Kick Off: US head into Azteca abyss without fear despite long odds, history of failure in Mexico
Here are the Top 15 soccer stories we’re following today:
1. US HEAD INTO THE AZTECA ABYSS
It's all you've talked about since the US knocked off Costa Rica, 1-0, on Friday in the SnowClasico: Mexico vs. USA at the Estadio Azteca (10:30 pm ET, ESPN and Univision, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com), one of the most fascinating (and one-sided) fixtures in international soccer.
Mexico are 68-1-6 all-time at Azteca in World Cup qualifiers while the US are 1-23-1 in Mexico, the only win coming last August in a much-lauded friendly win that's certainly a feather in Jurgen Klinsmann's cap but ultimately means very little in terms of Mexican dominance on Mexican soil. Don't believe it? Check out the lines for this game. The Americans, once again, will be the clear underdogs.
2. JONES OUT AND OROZCO FISCAL IN
With Jermaine Jones out with a left ankle injury following that epic US win at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Klinsmann went back to the Liga MX well to fill out his 24-man squad. To no one's surprise, the German tabbed a player with some experience playing hero at Azteca.
Now, just because Michael Orozco Fiscal was the hero last August, scoring the goal that gave the US a famous result, doesn't mean he'll play a large role come this evening's events. Still, it can't hurt to have the only American ever to score a game-winning goal at the Azteca in the house.
3. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? THINK AGAIN
For all the talk about Azteca's mystique and the difficulty of playing at altitude while choking on smog, Mexico haven't exactly been steamrolling the opposition at the Azteca recently. To wit, they've won just two of their past five matches at the concrete behemoth, and scuffled to a scoreless draw against Jamaica in their last World Cup qualifier there.
All that, in addition to Mexico's current qualifying struggles, has the Americans thinking a point or even three points isn't out of reach. After all, this squad has plenty of players who are familiar with the Azteca and the challenges it poses, whether during previous qualifying campaigns or in Liga MX action.
4. LOOKING BACK ON A FAMOUS DRAW
Of course, talking about earning a famous result and doing it are two different things. The only time the US have actually taken a point in Mexico in a meaningful match was in November 1997, a 10-man scoreless draw that helped the US book their place in France.
Jeff Agoos was the man who saw red in the 32nd minute in that match for an elbow on Pável Pardo, and he joined ExtraTime Radio to rehash that game and explain why Mexican fans often turn on their team when things aren't going perfectly at Azteca.
5. THE AMERICANS SCARED? PLEASE
As Lil' Flip so eloquently put it, "We ain't scared." That's the message also coming from Klinsmann ahead of his second visit to Azteca as head coach of the US team.
“We have a lot of respect for Mexico, but we do not have any fear,” Klinsmann told ESPN. “El Tri knows it has to get the three points from this game, the same as us.”
6. RESPECT GOES BOTH WAYS
Klinsmann's counterpart, José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, certainly isn't overlooking a US side that's starting to believe it can shock CONCACAF's current giant, reiterating that the US "have special players that make the difference."
De la Torre also asked Mexican fans to show some respect for the national anthem of the US, something that isn't always guaranteed.
Valencia winger Andrés Guardado joined his manager in warning against overconfidence despite the fact that Tim Howard and Landon Donovan won't play: “Don’t think that because the players aren’t well-known that they are bad.”
7. HAS WILD WIN PUSHED LAST WEEK'S CONTROVERSY INTO THE PAST?
There was no denying it, the US desperately needed three points at home vs. Costa Rica before venturing south for the Mexico clash. Now, with one gutsy win defined by Mother Nature's snow dump, have the Americans escaped the feeding frenzy that surrounding Brian Straus' tell-all Sporting News article?
They certainly seem to be in a better place, with the questions about team unity pushed to the back-burner following a gritty game that forced the US to play with a united front. Klinsmann couldn't have asked for a better set-up to Tuesday night's much-hyped match at Azteca, although he was still asked about the article at Monday's press conference.
