The World Cup qualifiers are officially underway, but it seems like there’s no end to the drama. Three teams had their head-to-head matchups postponed for this past weekend due to fans’ violence at stadiums before or during games. These clashes will occur on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon in Iran, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia respectively. They’ll likely be pivotal moments in determining which countries advance to Russia 2018 while also providing some of the best soccer seen so far this year.,
The “when is next world cup” is a question that many people ask. The “World Cup qualifying clash’s key players and storylines.” will be the answer to this question.
On Friday, the United States and Mexico will compete in World Cup qualifying at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati (stream LIVE on ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET). When these two teams meet, the stakes and emotions are usually high, particularly following two thrilling summer tournament finals. Will the United States make it three wins in a row against El Tri, or will Mexico march out victorious?
Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) and Eric Gomez (@EricGomez86) of ESPN talk down what to expect from either side.
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What has been the performance of each team since the summer meetings?
Prior to this summer, the US men’s national team had only won one competitive match versus Mexico in more than a decade. It was a major achievement to win two in less than two months, in the Gold Cup and Nations League finals. Nonetheless, the significance of those two events paled in comparison to World Cup qualification, so although they were lauded, they were not well recognized.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all response, but the overall interpretation — or at least the most reasonable one — was that it demonstrated that the United States had narrowed the quality gap with Mexico and boosted expectations heading into qualifying. Mexico was obviously on a different level in the two previous meetings between the adversaries, a 2019 friendly and the Gold Cup final earlier that year. That wasn’t the case in either of the summer matches, with the US playing two squads that were virtually totally different. Bonagura’s
The encounter between the United States and Mexico on Friday could feature some intriguing matchups, including Edson Alvarez of Ajax and Christian Pulisic of Chelsea. Getty Images/Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
Losing two championship games to the United States did not go down well with Mexican fans and media. Doing it again in two months stung even more, and it triggered the first wave of direct pressure on Gerardo “Tata” Martino, El Tri’s manager since 2019. Mexico struggled to qualify for both of those World Cup finals, raising concerns about Martino’s ability to lead Mexico through an extended World Cup qualifying process in 2022.
El Tri’s steady dominance over CONCACAF was called into doubt after losing two straight rivalry matches to the United States, which is generally seen in Mexico as a growing danger due to its strong group of young talent. This set the stage for a make-or-break qualifying campaign. Fortunately for Martino, his team’s strong start in the Octagonal has allowed him to recover his footing on route to this third meeting with his team’s main foe. Martino’s second honeymoon will surely come to an end if the USMNT loses again, with a short turnaround before playing developing power Canada. Gomez’s words
What kind of shape do both sides have?
Through six matches, the United States has been a mixed bag. With victories against Jamaica (2-0) and Costa Rica (2-1), the club picked up six points in the three-match October window, but lost to Panama (1-0). There have been phases of poor play (El Salvador, Panama, the first half against Honduras) and times of excellent performance (El Salvador, Panama, the first half against Honduras) (second half against Honduras, second halves vs. Jamaica and Costa Rica).
World Cup qualifying is a zero-sum game, and the United States is in an enviable position — second behind Mexico and Canada — and is considerably more likely than not to qualify for the tournament in Qatar.
Qualification is all that counts for some, and after failing to qualify for Russia last cycle, it’s a reasonable stance to take. Despite being one of the world’s youngest national teams, the United States’ skill pool should require a greater level of play within CONCACAF than what it has demonstrated so far.
It’s a soft attitude to justify poor performances based on the team’s CONCACAF heritage in previous generations. This club has the talent to control how games are played, and that should be the case for the rest of the season, excluding the trip to Mexico. Bonagura’s
Ricardo Pepi has been a revelation for the United States Men’s National Team. Will he be able to maintain his form against Mexico? courtesy of Getty Images
Mexico’s pragmatic, ball-dominant approach has worked nicely with Martino’s top players’ ability. The Argentine manager’s preferred 4-3-3 system has provided more offensive options for players like Hirving Lozano and Jesus Corona, who thrive on space up front. Mexico has finally realized that the days of sauntering through qualifying are past, amidst an increasing level of skill from the Confederation’s elite teams.
