by Carlos D. Mojica (@CD_Mojica) | Photo by Jorge O. Martínez
Although U.S. – Mexico matches happen rather frequently given the dominance of the two teams in the CONCACAF region, there is something special about their World Cup Qualifiers (WCQ) encounters in Columbus. As most American fans know, the U.S. is undefeated against Mexico in all four WCQ matches that have taken place in Columbus.
To add to the folklore, every match has finished 2-0, thus creating the now famous (or infamous if you’re a Mexico supporter) moniker of Dos a Cero. But, while the scenario might be the same, a few things have changed since the last time the two squared off. Here are some of those differences:
1. There is less at stake. While facing Mexico always provides enough of an incentive for American players come game time, last time around Klinsmann’s squad had the chance to secure a berth to the World Cup by defeating Mexico. But unlike that match, Friday’s game is part of the first set of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal matches, meaning that should the U.S. drop any points there is plenty of time to make those up.
2. Landon Donovan is no longer in the USMNT picture. It’s safe to say that despite his recent decision to come out of retirement, Donovan’s prospects of being called up the national team any time soon are slim to none. With that said, this will be the first time that Donovan is not even on the bench for a WCQ match against Mexico.
Last time around Donovan was in good form. So good in fact, that he set up the first goal for Eddie Johnson and later scored the second one, sealing the American victory against El Tri. With Donovan out of the picture, Friday’s match could prove to be the perfect place for a player to stake his claim as the Americans’ go to player and begin writing his own legend.
3. Clint Dempsey is unavailable. In recent years, Clint Dempsey has been one of the most consistent players for the U.S. No one has scored more goals in WCQ, not even Donovan. But beyond the goals, Dempsey provides the type of off-the ball movement that allows other players to get in scoring position.
With the Sounders’ man sidelined due to health issues, his ability to make runs and open space will be sorely missed. Dempsey is in the twilight of his career so the U.S. must learn to play without him, as it learned to play without Donovan. If they can be effective up front against Mexico, the squad should be able to deal with other CONCACAF rivals.
4. Christian Pulisic is on the rise. Perhaps no other young player has received as much attention over the past year as Pulisic. With good reason, too; at just 18, Pulisic is not only the youngest player to score a goal for the U.S. in the modern era, he has also cracked Borussia Dortmund’s first eleven. Quite frankly, there hasn’t been this much excitement about a young American player since the early days of Freddy Adu.
The allure of a young player with so much potential was something that was missing from the last WCQ against Mexico in 2013, with many pointing to the Americans’ continual reliance on an old Landon Donovan as a big problem. Given Pulisic’s consistent quality of play for both club and country so far this year, he has a strong case to be included in Klinsmann’s starting lineup.
5. There is a heavy (and ugly) political subplot to the match. As you probably know unless you were living under a rock, Donald Trump recently became the President Elect of the U.S. With a large chunk of his campaign preying on people’s fears and promoting racism and xenophobia, there have been cases of several extremist Trump supporters committing acts of violence and racism against immigrant and minority groups.
International matches tend to amplify nationalistic tendencies due to their very nature. With Trump repeatedly referring to Mexican immigrants in terms than can at best be described as racist, there is a chance that some of these terms can make their way into Friday’s match through chants. More worrying is the fact that supporters of both teams could engage in violence and smear what should be a good match.
Last time this match-up took place in Ohio, the tension between the two nations was contained to just on the field. This time around this isn’t the case, and this writer sincerely hopes that those who attend the match are on their best behavior during the game because, like it or not, those outside of the soccer world will be watching to see what occurs. Neither the sport nor the country need another black eye.