USA vs. Mexico
Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 11 pm ET
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Watch on ESPN, WatchESPN, UniMas
Once again, the headlines have turned away from the field ahead of the US national team’s next warm-up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with the announcement that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has reconfigured his coaching staff two days before Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium.
With less than three months to go until the World Cup begins, US Soccer announced on Sunday that assistant coach Martin Vasquez would be transitioned to other duties, with U-20 national team coach Tab Ramos taking his place and former German national team manager Berti Vogts hired as a special assistant.
It is a big shake-up, with Klinsmann’s supposed tactical specialist and right-hand man being shown the door just three days before the final game before the preliminary World Cup roster is chosen.
How that affects what happens on the field is yet to be determined, but there is no question that the message has been sent: There are no loyalties when it comes to achieving the goal of success at the World Cup.
“It’s simply a professional shift,” Klinsmann said to the media on Monday afternoon. “I have to make decisions with my staff to put them in positions where I think they’re best in order to hopefully do well this summer in Brazil. Sometimes it’s a shift that doesn’t please everybody, but this is part of the head coach’s role.”
Vasquez was Klinsmann’s assistant dating back to his days managing Bayern Munich, so his demotion may serve as a reminder that players who might feel their history with the USMNT provides a certain level of comfort should think again.
Wednesday's game is also the last chance for certain members of the MLS-heavy roster to present their case for Klinsmann. After a US squad made up primarily of European-based players lost 2-0 to Ukraine in their last friendly, there are a handful of players on the bubble who could increase their chances if they play well.
This is the first meeting between the two historic CONCACAF rivals since the latest “Dos a Cero” US victory on Sept. 10, 2013, in Columbus, Ohio, a win that secured the Yanks' trip to the World Cup. The previous friendly between the two teams also proved historic, as a Michael Orozco goal and a Tim Howard shutout delivered the USMNT their first victory against El Tri on Mexico soil, a 1-0 win on Aug. 15, 2012, at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Overall, the US are 17-32-13 all-time against Mexico, but since 2000 the US are 12-5-4 in the series, including a 10-2-3 record on American soil.
While the last tune-up before Klinsmann hands out plane tickets to Brazil could be last-chance hotel or already too late, it is probably somewhere in between.
With a number of regulars expected to play big roles at this summer’s tournament called to the team, led by Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, Wednesday offers a good chance for them to start getting on the same page for the big tournament.
But there are also several players fighting for that spot on the plane, such as recent MLS returnees Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst, who will be anxious to impress the boss. Conversely, the situation was complicated for both Klinsmann and Puebla defenders DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco, who were not granted release by the Mexican club as it fights a relegation battle in Liga MX.
“We are very disappointed in the decision by Puebla,” Klinsmann said in a statement. “When the match was scheduled, it was with the spirit that both teams would have access to their domestic-based players for what is a very important game for those competing for spots in the World Cup. It's a huge opportunity lost for DaMarcus and Michael and doesn't contribute to the continuation of this respected rivalry.”
There are also a few wildcards thrown into this camp, youngsters Julian Green and the Seattle Sounders' DeAndre Yedlin. Green, the Bayern Munich product who recently spurned the German national team to join the Red, White and Blue, has earned his first senior-team call-up and will likely make his USMNT debut. Can Green impress enough in this short period of time to book his trip to the World Cup?
“We don’t want to put any type of pressure on [Julian] or too high of expectations. At the end of the day, he’s a player to be developed,” Klinsmann said. “Developed mainly in his club from one point to the next, and we are going to help this development. How everything can then proceed is up to him. We take his pace, we take his development there and have a very close eye on him.”
El Tri also will field a roster heavy on domestic players, with all 18 of their call-ups coming from Liga MX. Club América will be the most represented club, with seven players named to Miguel Herrera’s roster.
Mexico will rely on the strike partnership of Tigres UANL’s Alan Pulido and América’s Raúl Jiménez. León defender and former New York Red Bull Rafa Márquez is expected to don the armband for the Mexican side, also looking to solidify places ahead of this summer's tournament.
Several top Mexican league standouts will not join the team, however: Santos Laguna forward Oribe Peralta was left off due to personal reasons and León midfielder José Juan Vásquez reportedly will not join the team because of visa issues.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Julian Green
Will he even see action? And if so, how much will he play? And if he sees action, what does that mean for his chances to make the roster for Brazil?
All questions that can finally be contemplated after the Bayern Munich prospect chose the USMNT once and for all. It seems rather clear that Klinsmann will likely take his new toy out for a spin, but what that means for the future remains unclear.
Mexico – Marco Fabián
Fabián makes his return to the national team after helping Mexico win the gold medal in the London Olympics. The attacking midfielder has not played for El Tri since last August, when he received 13 minutes of action against Ivory Coast in a friendly.
His six goals in 11 matches for league-leading Cruz Azul have been enough to give the mercurial player’s once-sputtering World Cup chances new life.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Moisés Múñoz (Club América)
DEFENDERS (8): Paul Aguilar (Club América), Miguel Layún (Club América), Miguel Ángel Ponce (Toluca), Francisco "Maza" Rodríguez (Club América), Juan Carlos Valenzuela (Club América), Rogelio Alfredo Chávez (Cruz Azul), Enrique Pérez (Atlas), Rafa Márquez (León)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Jesús Zavala (Monterrey), Juan Carlos Medina (Club América), Marco Fabián (Cruz Azul), Carlos Alberto Peña (León), Luis Arturo Montes (León)
FORWARDS (2): Alan Pulido (Tigres UANL), Raúl Jiménez (Club América)