A U.S. win, coupled with a Honduras win or draw against Panama, will clinch a spot in next year's World Cup for the Americans, despite there being two additional qualifying matches on the Hex schedule. Clinching tonight would give Jurgen Klinsmann and the coaching staff some time to evaluate younger players and maybe experiment with some different lineups and formations.
Here are my three big questions for tonight's match:
- Can the USMNT continue its dominance of Mexico in Columbus? The U.S. has won six and drawn three in its nine-match history of playing at Columbus Crew Stadium, with three of those six wins coming against Mexico (all by a 2-0 scoreline, which is why you will often here American soccer fans refer to "Dos A Cero"). Columbus is a great home for the Stars and Stripes.
- How will the absence of many American regulars affect the match? Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, and Geoff Cameron will all miss tonight's match due to yellow card infractions. However, the biggest absence for tonight will likely be Michael Bradley, whose ankle injury in pre-match warmups on Friday was a big factor in the U.S. giving up two early goals to Costa Rica. Bradley is the heart and soul of this team - it's true most valuable player - and players like Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman will need to step up in the defensive midfield.
- How will Mexico respond to its recent coaching change? Luis Fernando Tena, the head coach of Mexico's gold-winning Olympic team last year, was named interim coach after Jose Manuel de la Torre was fired following Friday's loss to Honduras. Tena did not have much time to change personnel or much else, but the mental aspect of this change could inspire Mexico to play well. Mexico is desperate - a loss here and they will likely have to win its two remaining matches to have a chance at qualifying for next year's World Cup.
So what do I think will happen? My heart says the U.S. will win by a 2-1 score. My head says Mexico will play with the desperation they need and earn a 1-1 draw. Either way, this match will feature the same things it always does: physicality, controversy, and tension. When it's all said and done, I hope I am celebrating a World Cup berth for the United States!