El Tri is unbeaten thus far, with four victories in six games, however the club’s play has been inconsistent at times, with the squad preferring to capitalize on key occasions throughout games. Mexico’s 2-0 triumph against El Salvador at the famed Cuscatlan stadium, in the middle of a difficult four-game trip away from home, demonstrated that it can win in unfriendly circumstances. Mexico has emphatically answered the questions that plagued it during its less-than-stellar summer. Although questions remain in certain positions (putting together the back line is consistently an issue), Mexico has emphatically answered the questions that plagued it during its less-than-stellar summer. Gomez’s words
Which players must create an impression?
One of the obvious themes is Christian Pulisic’s return to the squad after missing the previous window, although it’s uncertain how many minutes he’ll get. The Chelsea winger has only played twice for his club since being hurt against Honduras on Sept. 8, a pair of substitute outings last week. I’m just guessing, but he doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to play for 90 minutes against Mexico. However, given the stakes, it seems conceivable that he may start and continue to play as long as he is successful. However, a replacement appearance isn’t out of the question.
Expect Juventus’ Weston McKennie and Napoli’s Hirving Lozano to flourish in the United States-Mexico due to their Serie A expertise. Getty Images/Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
Weston McKennie is overdue for a memorable performance in a United States jersey after being sent home from the first window and having two pretty quiet showings against Jamaica and Costa Rica in October. After a poor start in Serie A, he’s been in fantastic form for Juventus, and his three-man midfield is nicely supported by Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah. When McKennie asserts himself, he transforms the game, which is exactly what is required against Mexico. Bonagura’s
On the offensive side, it’s easy to claim that Mexico marches to the rhythm of Lozano’s drum, but Raul Jimenez’s absence for the most of 2021 was a wake-up call for fans and the media, who realized how thin El Tri’s striker pool was. Rogelio Funes Mori and Henry Martin’s combination was unable to sufficiently offset the number of goals Jimenez is responsible for, allowing defenders to focus on wingers Lozano and Corona. Jimenez’s health is critical to El Tri’s early success.
However, central defense will most likely be Mexico’s key to success versus the US. Due to the absence of Cesar Montes due to injury, finding the perfect combination of Johan Vasquez, Nestor Araujo, and Hector Moreno will be crucial. Although Araujo and Vasquez have a presumptive advantage owing to their status as European-based players, the two have little experience playing together, which might offer Moreno an early lead. Regardless of who gets the nod, the duo will have to defend against a potent American assault led by Pulisic and FC Dallas’ Ricardo Pepi. Gomez’s words
Is there any pressure on the managers?
With just two games in November, United States coach Gregg Berhalter won’t have to worry about roster rotation as he did in September and October. That will provide him some actual insight into the team’s best lineup, in his opinion. He’s already taken the courageous choice not to bring in defender John Brooks, whose form for the United States has been lacking, and he won’t have access to right-back Sergino Dest or winger Giovanni Reyna due to injury, but there are no more excuses.
Two coaches with huge expectations and a lot of burden on their shoulders. Can Gregg Berhalter beat Gerardo Martino once more? Getty Images/Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
In no way is his career in risk, but everything he’s done since taking over has been geared for this moment: beating Mexico at home with work yet to be done to qualify. A convincing victory would justify the almost three-year effort, yet a bad performance in a defeat may jeopardize the whole enterprise. The most probable outcome is somewhere in the middle, in which case views regarding his role as coach will continue to be divided. Bonagura’s
As previously stated, Martino’s two defeats to the United States during the summer meant that the qualifying campaign was given more weight to keep disgruntled critics and supporters at bay. He’s faced those expectations front on, and a defeat in Cincinnati wouldn’t put his World Cup hopes in jeopardy. Even within the constraints of any rivalry, which is extremely strong by nature, Mexican fans and media feel a feeling of failure when a match is lost to the United States.
Martino has the complete support of Mexico’s federation president, Yon de Luisa, and he’ll keep it even if he doesn’t get any points out of this window. The only significant difference is the amount of criticism he’ll face from now until next year depending on his performance. Losing to the US for the third time in a year would also put a severe dent in Martino’s chances of being retained beyond the 2022 World Cup cycle, a possibility that is already being discussed at length in the federation’s highest echelons. Gomez’s words