COLUMBUS, Ohio – The US national team's traditional blueprint for beating Mexico has been well-established for years: Sit in, soak up pressure and defend bravely, then break out on quick counterattacks that exploit El Tri's frustration and fatigue. Lather, rinse and repeat.
It was a pragmatic approach hatched out of necessity. Nonetheless it proved generally effective – especially on familiar turf, as borne out by the Yanks' 9-2-3 home record since the turn of the century.
But coach Jurgen Klinsmann now aspires to something more ambitious: going toe to toe with El Tri. Seizing the initiative, winning the possession battle in spite of Mexico's vaunted technique and flair. Dictating the rhythm with more boldness than past generations of gringos.
And the program's growing influx of Mexican-American and Mexico-based players has provided Klinsmann and his staff with useful tools to advance this goal.
“I think that’s why Jurgen brought some of the Mexican guys in from Mexico – to kind of get a sense of how they play, their style,” USMNT winger DaMarcus Beasley, who now plays his club soccer in Liga MX after battling Mexico in international combat for years, told the media on Monday as he and the team prepared for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Mexico at Crew Stadium (8 pm ET; ESPN/UniMas).
“They’re guys that play that style of football. It’s a slower pace – control the ball and possession – the kind of game that Jurgen likes to play out of the back and in the front.”
Beasley is one of five members of Klinsmann's current roster who ply their trade south of the border, along with the likes of Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo (pictured at right), who helped Club Tijuana win the Liga MX Apertura championship last year. All are part of a growing cadre of Yanks who – just like the valuable German-American contingent – are bringing important skills and experiences back with them when they represent the United States.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard believes that influence played a pivotal role in the USMNT's first-ever win on Mexican soil last year, the famous 1-0 “Aztecazo” friendly win on Aug. 15, 2012 at El Tri's traditional fortress, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The game-winner was scored by Liga MX veteran Michael Orozco Fiscal.
“The Mexican-American players, the German-American players, they've been fantastic,” Howard said on Monday. “I remember when we beat them 1-0, there was a feeling that we had a bunch of guys that were just familiar with the territory, with the language, the referees – all that stuff, I think it plays a part. It certainly helps.”
Granted, while the long-term goal is to match and exceed Mexico in the aesthetic department as well as on the scoreboard, the old traits of ruggedness and resilience remain vital. Both the Aztecazo and the 0-0 qualifying draw at the same venue on March 26 featured plenty of desperate defending and precious little sustained possession.
And the Yanks expect to weather an early storm of pressure from a desperate El Tri side on Tuesday, having pinpointed the first 15 to 20 minutes as the match's most pivotal stage. But the long-term vision – the path towards not only regional, but global competitiveness – remains clear: Borrow the best traits of the USA's southern neighbors to help reach the “next level” of which Klinsmann often speaks.
“It's a good thing for us now that players from [the US] play in Mexico, in a very strong league, know those players really well and are well prepared to play eye-to-eye against them,” Klinsmann said on Monday. “It's definitely a plus.
“I think both countries always drive for more. Both countries want to get better. Both countries want to be in the top 10 in the world. Both countries obviously want to secure the World Cup in Brazil and then going there beyond the group stage – at least. So ambition-wise, it's very similar to our case and I think there's a lot of admiration in this rivalry for each other.”