when it comes to filling out the back end of any 23 man World Cup roster. Some say that a player should only be selected if he/she can directly benefit the squad in some way. Others struggle to see any team seriously competing if they suffer the dip in form or requisite injuries that would result in the 22nd or 23rd player on the list seeing significant time on the pitch. If that is indeed the case, why not bring along a guy like Green — or Gil for that matter — if either is indeed as prodigiously talented as he appears to be and will be a future leader for the USMNT? 30-45 quality minutes will give Klinsmann a serious decision to make.

5. Who can force their way into Klinsmann’s thinking?

We’ve talked about Green.

Luis Gil is another dark-horse .

Since he has returned to MLS, Michael Parkhurst has led a surprisingly good Columbus Crew side to the top of the MLS table, and he’s done it at a new position, center back. Considering the form he’s in, and his ability to play any position on the backline, Parkhurst should get an extended look tonight.

Speaking of versatility, Maurice Edu, like Geoff Cameron, has had success both at center back and center midfield for the US, though Cameron has added a third position to his arsenal since Edu was last in camp. Given a chance to split minutes with Beckerman against Mexico, Edu will likely be given the opportunity to prove that he can not only defend with the best American midfielders, but can also be a solid, consistent distributor who adds a powerful aerial presence.

Preferred USMNT starting XI vs Mexico

Preferred USMNT starting XI vs Mexico

6. Does Nick Rimando have the third GK spot sewn up?

More than likely. While Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson have the size and athleticism to continue their development into top notch goalkeepers, neither has shown the consistency that truly forces either into contention. Nick Rimando, on the other hand, is the steady, cool customer that Klinsmann knows he could turn to in the unthinkable situation that both Tim Howard and Brad Guzan went down. Acrobatic in his shot-stopping, with lightning-quick reflexes, Rimando is also one of the best goalkeepers with the ball at his feet and is a proven leader and winner with Real Salt Lake.

7. How much time will Maurice Edu see?

This last question is of obvious interest to Union fans and, after bringing him back into the side, it would be surprising not to see Edu get at least 30 minutes of work against Mexico, perhaps even a full half if Klinsmann splits time between him and Beckerman.

Expected starting XI

4-2-3-1

Rimando; Yedlin, Gonzalez, Besler, Parkhurst; Beckerman, Bradley; Zusi, Donovan, Dempsey; E. Johnson

Subs to see 30+ minutes: S. Johnson, Edu, Green, Davis, Wondolowski

7 Comments

  1. 1. Tremendous analysis Eli.
    —–
    2. I will forever now remember the interrelation of Packard Motors and Rocket Pops.
    —-
    3. That jersey in god-awful ugly. I looks like something some Eastern European country that wasn’t even a country at the last World Cup would be wearing. This whole jersey cycle should go down as “epic failure” for US Soccer.

  2. I really hope they wear khaki colored shorts to complete the Rocket Pop look tonight. I’m excited to see Edu and Green tonight, but mostly excited to see these uniforms in action.

  3. Great One says:

    Can’t wait to see the horrible jerseys in action. Seriously, 4 years of planning and who signs off on either option? The real question is, which do you buy?
    .
    Awesome analysis, I’m really interested to see how Dempsey plays tonight.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    I will reserve comment on the Rocket Pop uniforms until after seeing them on TV. I hope they are better than the pictures.
    .
    And as always tonight will be: USA – Dos y Cero

  5. Vodka and a rocket pop in a blender! Official drink of the 2014 USMNT World Cup party!

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