The individual performances players put in Friday in Columbus, Ohio, could be remembered for years to come. As both federations have reminisced on past meetings between the United States and Mexico on social media, we've been reminded about some of the legendary showings that have decided matches for both team.
There is no batter vs. pitcher in soccer. The collective is much more important than the individual. But there will be several matchups within the game that might make the difference between a triumphant victory, ending the losing streak in Columbus, or yet another defeat for El Tri. Let's take a look at three of the most intriguing one-on-one possibilities (with the full knowledge that these players may be used in different roles than expected):
The injury to United States defender Geoff Cameron makes U.S. managerJurgen Klinsmann's options much more limited on the right-hand side, and it likely will lead to a recall at right back for DeAndre Yedlin, just weeks after it looked like he wouldn't be in the starting XI.
One player who has broken out as a star under Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio, though one could argue it was when Miguel Herrera took him to the 2015 Copa America and Gold Cup, is Jesus Corona. The winger is more important to the national team than he is to Porto at the moment, where he's gotten just eight league appearances so far this season, but there's no question that the shifty Hermosillo native is a potent attacking weapon. Corona's ability to keep Yedlin honest defensively will be one of the more interesting things to watch, especially with Osorio likely to key in on Yedlin as the weakness in the American defense.
While Mexico can look to exploit the right side of the United States' defense, it's probable that the U.S. will look to do the same to El Tri. Osorio hasn't called any natural right backs up for this contest, and while it's possible Jesus Duenas lines up at the position, it's also possible he's further up in the midfield but still tasked with dealing with Christian Pulisic on the left side of the American attack in some form or fashion.
Pulisic is the real deal, and the chance he folds under the pressure of his first U.S.-Mexico game seems low considering how comfortable he's looked in UEFA Champions League matches with Dortmund. He's going to be able to create chances for the U.S., and if Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood are keeping the right center back occupied, be it Carlos Salcedo or Nestor Araujo, it will fall on Duenas (or potentially Miguel Layun or Jonathan dos Santos or Salcedo playing as a right back) to make sure the 18-year-old doesn't break loose. Whoever ends up playing on the right side also will need to deal with Fabian Johnson coming up from the left back spot, though Giovani dos Santos may be able to help keep the fullback in defending mode. Osorio looks to have something up his sleeve to defend on the right, and whatever it is will be critical if Mexico is going to start qualification off with a positive result.
It's something of a shock to see Sacha Kljestan even on the United States roster list, much less as a player to watch out for, but the resurgent midfielder has been a big part of the reason the Americans have come on since the spring. Don't let one disappointing showing in the playoffs fool you; Kljestan makes the players around him better with the added benefit that he and Michael Bradley have a good understanding of their roles in the midfield - something that couldn't be said about a U.S. central midfield partnership for the last several years.
It's going to be a team effort to corral the New York Red Bulls man, but a lot of the job could fall on Andres Guardado. The PSV midfielder should be up to the task - he's been Mexico's best player in the green shirt for the several years. His defensive abilities don't get enough praise, and it will be tough to generate attack wherever he lines up (this also could be a tasty preview of a matchup to watch if Guardado's rumored move to Atlanta United comes to pass in the near future). Guardado may end up playing a bit wider and not have to cope with Kljestan, but if he does it will be a battle between two veterans who each use their sharp soccer brains to get the better of lesser opposition.