Jozy Altidore - US national team - June 8, 2017
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Upgrade: Figuring out #USAvMEX in 'FIFA 17'

Hello everybody and welcome to this edition of the Upgrade, a series tracking MLS players in EA SPORTS FIFA 17. Click here to read the last installment.

Today, we’re focusing on #USAvMEX and my hands are shaking. It’s time to get down to business.

The USMNT did more or less exactly what they were supposed to Thursday night, busting out of a weird lethargic funk and walloping Trinidad and Tobago in the second half of a match that finished 2-0
 
But Sunday night against Mexico is the real darn deal. We all know the context, both historical and contemporary, and we all know about the Azteca, the USMNT’s very own Dark Tower. As wildly important as three points would be in the immediate present as it relates to the USMNT’s Hex campaign, the future implications of an American there would be resounding.

We’ve been here many times before, though, and — win or lose — we’ll be back again. With that preamble in mind, let’s look at how the USMNT matches up according to FIFA 17.

You’ll notice I swapped out John Brooks (OVR 80) for Omar Gonzalez. Brooks may or may not be injured, and he got beat badly this past Thursday by Kenwyne Jones, who clanked the resulting free header off the bar from about six yards out. It’s these kinds of lapses that kill teams at Azteca, where Mexico are often ruthless.

As folks have started to notice, the US has had problems defending set pieces recently, too. Brooks has been part of that equation, and the same issues he had early in his USMNT career, regarding his reliability competing for balls in the air, have started to factor into his game again.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, is very strong in the air. He’s 6’5” and has 85 jumping and 91 strength in FIFA 17. Back in his LA Galaxy days, he was extremely goal-dangerous on set pieces, too. His 80 heading accuracy could play a key role in those situations if the USMNT want to turn what has become a weakness back into a strength. 

Working in the Americans’ favor will be the fact that Mexico's Rafa Marquez has been ruled out for this match. I shouldn’t have to explain to you what kind of impact that makes. 
 
Marquez possesses an OVR of only 73 these days, and he’s certainly lost a step or two over the years, but he gives the US fits every single time the two sides meet. 
 
His absence means that the Mexican back line will have to look for other ways to stay organized and manage the game effectively against an American attack that created a ton of chances Thursday night. 
 
The pace possessed by Christian Pulisic (88), Darlington Nagbe (88), and Fabian Johnson (89) is pretty wild, and will give what will likely be a three-man Mexican backline fits on the counterattack. We saw a little bit of that counterattacking promise on Thursday, and I’m betting on it featuring heavily as this match wears on. 
 
Then, of course, there is Jozy Altidore. As much as Bobby Wood’s pace (86) is useful, Jozy’s physical presence is an important factor in a match like this, and he is simply the more dynamic forward. His hold-up play, aided by his 87 strength and 75 positioning, is a very important element in helping spring counterattacks. Also, his vision and extraordinarily underrated passing range allows him to drop deep and play runners (like Johnson, Nagbe, and Pulisic) through on goal.

Exactly like this: 

Rafa Marquez knows how the US like to play, and a three-man backline scrambling back to deal with a counterattack featuring the elements of that goal means there will be space to exploit, and no Rafa Marquez to clog it up. 

 
The biggest variable for the USMNT might well be the way they line up. We saw the 4-1-4-1 setup shown above against T&T, but that shifted to a 4-2-3-1 when Kellyn Acosta came on in the 61st minute. It’s highly possible we see that formation and that personnel right out of the gate against Mexico.

Acosta is a true box-to-box midfielder. He’s tireless, is a willing defender, and knows how to connect passes and take care of the ball in transition. 

He's also incredibly athletic (89 stamina, 80 sprint speed, 82 acceleration, 73 agility) and offers the attacking qualities you want to expect out of a young No. 8. However, his greatest asset in terms of what he brings to this particular match is his defending. A 74 reactions rating, 68 interceptions, 80 jumping, and 67 marking actually paint a pretty good picture of a guy who’s job it is to play a key role in both offensive and defensive transition.

From defending set pieces, to springing a runner with a well-timed pass, and then following that up with a late run into the box (all things we’ve seen from him at FC Dallas this season), Acosta offers the missing link between defense and attack for the USMNT that Michael Bradley can’t provide all by himself. 
 
Alright, that’s it for me. That’s all the video game-based analysis I can provide for a match that very well might stop my heart. Cheers, folks.

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