PHILADELPHIA – There is no such thing as a "friendly" game when the United States and Mexico meet and Tim Howard knows it.
As one of the senior statesmen in the USA squad, Howard insisted that nothing less than victory at Lincoln Financial Field on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) would suffice as the Americans try to stop Mexico, at least temporarily, from taking a stranglehold on this region's fiercest rivalry.
While many may see the first game under incoming coach Juergen Klinsmann as an opportunity for the new man to settle in and test out some fresh faces, Howard revealed that within the camp there is a strong desire to gain revenge for last month's Gold Cup final defeat in Los Angeles.
"I think winning is really the only thing to focus on," Howard said. "Obviously performances are important, because I think if you put in consistent performances often times you get the result you want.
"But … winning is what makes everyone happy. We have a bad taste in our mouth from the last game. We need to win the game. It is important for us, for the rivalry, and to get things off to a good start."
With Klinsmann having taken over from Bob Bradley less than two weeks ago, finally ending a long game of cat-and-mouse between himself and U.S. Soccer which began when he was courted following the 2006 World Cup, Mexico would love nothing more than to give the German the worst possible start to his reign.
Under Jose Manuel de la Torre, Mexico has recovered impressively from a bleak period led by former coach Sven Goran Eriksson and is making the most of the wealth of young talent at its disposal.
Although ranked No. 20 on the unpredictable official world ratings, El Tri, with stars such as Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Giovanni dos Santos, is probably among the 10 best international teams on the planet.
Klinsmann has a tough task ahead of him. The team looked disjointed and out of sorts during the Gold Cup campaign which spelled the end of the road for Bradley, who is now in contention to become national team coach of Egypt.
Yet with three years to go before the next World Cup, the coach has plenty of time to analyze the talent at his disposal, meaning he can afford to start with a completely clean slate.
"Any time your boss changes you have to adapt very quickly," Howard said. "You have to listen more than speak, find out what he expects, what his likes and dislikes are, and try to fall into line.
"We will be able to step onto the field and continue to fight for one another like we always have. Some ideas will be different of course because it is a different coach, but hopefully we will get similar results."
Klinsmann, however, was not employed to get similar results. He is being paid a small fortune to take the team forward in a way that Bradley could not. For all the talk of long-term building projects aimed at maximizing the youth talent pool, such noble schemes will only get the chance to bear fruit if he is able to win in the short term.
Philadelphia, on Wednesday, would be an ideal place to start.
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