Chepo could be in trouble
Three games into the Hexagonal, and Jose Manuel de la Torre's side, spearheaded by the most talented Mexican forward in 20 years, has yet to win in three games, scoring just two goals.
Before the Hex began, most observers expected a talented Mexico side to waltz through qualification with ease, clear of the muddy, brutal, unforgiving dogfight that is CONCACAF qualifying. Now, El Tri is looking up from fifth place in a group of six, thoroughly in the muck.
If any job in CONCACAF is a hot seat, it's the Mexico managership. Mexican legends have found this out (Hugo Sanchez) and so have high-profile foreigners (Sven Goran-Eriksson), so Chepo will get no leniency. The vaunted Azteca advantage has been made moot with Hex draws against Jamaica and the United States, along with the Yanks' friendly win last year. While Mexico may still be favored to qualify, the FMF may decide that project is better entrusted to a different pair of hands.
Houston, we have a goalkeeping dilemma
Hearts were in throats from sea to shining sea when it was announced that Tim Howard's injury would keep the longtime stalwart out of two crucial qualifiers, but Brad Guzan has proven more than an able deputy. Indeed, the fearless play of the Aston Villa man, who has kept two clean sheets in crucial matches with makeshift defensive units, gives Jurgen Klinsmann a very welcome sort of selection headache. Nobody expects the Everton keeper to hand over the No. 1 shirt just yet, but if he makes a few slip-ups, Guzan has done more than enough to put doubts into the manager's head.
Jozy Altidore still can't find the net in a U.S. shirt
June 14, 2011. That date marks the last time Josmer Volmy Altidore scored in a competitive game for the United States. Since that goal, the lone tally in a 1-0 Gold Cup win over non-FIFA member Guadeloupe, Altidore's offensive output in meaningful matches has been nil. Though Altidore brings a host of other qualities to the table - physicality, hold-up play, work rate - the fact remains that he is a striker who is failing to score goals for the national team.
While Altidore's sparkling club form (he recently broke Clint Dempsey's record for goals scored by a U.S. international in a top European league) and a lack of alternatives mean the 23-year-old should retain his place, his lack of goals has to be worrying for him and for Klinsmann.
Omar Gonzalez is the present and the future
The LA Galaxy man was the senior partner in a very green central defensive pairing, but stepped up in just his sixth cap to make the most of a baptism by fire. With Mexico pinging passes around the field and running all over the flanks, Gonzalez put in a dominant, composed performance. The United States starting the 2014 qualification cycle in turnover mode, with the incumbent trio of Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu being phased out, so it was imperative that younger players stepped up to claim starting places. Gonzalez has done that, and once the U.S. fullbacks are restored to health, he should form a formidable partnership alongside Geoff Cameron.
The USA looked weak on the flanks . . . and it didn't matter
Klinsmann can talk all he wants about high pressing and sharp, possession-oriented soccer, but this game was cribbed from page one of the Bob Bradley playbook. The United States sat tight, letting Mexico play in midfield and run the wings while cleaning up as well it could in the box. Part of that was necessity - shorn of most of the team's usual fullback options by injury and inactivity, Klinsmann was forced to deploy winger DaMarcus Beasley and center back Geoff Cameron in wide defensive positions - but part of it was shrewd soccer pragmatism on the move of a manager often painted as a pie-in-the-sky idealist, and it paid off.
Even when the Yanks beat back Mexico to claim a decade's worth of dominance on home and neutral soil, El Tri could always fall back on the imposing mystique of the Azteca. Now, with a win and a draw in the vaunted stadium, Klinsmann, somewhat improbably, has the closest thing a U.S. coach has ever had to a mental edge against Mexico in every venue.
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