Welcome back to the Thursday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the CONCACAF Cup – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
Mexico are being steered by an interim manager who explicitly doesn't want the long-term job (and won't get it), and are dealing with injuries at the back, in midfield and up top.
The USMNT are managed by an compulsive tinkerer who hasn't started the same lineup in back-to-back games in more than two years.
I could just leave this analysis at that, because the above information makes anything that comes next dubious at best. Mexico and the US are both enigmas at this point, just over 48 hours ahead of Saturday's CONCACAF Cup (9 pm ET; FS1 | Univision) in Pasadena at the Rose bowl. There are too many variables to really account for, and only about an hour – from the time the gameday lineups are announced until the first kick – for truly meaningful analysis.
Let's give it a shot, though:
How Mexico will (lol) line up: 5-3-2
GK: Moises Munoz
RWB: Paul Aguilar
RCB: Diego Reyes
CB: Rafa Marquez
LCB: Hector Moreno
LWB: Miguel Layun
DM: Jonathan Dos Santos
LCM: Andres Guardado
RCM: Hector Herrera
FWD: Javier Hernandez
FWD: Oribe Peralta
Why they'll line up this way: Because of the blend of experience and youth. Peralta is the biggest question mark – there will be many, many calls for Carlos Vela, Raul Jimenez and Tecatito Corona in his stead – but his history of reliably bludgeoning CONCACAF teams for club and country, and his willingness to occupy central defenders and allow his running-mate more room will make him Tuca Ferretti's choice.
The other two big question marks are at defensive midfield and along the backline. Let's start at d-mid, where Dos Santos seems like the really obvious choice to replace the injured Jose Vasquez. Dos Santos isn't a natural destroyer like Vasquez, but is a more inventive (though not necessarily more effective) passer of the ball.
Ideally, from a Mexican point of view, putting more skill into midfield tilts the balance of possession and chance creation in their direction. And it's worth noting that when Mexico are at their best against the US, it's usually because the central midfield is dominating games and driving possession directly up the middle, forcing the US backline out of its comfort zone (heh). Dos Santos has the skillset to do that at a high level:
So does Marquez, who I have here starting in the center of a five-man back line. Whether he will or not comes down to one thing: His health.
On Thursday's ExtraTime Radio, Eric Gomez said he thinks Marquez is actually too hurt to play, and his presence in camp is a decoy. He's not training, he's not fit, and at 3792 years old, he doesn't bounce back quickly.
If Eric's correct, that moves Mexico to a 4-4-2, which still goes Layun-Moreno-Reyes-Aguilar from left to right, and perhaps puts Dos Santos on the bench while Guardado and Herrera move central and two true wingers come on. It would offer, perhaps, a little more attacking versatility and punch, while significantly disarming El Tri's distributive dynamism from back-to-front.
In other words a 4-4-2 Mexico is a less Mexico version of Mexico. And that is what we may see.
But nobody except Ferretti really knows for sure.
How the USMNT will (lol) line up: 4-4-2 diamond
GK: Brad Guzan
RB: Fabian Johnson
CB: Geoff Cameron
CB: Matt Besler
LB: DaMarcus Beasley
DM: Kyle Beckerman
RM: Jermaine Jones
CM: Michael Bradley
LM: Gyasi Zardes
FWD: Clint Dempsey
FWD: Jozy Altidore
Best guess is that something will compel Jurgen Klinsmann to go back to the formation and tactical approach that worked so well in the lead-up to the World Cup, and blew apart – along with Altidore's hamstring – 20 minutes into that tournament. I'm an avowed fan of the diamond, so I'm good with that.
The areas of concern here are in defensive midfield and central defense. And right back, and I guess, probably, both flanks. And playmaker.
Ok yeah, there are some real questions. Let's begin at d-mid, where I don't care whether it's Beckerman or Danny Williams: I just want one of them to start. The USMNT have always needed to protect that spot in Zone 14 against Mexico, and the Bradley/Jones combo in central midfield has never been particularly good at doing that together:
The question at right back is more straight-forward: Can Fabian Johnson remember to slam the door shut behind him? As great as he was going forward at the World Cup, he's often neglectful of the space he leaves behind him when he pushes up, and both Ghana and Portugal exploited it.
It will presumably be Cameron's job to monitor and cover for Johnson, though picking the central defenders out of this group is a crapshoot. Cameron and Besler have chemistry and reps together, but both have been more "out" than "in" with Klinsmann since the World Cup, while Michael Orozco has always been a Klinsmann security blanket and Ventura Alvarado is the new hotness.
As for the flanks... it's a diamond, but not in the way that RSL played it for years, with both sides pinched in. The USMNT usually pulled Jones in tight on one side and had his opposite numbers – Alejandro Bedoya or Graham Zusi, both of whom are on this roster and decent bets to start – play closer to the touchline. In my scenario above, that job goes to Zardes, because why not?
That only really leaves the playmaking duties up in the air. Bradley has been Klinsmann's idea of a No. 10, and has put up good numbers when he has multiple attacking options to pick out in front of him. This lineup, with Dempsey and Jozy up top, Zardes as an attacking winger and Johnson on the overlap, provides for that. It also puts Bradley in a spot to both harass and exploit Dos Santos, who is soft.
The US have been brutally bad, save for 180 mostly meaningless minutes against Germany and the Netherlands, since the World Cup. They have the pieces in place to reverse that trend, and given Mexico's injuries and instability, should do as much.
But "should" is always a big mountain to scale. Mexico are the Gold Cup champions for a reason, and almost certainly determined to show exactly why come Saturday night.
Ok folks, thanks for keeping me company!