When the USA and Mexico stage yet another intense cross-border battle on Saturday night, Oct. 10, 9:30 pm at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (CA), there is more at stake than the usual battle for CONCACAF superiority or area dominance; the match will determine who represents CONCACAF at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia next summer, and the result will also ultimately crown the true CONCACAF champion and could very well determine the future of USA head coach Jurgen Klinnsman.
The USA is the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup champion and Mexico won the tournament in 2015, which prompted this CONCACAF play-in game to determine who goes to Russia next year. The Confederations Cup is the championship tournament, played every four years, between the champions of FIFA’s (soccer governing body) six confederations: Africa (CAF), Asia (AFC), North and Central America and the Caribbean, (CONCACAF), Europe (UEFA), Oceania (OFC) and South America (CONMBOL). The tournament is staged at the sites of the next World Cup the summer before, which gives the teams advance knowledge of playing conditions for the upcoming tournament.
The USA is on a bad run with one win in its last four games, finishing fourth in last summer’s Gold Cup with losses to Jamaica and Panama, and taking a four-goal bashing from Brazil in September. The only win came against Peru in Washington DC just before the Brazil fiasco.
Former national player Landon Donovan has called for Klinnsman’s firing if the USA loses Saturday night to Mexico, saying that when players have spells of bad games that are dropped and so should the coach.
Klinnsman’s problem is that he seems not to be able to make up his mind or make good decisions about players because he does not effectively evaluate them; as a results, he uses players in the wrong positions and is inconsistency in his lineups from game to game. After taking over the team from Bob Bradley just over four years ago, he has problems settling on his defensive quartet, the most important part of the team. Klinnsman has history on his side, though, as he has not lost to Mexico in six games against El Tri, however, that may not be enough.
The other obstacle facing the USA — apart from facing a talent-laden, determined Mexico team with a new coach who has much to prove — is the fan support. The Americans will remember well their last defeat at the Rose Bowl, in 2011, when Mexico, behind a raucous crowd of predominantly Mexican fans among the 93,000 in the stadium, rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the USA, 3-2, and win the Gold Cup. The Americans may have felt as though they were in Mexico’s Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. That lost signaled the end of Bradley as the national team coach, so a similar scenario could well see Klinnsman meted the same fate.
USA captain Michael Bradley, lamenting about that loss, said that even though four years have passed since the match, the game and El Tri’s celebration afterwards still sticks in his memory.
“Any time you lose a final, you don’t forget that quickly,” Bradley told ussoc
The Rose Bowl has a capacity of close to 100,000 and the stadium is sold out for the game; the atmosphere will be eclectic, and with two very technical teams that are rivals in the true sense of the word going at each other with so much at stake, Saturday night’s clash could be one for the ages.
In MLS play last weekend, the New York Red Bulls beat Columbus Crew, 2-1; Orlando City FC knocked off Montreal Impact, 2-1; Chicago Fire topped New England Revolution, 3-1; San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver Whitecaps tied, 1-1; Sporting KC over Portland Timbers, 1-0; FC Dallas over Houston Dynamo, 4-1; Real Salt Lake bettered Colorado Rapids, 2-1; and Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy played to 1-1 draw.