To bury the past, Bradley must go forward

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! SportsAugust 10, 2009

Nerves of steel will be needed when the United States prepares to step into the cauldron of the Estadio Azteca on Wednesday. But it is not just the USA players that will need to maintain strength of mentality and spirit in the crucial World Cup qualifier against arch-rival Mexico.

Head coach Bob Bradley must do so as well.

Bradley must have the conviction in his players to send them out against Mexico seeking a victory, flying in the face of decades of logic and an all-time winless record south of the border. If he doesn't have faith in his squad's ability after its efforts toward the end of the Confederations Cup, then Bradley never will.

The formation that gives the U.S. the best opportunity to pull off an historic win involves playing a two-man frontline with one speedy striker and one target man in a 4-2-2-2.

Brian Ching needs to stand tough against the Mexican backline and provide knock-on opportunities for the fast-emerging Charlie Davies, who deserves to start. Ching's experience and know-how in pressure situations means he should be picked ahead of Jozy Altidore, who is best left reserved for substitute action in this pressure-cooker occasion.

Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey should operate on the wings, where Donovan can torment and force attention from Mexico's wing backs. The option of playing Dempsey up front is a valid one in many situations, but he can be more effective on the right of midfield in Mexico City.

Central defense selects itself, with Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit getting the nod on the basis of their exceptional performances in South Africa. That will keep Carlos Bocanegra at left back, with Jonathan Spector filling the sometimes-problematic right-back position.

But the most important message Bradley will send will be with the mentality of his team. In the past, so many American squads have traveled to Mexico with high hopes, only to see them dashed in quick time. This game will not be won in the first 20 minutes, but it can certainly be lost. Confidence, aggression and a refusal to be intimidated will all be critical factors.

Weekend First XI

1. Get him an Advil

Defeat to Chelsea in the Community Shield is the least of Sir Alex Ferguson's worries as the start of the English Premier League approaches.

A dislocated shoulder sustained by Nani poses a problem for Ferguson, who sees the Portuguese youngster as the man to step into Cristiano Ronaldo's boots. Goalkeeper Ben Foster is also on the injured list, meaning Ferguson has some big decisions to make before the EPL's big kickoff Saturday.

2. Get him a beer

If a salary of $13.5 million per year can ever be considered a bargain, it must surely be in the case of Lionel Messi, who last week agreed to an improved deal with Barcelona.

Messi is shaping up as the standout player in world soccer and, fortunately for Barca, he seems to love the club as much as it loves him. At just 22, we could be witnessing the continuing emergence of one of the all-time greats.

3. Get him some earplugs

Landon Donovan. The USA's most recognizable player can expect a vitriolic welcome in Mexico City, where he is certain to draw the ire of 105,000 screaming El Tri fans.

Donovan has never been afraid to incite Mexican players or the public, and his every touch of the ball is likely to be greeted by a wholehearted chorus of jeers.

4. Keep an eye on

Franck Ribery. Thought the saga involving the French midfielder and whether he would leave Bayern Munich was over? Not so fast. With Real Madrid reportedly having reached a deal to sign Ribery next year, Bayern has pulled out all the stops to try to hold on to its man, but once again it looks as if Real's spending cannot be denied.

5. Catch a flight to …

Do you really have to ask? Mexico City and the Estadio Azteca is the only place to be this week. Thin air, sweltering heat, rabid Mexican fans and CONCACAF's greatest rivalry? See you there.

6. Useless and completely made up statistic of the week

One – The number of minutes Fabio Capello spent thinking about the decision before choosing to leave Michael Owen out of his England squad for Wednesday's friendly against Holland.

7. A fond farewell

Spanish soccer was plunged into mourning over the weekend when Espanyol captain Dani Jarque died of a heart attack at a preseason training camp in Italy.

Jarque, 26, was a cult hero at Espanyol and his sudden passing comes two years after the death of Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta, also from heart failure.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

The German Bundesliga is back, a couple of weeks earlier than the Big Three of the EPL, La Liga and Serie A. The league's standard is growing steadily – unable to compete with the big spending of English, Spanish and Italian clubs, Bundesliga teams have recruited and developed their own talent intelligently.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

FC Barcelona. The Spanish and European champion says farewell to the United States after a whistle-stop tour that delighted fans around the country. The standard of play displayed by Lionel Messi and his superb support crew was exceptional, and even with Real Madrid's incredible spending it is hard to look past Barca for another La Liga title.

10. Get excited about …

Los Angeles Galaxy. Don't look now but Major League Soccer's most embarrassing team of the past two seasons is putting together a strong playoff push. With David Beckham and Landon Donovan clicking and coach Bruce Arena having put together a tight-knit unit, the Galaxy can't be discounted as title contenders.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at Agathe La Fontaine, partner of former France and Arsenal star Emmanuel Petit.