USA vs. Mexico
2018 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier
Friday, Nov. 11, 7:45 pm ET | MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: FS1, Univision
Columbus. Cool weather. Two CONCACAF rivals fighting for a spot in the next FIFA World Cup.
Must be time for USA-Mexico again.
La Guerra Fria, they called it in the Mexican media, the first time these two sides met here in a World Cup qualifier. The Cold War. That was in February 2001, during qualification for Korea-Japan 2002. Friday night's matchup at MAPFRE Stadium will mark the fifth straight World Cup qualifying cycle to see USA-Mexico in Columbus, and the name still suits. These teams don't like each other, it's not going to be warm in Ohio's capital city, and the stands will be packed with a passionate and overwhelmingly pro-American crowd.
There's another Spanish phrase that keeps coming up, over and over, in connection with this rivalry in this location at this stage in qualifying. You might have heard it:
Dos a cero.
There will be time, soon enough, to talk about this upcoming match on its own merits -- who's in, who's out, how the rosters match up, the nuts and bolts that go into every preview. But, perhaps uniquely in the soccer cultures of both countries, no USA-Mexico match in Columbus ever stands on its own, as a thing in itself. Each is a chapter in a larger narrative, one that goes back a decade and a half. To understand what is about to happen, you first have to revisit what has gone before.
If you follow the game in this region at all, you'll know this by heart already. It'll make you glow with pride if you're a US fan. If you support El Tri, it'll represent a string of frustration you'd love to see snapped on Friday.
Mexico can win -- have won -- all over the US. But they've never won in Columbus. Every time they've tried, the Yanks have sent them home on the end of a 2-0 loss.
Dos a cero.
Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart in 2001. Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley in 2005. Michael Bradley twice in 2009. Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan in 2013. Clean sheets from Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard (twice) -- and guess who has just been named the first-choice goalkeeper again, going into this match?
You know all this. No matter who you support. The question is whether the United States -- who come in on a roll after winning their qualifying group earlier this year -- can do it again. Whether a side changing its identity, going young with a new crop of Europe-based players (though Bradley and Howard are still among a core of veteran MLSers called up by Jurgen Klinsmann), can get the job done again.
THE CASE FOR THE USA
History only goes so far, and once the whistle blows for kickoff on Friday, a new chapter will have to be written. The Yanks have the ability to get it done, even though their recent history against Mexico in competitive matches hasn't been spectacular.
You want the dos? Even without Clint Dempsey, sidelined indefinitely with an irregular heartbeat, Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore are more than capable of delivering it -- Altidore with power and persistence and Wood with wheels for days (and the experience of scoring against Mexico, even if that was in a losing effort in last year's Confederations Cup playoff match). Borussia Dortmund wunderkind Christian Pulisic won't be intimidated by the atmosphere, and he's also capable of finding the net -- or creating a perfect chance for someone else to do it.
What about the cero? Well, Howard will be back in goal on Friday. He's become a lion in winter since his return to MLS in midseason. Howard is not as athletic as he once was, but he's crafty with his positioning and his reflexes -- as he showed in saving two penalties on Sunday to help the Colorado Rapids reach the Western Conference Championship -- are still there.
THE CASE FOR MEXICO
This is a dangerous, experienced side -- only two players on Juan Carlos Osorio's 25-man preliminary roster have fewer than 10 caps for El Tri -- and they have something to prove.
With Osorio likely to run a three-man back line (in a 3-3-3-1 formation that clogs passing lanes in the middle but concedes space on the flanks), stopping dos from happening will largely be a matter of controlling the midfield and pressing for turnovers. That job might usually fall to Jonathan dos Santos (called up alongside brother Giovani, who is well familiar to MLS audiences), but he hasn't played for Mexico in a while.
If J. dos Santos doesn't start, Andres Guardado could drop back into a central midfield spot alongside Rafa Marquez, both of whom are adept at starting attacks out of their own end.
Getting off of cero? That runs right through the midfield, too, as Mexico look to create mismatches for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez -- or perhaps Carlos Vela, competition for the lone striker spot being intense under Osorio's setup. If anyone in the US defense gets caught out of position, the visitors can punish them in a hurry.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jozy Altidore, F, USA: At times in the past, Altidore has used national team duty as an opportunity to shake the cobwebs free and get back to scoring. No need for that respite this time, as he's fully in form and is coming off an absolute golazo for Toronto FC in a landslide victory over NYCFC in the playoffs. If the US is to keep the winning run over El Tri alive in Columbus, Altidore will most likely be involved in the goal(s).
Hector Moreno, D, Mexico: Ok, it may seem strange to pick a central defender with the likes of Chicharito, Vela, Giovani dos Santos, Andres Guardado and an in-form Marco Fabian among the players vying for a starting spot. But Moreno is one of the few players that is a lock for Osorio, and if Mexico are to turn the tide and get a result, finally, in Columbus, he'll play a significant role, one figures. In fact, the game could ultimately hinge on Moreno vs. Altidore -- the player with the better performance may hold all the cards for his side.
USA GOALKEEPERS (4): Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough/ENG), Ethan Horvath (Molde/NOR), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), William Yarbrough (Club Leon/MEX)
DEFENDERS (9): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur/ENG), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach/GER), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland/ENG), Julian Green (Bayern Munich/GER), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz/LIE), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen/GER), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER)
MEXICO GOALKEEPERS (3): Guillermo Ochoa (Granada/Spain), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca/Mexico), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul/Mexico)
DEFENDERS (8): Rafa Marquez (Atlas/Mexico), Nestor Araujo (Santos Laguna/Mexico), Diego Reyes (Espanyol/Spain), Hector Moreno (PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands), Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas/Mexico), Hugo Ayala (Tigres/Mexico), Carlos Salcedo (Fiorentina/Italy), Miguel Layun (Porto/Portugal)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Jonathan dos Santos (Villarreal/Spain), Orbelin Pineda (Chivas/Mexico), Jesus Dueñas (Tigres/Mexico), Andres Guardado (PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands), Hector Herrera (Porto/Portugal), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt/Germany)
FORWARDS (7): Raul Jimenez (Benfica/Portugal), Hirving Lozano (Pachuca/Mexico), Jesus Corona (Porto/Portugal), Jurgen Damm (Tigres/Mexico), Oribe Peralta (Club América/Mexico), Javier Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen/Germany), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad/Spain)