By Sam Doku, PhD
When the United States men’s national soccer team lines up against arch-rivals Mexico on Saturday at Pasadena, it promises to be one of the fiercest encounters yet between the two sides to determine who represents the CONCACAF region in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Indeed, both the U.S. and Mexico cannot claim supremacy in the region any more as teams like Jamaica, winner of this year’s Gold Cup, Costa Rica, Panama, and lately Haiti now feel they can spar easily on the fluffy turf with both the U.S. and Mexico on any given day and emerge victorious.
But the U.S. and Mexico are less bothered by the recent spate of misfortune that has swamped their performances. And when they line up on Saturday to battle it each other at the Rose Bowl in California, each team will be stoically determined to win to restart the journey of reassertion as the best team in the region.
It is not going to be easy, though. Since the Jürgen Klinsmann era began in 2011, the U.S. and Mexico have battled on six occasions, and Klinsmann’s men have emerged victorious on three occasions, with the other three ending in ties.
The three victories the U.S. have won include a famous 2-1 triumph in Mexico City at the dreaded Estadio Axteca where El Tri hardly loses. Incredibly, however, since that glorious victory, Klinsmann has still not been able to parade, on a consistent basis, a formidable regular starting line-up that would keep opponents wondering if they are talented enough to face off against the U.S.
With the exception of Clint Dempsey, recently retired Langdon Donovan, Michael Bradley, DeMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones, Jozy Altidore, and until just after the 2014 World Cup, goalkeeper Tim Howard, Klinsmann like a soccer scientist, keeps experimenting with freshly discovered talents from Europe all the time.
The result is that the fluidity, cohesion, and the flair that are supposed to be the trade mark of a team that has experienced four years of longevity under one coach, is still missing in matches of the U.S.
Playing in the Confederations Cup that assembles the best teams from the various regions in the world to compete against one another renders it into the realm of a mini-world World Cup.
From that perspective, Mexico led by the likes of Giovanni Dos Santos, Chacharito Hernandez, and Jonathan Dos Santos will be equally determined to make it to Russia in 2017, but this is the moment for the Stars and Stripes to rise and shine to make up for their inability to win this year’s Gold Cup, which would have rendered this match a non-starter.
Perhaps the style of play of the Stars and Stripes will be a little different against Mexico on Saturday, and fans of the game, including the First Family, will appreciate the poetic pulchritude and the fascination that come with watching the game of soccer.
Otherwise, soccer prognosticators like Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman will keep complaining about the dearth of maturity in the Stars and Stars’ approach to the game. And that will not bode well for Jürgen.