8. GONZALEZ VISITS AZTECA FOR THE FIRST TIME
If Club América had their way, Omar Gonzalez might not be looking at his first visit to Azteca.
On Monday, the LA Galaxy center back revealed that there has indeed garnered interest from the Mexican giants in the past, although his knee injury scuttled any hope for a deal at that time. Gonzalez is out of contract after this year, and he could have some interested observers in the house Tuesday night.
Perhaps the first-generation American's family as well, many of whom still live in Monterrey, making the game even more special: "I'm playing for the US and that's what I always wanted to do. But the feeling I feel of being Mexican and playing in Azteca is really hard to put into words."
9. THE LITTLE PEA AND HERC, KINDRED SPIRITS
"Chicharito" Hernández and Herculez Gomez will line up across from each other on Tuesday as opponents, but they have more in common that you might think.
That's according to Gomez, who's an admitted admirer of the Manchester United forward and says their games are similar. US fans will just have to hope their goal poacher gets the better of Mexico's.
"I see a lot of his characteristics in what I have," Gomez told Goal.com. "I don't consider myself a guy who's going to be doing step-overs, and he isn't either. I depend on my movements, I depend on being mentally tough and whatever the situation is I weather it. He's the same type of kid."
10. SNOWY THREE POINTS CALLED INTO QUESTION
The US are currently sitting in second play in the Hexagonal on three points, all of those earned on Friday against Costa Rica in the early stages of a blizzard. If Costa Rica have their druthers, those points won't be around for long, though.
The Central Americans were furious after Friday's match and they followed up on their promise to dispute the match with FIFA. Now, U.S. Soccer is simply waiting for word from the international governing body. Sour grapes or legitimate beef?
11. THE HEX: RELIVING A FAMOUS MATCH
KICKTV has a new entry in their ongoing series about the Hexagonal (called, of course, The Hex) with a video about the game sure to go down in US national team lore as the "SnowClasico" From interviews with the players ahead of the match, to scenes of American Outlaws and Sam's Army mingling with media members in a Denver-area bar, anticipation was obviously high. And boy did that night deliver.
12. U-20 SIDE DRAWS GROUP OF DEATH
The US Under-20 national team is back in the FIFA U-20 World Cup after missing the 2011 edition, but they've got their work cut out for them if they want to stick around in Turkey this summer.
The draw for the group stage was conducted on Monday in Istanbul, and Tab Ramos' side has been drawn into a Group A that includes Spain, France and an African country to be determined following the conclusion of the African U-20 Championship. According to the official release from FIFA, the announcement of the teams in Group A "drew gasps from the neutrals in the audience."
13. KEANE IN DOUBT FOR GALAXY'S CCL SEMI
The LA Galaxy already had a tough hill to climb against defending champion Monterrey in their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series. Now, they may have to do it without Robbie Keane.
Keane picked up a calf injury with the Republic of Ireland and no timetable has been set for his return. Fortunately for LA, Monterrey have their own injury issues.
14. RENNIE: 'CAPS WILL KEEP THINGS IN HOUSE
Nigel Reo-Coker didn't hold back Saturday night when asked if teammate Darren Mattocks should have passed the ball instead of taking a shot when the Whitecaps had a chance to put the game on ice.
Now, Vancouver head coach Martin Rennie is making it clear that Reo-Coker's outburst will be the last time you hear that sort of thing from 'Caps camp. Meanwhile, defender Andy O'Brien says strikers should be selfish. After all, he noted, Alan Shearer wouldn't have passed in that situation.
15. ADU FINDS A NEW HOME
Finally, Freddy Adu's period of limbo is over. On Monday, the former prodigy's transfer saga with the Philadelphia Union was resolved, with the American heading to Brazilian side Bahia and World Cup veteran Kléberson heading the other way on loan.
Is that the end of Adu's MLS career? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
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