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The Short List: Keys To Victory For USA-Mexico

By Allen Ramsey

It's been a long build-up to the U.S. vs. Mexico part three of this year, but the day is finally here.

Everyone has an opinion on who will win, what the score will be, and how this match will be played. But in the end, we've only got a few more hours before all the talking stops and the players step on the field to fight out CONCACAF's biggest rivalry.

With all of the talk and irrational thought that goes into a match like this people tend to overlook the basics of the game and argue with their hearts. But what will the U.S. really have to do to claim their first win in Azteca, and what does El Tri need to do to keep their dominance at home alive?

For the U.S.

Control The Pace-
Mexico is going to have more possession. There is very little doubt about that. But how much more, and how much the U.S. has to chase the ball, will tell the story of this match.

If the U.S. can hold spells of possession (especially in the second half) and keep Mexico from knocking the ball around the pitch all afternoon, they can slow the pace. Keeping the match at their tempo and pushing Mexico deep, even if it doesn't lead to their best chances, would go a long way in helping the U.S. deal with the altitude and heat.

Simply put, the U.S. can't defend the entire game. Will the Red, White and Blue be the more defensive side? Absolutely. But they have to find as much of the ball as possible to keep Mexico from coming forward in waves.

Strike First-
Once in 24 years. That's how many time the U.S. has come from behind to win a World Cup Qualifying match. And since that one time happened in their last match against Honduras, the odds against it happening again today are very long.

Aside from that little stat, there is no better way to quiet the Azteca crowd than to put El Tri behind. On top of that, the Mexican squad is not hard to frustrate and chasing the game, even at Azteca, is not where they're at their best.

Use The Counter- I know, I know. Everyone hates counterattacking tactics. Who cares. If it works, use it. While fans think the better team is the one that plays the prettier footy, a World Cup spot is on the line and it's all about getting the W.

The truth is that the U.S. is going to have chances to spring on the counter. Two or three times in this match, Mexico's central defenders will be asked to deal with the pace of the American front line. Whether or not they can is the big question mark for El Tri.

For Mexico

Make It Count- Don't just possess the ball, put it in the net. Just like my last comment, you can look pretty and walk out with nothing to show for it. Mexico has plenty of quality to put the ball in the net, but they have struggled at times in making their possession count.

Against the U.S., it's vital that Mexico jump out to a lead. The U.S., as much as they would say otherwise, would be completely content to walk with a 0-0 draw. El Tri can't afford that.

The longer Mexico goes without capitalizing on their chances the more frustrated they will get and the more frustrated the crowd will get. That frustration generally leads to pushing more numbers forward and opening up space in behind the defense.

An early goal, or at least a goal on one of their first good chances, would be a big boost for El Tri.

Ignore The Pressure- Mexico just smashed the U.S. in the Gold Cup final, but this game has much bigger implications. A loss here and the World Cup starts to drift away. More than that, Mexico has to win at home, and they're playing a team that they know is dangerous.

Mexico has to ignore that reality, push the pressure aside and play with the fre- flowing style that they are known for. And they have to do this without their leader, Rafael Marquez, to help settle the back line.

How well a younger Mexican squad can deal with this type of match and the pressures of playing for their World Cup lives could tip the balance one way or another.

With all that said, most of Mexico's young stars have been in big games and fought some high pressure situations so they should be able to deal with this match pretty well.

Push The Pace- Mexico has to make this game as fast as they can make it. It won't be easy. The heat and poor air means that this match is probably going to be somewhat slow. But the more Mexico can force the Americans to run the better off they'll be as the match goes into the late stages.

Rather than slowing the ball down through midfield and trying to work calmly for the an opening, or feeling out the game, Mexico needs to break into the attacking third in the early going.

Forcing the U.S. midfield to track deep into their own defensive third early in the match could save Mexico the trouble of being broken on later. Plus, running the legs out of the U.S. defenders should open up more space for Mexico to work with.

Allen Ramsey is an associate editor of Goal.com.


For more on the U.S. National Team visit Goal.com's U.S. National Team page.