Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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The last time that Mexico scored a goal in a World Cup qualifier in the United States was April 1997. Since then, the Mexicans have tried three times to beat the USA on American soil. Since then, the Mexicans have lost 2-0 three times, all in Columbus - the location of tonight's renewal of North America's best international rivalry.
It must be said that this year's edition of this match looks a bit stranger than most. The two countries are generally the powerhouses of CONCACAF, but while the USA is just steps away from sealing a ticket to next year's World Cup in Brazil, Mexico is reeling, and in some danger of missing out on qualifying for the first time since 1990.
Both teams lost on Friday; the Americans went down 3-1 at Costa Rica after giving up two goals in the first nine minutes. It brought the USA's twelve-match winning streak to a juddering halt, and made tonight's game look rather more important for America's chances.
Mexico, though, fell completely to pieces, losing a home World Cup qualifier for only the second time ever. They took a 1-0 lead on Honduras only six minutes in, but Honduras scored twice in a three-minute span in the second half to turn the tide, and Mexico couldn't find a reply. The defeat cost coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre his job; he's been replaced by assistant Luis Fernando Tena.
Now, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl thinks that Mexico missing out on the World Cup would be a bad thing for America. I have thought about this, and I can't say I agree with him one bit. As an American fan, I would much, much prefer that Mexico loses every game 10-0 and fires their coach after every match; similarly, I suspect that Mexican fans hope that Columbus's stadium falls over and Landon Donovan's legs fall off. Such is the nature of rivalry. Reason does not play into it.
The USA can clinch a berth in the World Cup with a win and a Panama loss or tie against Honduras. Mexico, meanwhile, trails Honduras by two points for the third and final automatic berth, and leads Panama by only one point in the race for fourth place, the winner of which will play off against New Zealand for a trip to the finals in Brazil. (The standings are here.)
Unfortunately for the Americans, they'll have to try to beat Mexico without midfielder Michael Bradley, the key to their team. The 26-year-old rolled his ankle in warmups before the Costa Rica game; perhaps not surprisingly, the USA lost the battle in the center of midfield without him. He won't play tonight.
Also missing out is the team's best forward, Jozy Altidore, and two of the team's defenders, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler. All three picked up second yellow cards against Costa Rica, and are thus suspended one game. Besler's in particular made headlines after a US Soccer video proved that Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell had taken one of the most heinous dives in soccer history, which somehow convinced the assistant referee that Besler deserved one of the most ridiculous cautions you will ever see.
Stalwart Omar Gonzalez will thus have a new partner in central defense tonight - possibly Clarence Goodson, who played there during the Gold Cup, next to left back DaMarcus Beasley. It's looking like Bradley will be replaced by Kyle Beckerman in central midfield, alongside Jermaine Jones - the same two that led the USA to their first-ever win in Mexico last year. Up front, the USA will depend on veterans Donovan and Clint Dempsey, in some combination and formation, to lead their attack.
The game is at 7pm, on ESPN. The Twin Cities have sent a large contingent of fans to Columbus; the remainder will be gathering at the Sweetwater Bar and Grill in St. Paul.
It's been sixteen years since Mexico scored in a World Cup qualifier in the USA. You can bet that every American fan at the Sweetwater would dearly love to extend that streak to at least twenty years - and maybe, in the process, help knock Mexico further into the qualification danger zone.
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