In the world where the United States becomes a soccer power, Mexico is not far behind. In fact, the order maybe reversed. As CONCACAF’s now traditional powers, the two rivals share a symbiotic relationship, pushing each other as well as relying on their rival to provide depth in the region. With apologies to nations like Costa Rica and Honduras (repeat World Cup qualifiers), if CONCACAF’s going to raise it’s international profile — and enjoy all the ranking bonuses and World Cup spots that go with it — it’s going to be off the boots of the U.S. or El Tri.
Logically, that means each side should be pulling for each other in events like the Confederations or World Cup, but sports are rarely logical. Rivalries? They’re even worse. If U.S. national team fans had a choice between Mexico doing well to help CONCACAF’s cause or both teams going out in Brazil’s group stage, they’d be reluctant to give their Mexican counterparts the satisfaction. Even if strong Mexico results could, long down the road, slightly help their cause, few U.S. fans would be able to stomach El Tri success.
That’s why, even ahead of a tournament where they’re unlikely to meet, how the U.S. measures up against Mexico matters. Drawn into an easier group, Miguel Herrera’s team is more likely to make the second round, but U.S. fans will still want a performance that fosters their pride. They’ll want the U.S. to give them a leg to stand on:
Yeah, Mexico got farther, but did you see how we played against Portugal? We would have gotten out of their group, too!
Unfortunately, the debate won’t be settled on the field this summer, leaving the U.S. with the bragging rights they’ve carried over from the Gold Cup and CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. If Jurgen Klinsmann were to matchup with a full version Herrera’s revamped squad, though, he might find things more difficult than he did in the last days of Jose Manuel de la Torre.
Where the U.S. is stronger:
- In goal: Between José de Jesús Corona, Guillermo Ochoa, and Alfredo Talavera, Mexico has three good goalkeepers, but la selección lacks a Tim Howard. At one time, Ochoa was on a trajectory to reach that level, but already 28 years old, his international career has faltered to the point his spot on Mexico’s roster was a doubt. As has been the case for a while, the U.S. has an advantage in goal.
- In midfield: Michael Bradley may be the best player on either team’s roster, and while he’s maligned by U.S. national team fans, Jermaine Jones provides a solidity Herrera may find enviable. With the days of Gerardo Torrado locking down the middle gone, Mexico is currently, if slightly, behind the U.S. in the middle.
- In results: The straight results in the U.S.-Mexico rivalry are always a little skewed because so many of the meetings take place on American soil. There are, however, a couple of other factors that make it clear which team’s been stronger over the last few years. The U.S. is the reigning CONCACAF champion, and while that honor was won during a “down” Gold Cup, Klinsmann’s team can also point to its finish in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying as proof of its supremacy. The U.S. not only finished on top of The Hex, they took four points from Mexico while doing so.
- In attack: Just as Herrera may look to the U.S. midfield with envy, so might Klinsmann look at the likes of Oribe Peralta (pictured), Giovani Dos Santos, Raul Jimenez and Javier Hernandez and be jealous. Even Alan Pulido, a newcomer to the senior team, has four goals in three appearances after a successful U-level career. With all but one player in the group (Peralta) 25 or younger, El Tri’s attacking corps could prove more troublesome next cycle.
- In defense: How big an advantage this is will depend on how Jurgen Klinsmann’s defense comes together, but Herrera’s group combines the experience of Rafa Marquez, Carlos Salcido, and Maza Rodriguez (combined 328 caps) with the talents of a younger corps he’s helped bring in (or, back): Miguel Layún, Miguel Ponce, Paul Aguilar, Diego Reyes. European mainstays Andres Guardado, having moved from midfield to defense, and Hector Moreno round out a deep group.
- In potential: The core of that amazing 2011 Gold Cup championship team is still in this squad, but the confidence is gone. Even if they recapture that swagger over the next three weeks, a likely second round meeting with Spain means Mexico’s World Cup will be short. The real potential for Herrera’s squad is to build an ethos that will help El Tri recapture a place at the top of CONCACAF. Humbled by qualifying, Mexico’s World Cup will be about redemption.
On paper, there isn’t much that separates the U.S. from Mexico, but given a choice between the squads, many may prefer to take their chances with El Tri’s talent and potential than bet on the U.S.’s superior results. Yet there’s a reason the U.S. has those results – results they’ve been able to replicate within CONCACAF for some time. No matter how promising Mexico’s looked on paper, the U.S. has managed to respond. Even when a golden generation threatened to separate El Tri from the pack, the U.S. came back and won World Cup qualifying.
Until Mexico can prove they’ve recovered from its qualifying woes — until the team can play closer to its potential — its “on paper” virtues mean nothing. Against Brazil, Croatia, and potentially Spain, the team will have a chance to turn the corner.
Win or lose, though, Mexico will get another crack at the U.S. this time next year. The next Gold Cup is just around the corner. Until then, barring a huge second round upset in Brazil, the United States has proven itself better. For now.
Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona, Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera
Defenders: Paul Aguilar, Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun , Rafael Marquez, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes, Francisco Javier Rodriguez, Carlos Salcido
Midfielders: Isaac Brizuela, Marco Fabian Hector Herrera, Juan Carlos Medina, Luis Montes, Carlos Pena, Jose Juan Vazquez
Forwards: Giovani Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta, Alan Pulido
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando
Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Brad Davis
Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Julian Green