In what is undoubtedly their most significant match of the year, the U.S. national team faces archrival Mexico on Saturday in the first-ever CONCACAF Cup (6:30 p.m. PT / FOX Sports 1). Roughly 93,000 fans are expected on Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and numerous movie theaters across the nation will be showing the game.
So what are the implications of this weekend’s matchup? Which players could we see on the pitch for both sides? Here is all you need to know heading into this massive contest.
Why is the game so important?
The winner of Saturday’s game qualifies for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, an eight-team tournament played in the same stadiums that will be used during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Representing nations from all six confederations, plus defending champion Germany and host country Russia, will battle it out in this beneficial competition seen as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
The USMNT participated in the 2009 edition of the Confederations Cup and had an impressive run, reaching the tournament final by defeating then-No. 1 ranked Spain in the semifinals. It marked the USA’s first trip to a FIFA tournament final. Mexico, meanwhile, qualified for the 2013 Confederations Cup but failed to advance to the tournament’s knockout round.
How did we get to this point?
CONCACAF is one of just two confederations that crown a champion every two years as opposed to every four years. Rather than continuing to send the most recent Gold Cup winner to the Confederations Cup, it was decided in 2013 that the champions from the two Gold Cups would play a one-game playoff to determine who represents CONCACAF.
The Stars and Stripes could have secured their spot by winning this year’s Gold Cup, but Mexico's win set up a playoff match. The USMNT settled for fourth place – its worst-ever Gold Cup finish – despite Sounders FC’s Clint Dempsey earning the Golden Boot with seven goals in six games.
Is U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann on the hot seat?
Because of the disappointing Gold Cup finish and last month’s 4-1 loss to Brazil on home soil, some question whether Klinsmann should keep his job if Mexico wins on Saturday. That includes legendary USMNT striker Landon Donovan, who shared his thoughts with ESPN FC.
“Around the world, if a player plays poorly and a player has a bad string of results they get dropped from the team. Jurgen said many times he wants our players to feel pressure — so if they lose a game they can’t go to the grocery store the next day. If they lose a game they are getting hammered in the press.
“Well, the same holds true for the coach and so we had a very poor summer with bad results in the Gold Cup. The last game against Brazil was probably the worst game I’ve seen them play under Jurgen. The reality is that now, anywhere else in the world, if this coach had those results, and they lose this game against Mexico, they’d be fired.”
How has the USMNT traditionally fared versus Mexico?
No USMNT coach has a higher winning percentage in competitive matches than Klinsmann, and the former Germany manager also owns an unblemished record against El Tri (3-0-3). The USMNT is 13-5-5 in matchups with its archrival since the year 2000, including an 11-4-2 record at home. Most recently the Americans earned a 2-0 victory in a friendly on April 15, one of nine occasions in which the U.S. has beaten Mexico by virtue of a Dos a Cero result.
At the Rose Bowl, the USA is 1-1-2 all-time against Mexico. El Tri defeated the Stars and Stripes 4-2 in Pasadena to clinch the 2011 Gold Cup title.
Who are the players to watch for both teams?
For the host side, it’s Clint Dempsey, who has scored the most non-penalty kick goals in team history (43). The Seattle forward has never scored in nine career appearances against Mexico, however. Also part of the squad for Saturday’s game are Sounders FC defender Brad Evans and former Homegrown Player DeAndre Yedlin, who now plays for Sunderland on loan from Tottenham.
It appeared as if Dempsey and Evans would clash with Giovani dos Santos once again after facing the Mexican striker in MLS play last weekend, but dos Santos has been ruled out of the game due to injury. Captain Andres Guardado and defender Rafael Marquez could also miss Saturday’s match with setbacks of their own. Star striker Javier Hernandez, meanwhile, is healthy and looking to add to his 41 career international goals.