We are finally here, the biggest away game of the 3 year qualifying cycle for the US will be played this Sunday. At altitude and in front of 105,000 frenetic fans the USA will seek to do something it has never done before, win a WCQ qualifier at the Azteca. If you have not yet experienced the rivalry that is US - Mexico soccer, now is the perfect time to experience one of the fiercest rivalries in international sports. We have everything you need to know as we prepare for Sunday night’s massive tilt against our biggest rivals.
When: Kick off is set for Sunday, June 11th at 6:30 pm MST
Where: El Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico
How to watch: FS1, Univision, and UDN.
All time record: The US is 18-34-14 all-time against Mexico. In WCQ we are 6-16-6.
Why does this game matter: A library of books wouldn’t be sufficient enough material to explain why this game matters. Its roots run deep into family ties, geopolitical climates, building walls, the famous dos a cero curse of Columbus, the US eliminating Mexico from the World Cup in Korea 2002, and the list goes on and on. These two teams have hated each other for decades.
I had the opportunity to live in Mexico for two years; the country will always have a special place in my heart, but I wish nothing but pain on their soccer team. Every time the topic of soccer came up while I was there, I had to endure endless stories of how Landon Donovan allegedly peed on the pitch in the Azteca during a pregame warm up, how Giovani Dos Santos is Tim Howard’s “papi,” and how the US will never be better than El Tricolor.
The rivalry has heightened year after year as the US has gotten better and demanded more respect and attention from the Mexican federation. This wasn’t always the case, there were decades of domination by Mexico, this was always “their” sport. The US had its basketball, football and baseball, soccer was Mexico’s thing. So when the US became competitive, Mexico quickly took notice that the US was encroaching on their sport and didn’t take kindly to it.
Sunday’s game will be played in the beating heart of Mexican soccer, El Estadio Azteca. Built in 1966 out of metal and concrete it is daunting, but you do not fully experience it until you walk inside. Its similarities to an ancient colosseum are many, including the fact that the pitch is actually dug down lower than ground level, the walls of the stadium go straight up, and the fans seemingly sitting right on top of you making for a claustrophobic experience. Add in the altitude (7,200 feet), the smoggy air, upwards of 119,000 fans, and the army of laser pointers in the eyes of your players and this place can become a thing of nightmares.
Mexico has enjoyed a dominant run at the Azteca. The US has played 11 matches in the stadium with a dismal 1-8-2 record. In fact, it wasn’t until 2001, 35 years after its construction, that Mexico lost an official match to anyone there. The US didn’t claim their first victory in the fabled stadium until 2012, when US defender Michael Orozco scored to give the US a 1-0 victory. Combine the 2012 win with a 0-0 WCQ draw in 2013 and the US is finally starting to have some success there.
To give context of how important these matches are, Tim Howard in an interview with Fox Soccer said,
“Azteca is an amazing place to play. It’s daunting, it’s historic, and we had never won there.
They have plaques of all the teams, all the countries who have played there, and what their record was. And we hadn't ever won there in forever so there was a big zero next to our column.
I mentioned to one of the guys that we would change that and then, I think it was 2012, when we ended up winning there 1-0.
I doubt the plaque will have been changed when we go back, but if not we’ll take a Sharpie to it and put a little one there.”
Players to watch:
USA’s Tim Howard - Speaking of Tim Howard, if the US has any chance of winning on Sunday they will need a big game from Tim Howard. He will undoubtedly be called upon to make a number of big saves to keep the US in the game. If there is any hesitation or lapses in focus for Howard it could spell doom for the US. Mexico has a bounty of talented attacking players. The likes of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Oribe Peralta will be on the hunt looking to turn defenders and catch the US flat footed. The US has conceded 7 goals in 5 qualifiers and it will be up to Howard to ensure that his backline is communicating and staying connected if we are to stay in the fight. Fortunately for Howard and the US, three big time players for Mexico will be out with injury, Andres Guardado, Rafa Marquez, and Miguel Layun have all sustained knocks and will not participate in the match.
Mexico’s Javier Hernandez - Affectionately known as “El Chicharito” (little pea), Javier Hernandez recently became Mexico’s leading all time scorer passing Jared Borgetti on May 28th, 2017 when he netted his 47th goal for country. When Hernandez is on, he can be a dynamic scorer with both his feet and his head. While small in stature you can never rule him out on set pieces. He has a knack for finding open space in the box and his movements are subtly deceiving for defenders. If John Brooks and company lose focus even for a moment like they did against Trinidad and Tobago when Kenwyne Jones got in behind, Chicharito will make the US pay.
Chicharito and el Tri have scored 8 goals in their 5 qualifiers while only conceding 1 on defense. They will have their ears pinned all night as the roaring fans of the Estadio Azteca will undoubtedly be clamoring for high pressure and golazos a plenty.
Our prediction: The reality is that securing a win for the US will be extremely difficult. As mentioned previously, the US has only won there once, and it was a friendly. That being said, we have two things going for us. First, there has to be a first for everything and we are long overdue for a win in WCQ down there. Second, we have “the American Messi,” Christian Pulisic. With his young age and budding confidence, it is clear that he is not intimidated by Mexico, regardless of what is at stake. In his post game comments after the T&T game he provided some fuel to the already heated rivalry when he stated that the US will be “coming out with a win” on Sunday night.
With all of that being said, and despite every fanboy fiber of my heart, I see this one ending 2-1 in favor of Mexico. I really hope that all of you can hop on here post game and tell me how wrong I was and how I should have had a little more faith.