September 11, 2013

Direct Kick: Can U.S. rebound after win streak snapped by Costa Rica?

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Just when it seemed like the United States men’s soccer team was gaining serious momentum to clinch a spot in next year’s World Cup, Costa Rica said, “whoa, not so fast, Yanks.”

Costa Rica’s 3-1 win last Friday night might have been a cow on the tracks of America’s voyage to Brazil, but I don’t think the loss completely derailed the U.S. Express. That is, unless the Americans fell last night to Mexico in what was always seen as a crucial World Cup qualifier, but now, following the loss to Costa Rica, it becomes larger than life.

A win by the U.S. over El Tri, and a Honduras win over Panama, would qualify the team for Brazil 2014. Honduras pulled off a surprise on the same night that the U.S. fell by beating Mexico, in Mexico, none the less, a loss that cost Mexico coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre his job and dropped El Tri to fourth place in the Hexagonal standings, five points behind second place U.S. It was only the second time in history that Mexico lost a qualifying match at home.

But getting a win over Mexico, even though the game was held in Columbus, Ohio, won’t be easy, especially since the U.S. would be playing without four key players: Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron are suspended, while Michael Bradley has been ruled out due to an ankle injury. Those are four key components which Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to find replacements for if the U.S. is to come away with the crucial three points.

Without those four, and the fact that Mexico is desperate for a win, makes me nervous about this game. Desperate foes are usually the most dangerous.

I’ve been to a U.S.-Mexico qualifier in Columbus before, and even though this match is on U.S. soil, don’t think there won’t be a large Mexican contingent there to support their country. It seems like every home match the U.S. has is almost like a road match, especially when playing Mexico since there are so many Mexicans here in the United States. I figure the crowd will be split about 50-50.

America will need to control the midfield and shut down Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Even though he has never scored against the U.S., he is a dangerous player who only needs a half-chance to become a game changer. The U.S. defense in front of keeper Tim Howard will have to do a much better job than they did against Costa Rica. They can’t let anyone get behind them and leave Howard out to dry.

Without Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan are going to have to really step up and keep the Mexican crowd quiet. America can’t afford to fall behind early, but an early lead by the Yanks could help take the Mexican crowd right out of the game.

The top three teams in CONCACAF (Confederations of North and Central American and Caribbean Football) quality for Brazil, while the fourth place team will play a two-game series against New Zealand, the first place team from Oceania, for a place in the finals. I do believe the U.S. will be one of the top three but I would love to see them go in as a qualifying winner.

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