Photo credit: mlssoccer.com
Four days ago, prior to the US Men's National team's game versus Costa Rica, it seemed like the game versus Mexico to be played today was largely in the bag. One injury and three suspensions later and it seems like Team USA's chances have evaporated.
Let's keep it simple: no Michael Bradley means a handicapped midfield. Jermaine Jones is a rugged, albeit impulsive player that can shine at moments and also endanger the team at others. He is the box-to-box player in Bradley's absence and will need to be as disciplined as possible.
There are three main choices for Klinsmann to actually replace Bradley in the midfield. First is a conservative option in Kyle Beckermann given his track record as a solid yet sometimes quiet defensive midfielder. The second choice is pure attack in Jose Torres, who never really has convinced fans or critics. Third is youth and question mark in Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud. The former has speed and the latter style.
What will Klinsmann go with? Likely Beckerman, although if he has problems in the defense and USA is down in the scoreboard then Klinsmann will go with his favorite Torres. Many of us out there would wish for Diskerud's fantasy and short passing but that's not likely to happen. Corona is also way too young for such a pivotal match and is still a developing player.
It is the fact that Geoff Cameron is missing that further complicates things. If anything, he could have taken Bradley's place. However, Matt Besler's suspension also means Cameron would have slid into the center back role. Now Goodson will probably get the nod alongside the LA Galaxy's DP defender Omar Gonzalez. The other vacant position is right back. The once so deep position with Cherundolo, Lichaj, Chandler and later on Brad Evans, is now up for grabs and will likely be manned by Ausburg's Michael Parkhurst, who has yet to see playing time this season with his club.
Yet another hole remains with this American team: Jozy Altidore. The veteran attacker and prolific scorer earned a silly yellow card at the end of the Costa Rica game and has left the team without an experienced target forward. Dempsey will get the call and later on either Johnson or Johannsson might enter the match depending on the score. EJ is streaky and Johannsson is an unkonwn quantity internationally.
These factors, along with Mexico's dire need for three points and a fresh face with newly-appointed coach Tena, make for a difficult task and a huge boost for Mexico. The only player missing for Mexico is Torrado and the US hardly has the pieces to exploit that fact tonight.
History cannot be discounted but statistics always favor change. Klinsmann has never lost to Mexico as a player or coach and the US has yet to not win at the Columbus Crew Stadium. Then again, this is an unprecedented Mexico due to their position and the balance of power has shifted in their favor. Expect a tough match and perhaps an expulsion or two, including for the US.
The Americans will likely be lucky to escape with a tie and will have to wait until next month to punch their ticket to Brazil. If luck and chance are on their side, a win tonight means an early entry into next summer's tournament. Let's hope for some spectacle and emotion. The scoreboard should always be secondary to quality plays on the pitch.