MEXICO CITY — Pumas UNAM’s stunning training facility enclosed by high dark quarry walls proved an idyllic setting for the US national team to go through their paces on Monday evening. The echo-y quietude and misty sunshine was a far cry from the raucous atmosphere they’ll experience during Wednesday’s friendly with Mexico (8 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) at the Estadio Azteca.
It could be especially energized given that the Mexican team comes into the match having recently won the Olympic gold medal. Even if it’s a friendly, El Tri will see this as a chance once again to stake their claim as the powerhouse of CONCACAF.
“In the last eight, nine, 10 years, USA has been on top, I think,” midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. “So obviously Mexico wants to get that back. They’re making great strides to have that, starting with the Gold Cup a couple of years ago and it’s going to be a great rivalry again.”
PREVIEW: USA vs. Mexico
Mexico, of course, have entered a kind of golden era for their soccer. They are now the reigning U-17 World Cup winners, Gold Cup holders, and Olympic champions. The recent win in London was perhaps the biggest breakthrough moment, and the impact of their performance wasn’t lost on the US players.
“They’re more confident, for sure,” said center back Geoff Cameron, who watched Mexico beat Brazil 2-1 in the gold medal match. “They play good football. I honestly thought Brazil was going to come back. Brazil gave up early goals in every game and then they came back and put three in the back of the net like it was nothing. So I was waiting for it and waiting for it. But Mexico just did their thing. They’re catching up with a lot of the big nations.”
Perhaps the brightest star among the Mexicans is Manchester United striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. He will be the most dangerous attacker for El Tri on Wednesday, and one that the inexperienced US backline will be hard-pressed to deal with.
“He’s a clever player,” said Maurice Edu, who appears set to start at center back. “He’s fast. A real poacher. You give him an opportunity, he’ll finish it. He has really good movement off the ball. So it’s really important that we keep an eye on him at all times.”
If the US do that, they have the chance to earn a result. Of course, they will have to do a lot more than that. They know that. But despite the odds, they don’t feel like it’s impossible.
“Our goal is to come in here, play well and get a win,” Cameron said. “They’ve got a lot of good players and they’ve been playing well lately. So it’s a challenge for us. But it’s a challenge we can take advantage of.”
After all, this is Mexico-USA. All the analysis, all the rhetoric, all the hype gets thrown out the window when the whistle blows and the match kicks off.
“It’s always going to be a battle,” Beasley said, “whether it’s a World Cup match or a friendly.”