World Cup Qualifying Preview: Mexico - USA

The age-old rivalry between the CONCACAF squads is renewed yet again on Wednesday.
By Noah Davis and Luis Bueno

Who: United States vs. Mexico
What: CONCACAF World Cup 2010 Qualifying
When: Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, 3 p.m. EST
Where: Estadio Azteca; Mexico City, Mexico
TV: Telemundo and Mun2 

It's a match that's been highly anticipated since the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying draw came out last November: United States Men's National Team against Mexico in the lofty heights of Estadio Azteca. El Tri's resounding 5-0 thumping of the Americans in late July's Gold Cup final only served to raise the stakes a bit higher.

Unlike in Giants Stadium, however, both coaches will bring their best line ups to the vital qualifier. For Bob Bradley, that means almost an entirely new squad -- certainly a completely different Starting XI -- while Javier Aguirre 's will likely feature some familiar faces, most notably Giovanni Dos Santos, who proved unstoppable in July, and Carlos Vela, who dramatically altered the match after coming on in the 46th minute. To Azteca! 

Reverse the Curse

With its Gold Cup victory, Mexico finally ended a decade-long losing streak on American soil. The U.S. has a chance to stop an even longer span of futility with a win on Wednesday. In 19 tries, the Americans have never won in the stadium that sits in the smog above 7,000 feet. The team's best result: a 0-0 tie in 1997.

The Red, White, and Blue supporters, however, feel confident about the possibility of earning three points, a result that would simultaneously essentially qualify the U.S. for the World Cup and give Mexico a difficult road to South Africa. If there's ever a time for the improving Americans to win, it's now against an unusually weak Mexico side.  

Loud Landon

Landon Donovan has spent the summer proving yet again he's the best field player on the American team. Never a big fan of Mexico, the Los Angeles Galaxy captain came out and said he wasn't traveling to Azteca for a single point.

It's a bold statement but you have to like the (justified) confidence from the 27-year-old. He and his team played some of their best soccer in the latter stages of the Confederations Cup and want nothing more than to avenge for the U.S. loss in Giants Stadium. But Donovan is not only the team's biggest mouth; he's also the most important player for the Americans. If he blinks in the early stages of Wednesday's match, he better start thinking of reasons why the Stars and Stripes came back from Mexico pointless.    

Mexico - Base of the Squad

The biggest questions regarding Mexico entering the match seem to be the players manager Javier Aguirre will utilize. It seems a given that Guillermo Ochoa will start in goal, and other locks appear to be Giovani Dos Santos, Gerardo Torrado, Andres Guardado, and Carlos Salcido. But who will Aguirre plug in around them?

Will Cuauhtemoc Blanco be fit enough to play the entire 90 minutes, after having played on Sunday night? Does Aguirre use the Gold Cup players as the base and plug in regulars around them, or do the regulars take a back seat to the Gold Cup heroes? Given Aguirre's track record of trimming established players from the team -- he had a much more severe housecleaning in 2001 -- it would not be a surprise to see Gold Cup players such as Efrain Juarez, Israel Castro, and Miguel Sabah play integral roles in this match.

Confidence, Or Overconfidence?

Mexico's stunning 5-0 Gold Cup win was a fantastic shot of confidence for a Mexican team that seemed so distraught in June. But to think that a one-month turnaround will suddenly transform Mexico back to the early 90s when El Tri still dominated the region and trounced opponents by three or more goals regularly is to assume incorrectly.

As Mexican players have said, the Gold Cup is over and it is time to move on from that. Confidence should be had in the young players' ability to perform on a big stage and the national team's depth pool but this particular squad needs to show up and not rely on lingering feelings from the Gold Cup to boost the team.

Projected U.S. Line Up

Projected Mexico Line Up    
Dos Santos--Torrado--Castro--Guardado
------------Sabah------------Vela------------ Prediction
United States 1-2 Mexico (Noah)
United States 1-0 Mexico (Luis)