USMNT-Mexico preview: Long odds at Azteca

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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The Mexican national team presents a massive challenge to the United States, especially at Azteca, but the Yanks have some unusual advantages ahead of Sunday’s contest.

For one thing, El Tri has to prepare for next week’s Confederations Cup and joins the USMNT as teams playing on only three days rest.

But Mexico is also limited by a quartet of injuries, including impactful players Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun, and old American nemesis Rafa Marquez.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up versus Mexico? ]

That’s not enough to level the playing field, even in the thin air of Azteca, but it’s a start for an American side known if anything for its relentless work rate and endurance.

The rivalry remains lopsided — Mexico has 38 wins and 14 draws in 66 matches — and El Tri has consecutive wins in big matches since ending its six-match winless run against the U.S.

The 2015 CONCACAF Cup was far worse than the 3-2 score line indicates, and Marquez’s late winner in November’s World Cup qualifier in Columbus was a fair winner as Mexico ended the Yanks’ Dos a Cero hex in the Hex.

Forget the rivalry for a second, one which stretches across years, and focus on form. Mexico is doing quite well since its disappointing Copa America Centenario ended with a loss to Ecuador.

While the ensuing Gold Cup win was more referee-aided than dominant, it kicked off an incredible run that boasts a record of 23W-9D-2L.

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

All-time leading goal scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is obviously a major threat, but just been a part of what’s been working for Mexico. El Tri has 11 goals in 2017, and nine different players have hit the score sheet.

It was a 3-5-2 in Thursday’s 3-0 win over Honduras, and Mexican center back Oswaldo Alanis was a menace. The 28-year-old Guadalajara man was credited with six takeaways, scored a goal, and missed on only two of 45 passes.

Will Bruce Arena consider a matching three-back outfit? It would be experimentation of the highest order, but also coming in a match in which few expect three points. More likely, does the U.S. boast the incisive passing help break down that five-man midfield?

With a long trip to Russia and a place in the World Cup almost secure — Mexico has a seven-point lead on fourth place Panama — there’s a very slight possibility the Yanks can catch Mexico looking ahead to Portugal, New Zealand, and hosts Russia in the Confederations Cup. It’s just one of many things the Americans need to succeed in Sunday’s brutal test.