It may have been a throwaway comment at the end of a postgame interview by the precocious Christian Pulisic after a two-goal game. But it could also have been a sneak peak into the confidence of the U.S. Men’s National Team locker room.
Heading into the USMNT’s rematch with Mexico at the Estadio Azteca, the U.S. will have to beat not only the hottest team in CONCACAF but also history. The U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier at the Azteca and they’ve only recorded two draws, the last one famously in the run up to the 2014 World Cup.
Following the defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica that spelled the end of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as USMNT manager, the U.S. has rebounded to pick up two wins and a draw on the road at Panama, with Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley all playing big roles.
Another draw or better at Mexico would nearly ensure the U.S. qualifies for the World Cup, barring a catastrophic collapse.
Ahead of Sunday’s crucial qualifier, here’s a look at three key battles to watch:
The 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund playmaker scored twice, with assists going to DeAndre Yedlin and Jozy Altidore, as the Yanks handed Trinidad and Tobago a 2-0 win in Colorado on Thursday.
The United States’ best male soccer player is 18
Bruce Arena’s No. 10 was at it again on Thursday, sliding into the goal mouth to poke the opener home.
It was the 18-year-old’s sixth international goal in his 15th cap, and underscored just how important he’s become to the U.S. set-up.
With Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and any other number of American vets struggling — at least compared to their reputations — the World Cup hopes of the United States needed a lift. Again, they got one from that electrifying teenager (Watch his goals here).
Fullbacks thrill, but be wary
Jorge Villafana and DeAndre Yedlin were menaces in Saturday’s friendly versus Venezuela and again on Thursday.
That’s good, but Villafana was cooked several times on the defensive end, and Arena needed to decide whether he wants to risk that weakness in Azteca against a much better Mexican opposition.
While Yedlin has proven he can handle himself against better competition, Villafana may need to take a seat in favor of Fabian Johnson or DaMarcus Beasley in Mexico.
Which puts both eyes on Mexico
The United States cannot play the same tactical match against Mexico at Azteca, obviously. El Tri is so much better than Trinidad and Tobago and, at this point, quite a bit better talent-wise than the Americans.
The last time these two sides met, Mexico pulled out a 2-1 win over the Yanks in Columbus. Geoff Cameron was missing, a huge absence, and Jurgen Klinsmann started Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and Jermaine Jones.
None of that quartet will start on Sunday unless something happens to John Brooks or Cameron in training.
What Arena needs to decide is how comfortable he is in attack. Michael Bradley was left to fend for himself often thanks to Darlington Nagbe’s attack-first mind and willingness to try tricky passes. With Nagbe and Pulisic in the midfield, that puts so much weight on Bradley to defend against numbers.
It would seem borderline insane to use Villafana and Nagbe together on the same side of the field, but perhaps Johnson subs in for one of those two on the left. And maybe Alejandro Bedoya gets the first chance to get stuck into the midfield in Mexico. But the Yanks’ chances to get a point or better in Mexico hinge on Arena’s tactics, and that’s one of several reasons he’s here.
Rog and Davo genuflect while recapping Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s second consecutive Champions League. Plus, DeAndre Yedlin guests to talk about the USMNT’s upcoming World Cup Qualifier in Mexico and promotion for Newcastle United.
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Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin has a thigh injury, putting his status in question for the United States’ World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.
Yedlin did not dress for Newcastle’s 0-0 draw at Reading on Tuesday night in England’s second-tier League Championship, and manager Rafa Benitez said after the match that the 23-year-old might have a small tear.
“If DeAndre’s healthy he’ll be part of our squad in March,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Wednesday during a Facebook chat with fans. “We just have to follow him over the next couple weeks and see how he’s dealing with that injury.”
Timmy Chandler, who started at right back in November, will miss the March 24 qualifier against Honduras at San Jose, California, because of a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. The U.S. is at Panama on March 28.
The U.S. lost to Mexico and Costa Rica in November in the first two games of the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, leading the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire coach Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the American coach from 1998-06.
Scouting report gives high praise for USMNT, Newcastle back Yedlin
You may remember Danny Higginbotham from his time as a defender at Sunderland, Stoke City, Derby County, and Southampton, but these days he makes his dough as an analyst.
You almost certainly remember USMNT right back and speed merchant DeAndre Yedlin, though perhaps not seeing him on your television has limited your intake on his progress since leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Newcastle United.
Yedlin’s been very decent for the Magpies, making 23 appearances while providing a goal and five assists. Higginbotham has been impressed, and devoted a good portion of his prematch notes on Newcastle-Aston Villa to the American.
Yedlin plays almost as a right winger at times. He’s the one that gives the width on that side, and he has been a standout player in recent games.
He is so quick, so he can get back with his recovery runs, but it’s what he does with the ball as well. We see him controlling the whole of the right-hand side. He has been so key for Newcastle and he gives them such an attacking threat.
Newcastle will move back atop the Championship with a win over Aston Villa on Monday, and have a five-point lead on third-place Huddersfield Town in the race for an automatic promotion place. Brighton and Hove Albion is first, two points clear of the Magpies.