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Mexico vs. USA | CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Preview

Mexico vs. USA
Sunday, June 11 – 8:30 pm ET
Estadio Azteca – Mexico City, Mexico
TV: FS1, Univision, UDN, Follow on the MLS App

It’s OK, US national team fans: You can breathe a bit easier now.

The US put themselves on pretty solid footing in the CONCACAF Hexagonal on Thursday night, beating Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in Colorado to move into third place in the Hex with a 2-2-1 record. That miserable 0-2-0 start to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying is firmly in the rearview, with the US now just one point behind second-place Costa Rica and a full three points ahead of fifth-place Honduras.

They don’t need points at Mexico on Sunday night, but man, would a result at the Azteca be nice.

The US, of course, have never won a World Cup qualifier at Mexico. El Tri are famously nasty at home, posting a monstrous 40-2-7 all-time record in qualifiers in Mexico. They’ve started the Hex in fantastic fashion, with their 3-0 home win against Honduras on Thursday night pushing them to 4-0-1 through five games.

El Tri beat the US in the first match of the Hex, breaking their Columbus curse with a 2-1 win over the Americans in Ohio back in November. They’re in form, very talented and, with 100,000 strong at their back in the Azteca, will give the US their toughest match of the Hexagonal on Sunday.

USA Outlook

After a somewhat sluggish first half, the USMNT kicked things into gear in the second 45 on Thursday, with wunderkind Christian Pulisic scoring a pair of goals to power the Americans to their 2-0 win against the Soca Warriors.

Just in case that didn’t put enough of a target on his back heading into Sunday’s match, the 18-year-old essentially guaranteed a win at Mexico in an interview with FS1 immediately after the match.

He walked that back a bit once he got off the field, but the confident Pulisic just might be the man to push the US over their qualifying hump at the Azteca. Assuming he plays, that is. US head coach Bruce Arena hinted after Thursday’s win that there would be some lineup changes coming on Sunday as the US deal with the quick turnaround and the elevation, smog and intimidating atmosphere of the Azteca.

“I think we have to see how our players recover,” he said. “We have a sense of where guys will be after this game tonight and realize we’ll need some new bodies on the field on Sunday. We’ve been training that way for the last week to 10 days. We have that plan in place. We might make a couple changes to that, but we’re pretty set on what we’re going to do on Sunday.”

Mexico Outlook

Mexico cruised to a relatively easy win against Honduras on Thursday night, with Oswaldo Alanis, Hirving Lozano and Raul Jimenez scoring to give El Tri a 3-0 win at the Azteca over Los Catrachos.

The margin could’ve been much greater, too. Mexico created plenty of good looks throughout the match, and easily could’ve found the back of the net on several other occasions. As things stand, they’ve still been easily the most impressive team in the Hex, racing out to a five-point lead at the top of the standings with their 4-0-1 record. With 13 points through five matches, they’ve already eclipsed the 11 they picked up during the Hex ahead of the 2014 World Cup, and seem to be a sure bet to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next summer.

Don’t expect El Tri to take their foot off the gas on Sunday, however. Mexico know they haven’t beaten the US in their last two tries at the Azteca – the Americans beat their rivals 1-0 in a friendly in 2012 before the scoreless draw in the Hex in 2013 – and they’ll want a bit of revenge on Sunday night.

LA Galaxy star Giovani dos Santos will likely play a role in Sunday’s encounter, though he did look a bit off the pace before being subbed out in the 57th minute on Thursday. Former Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo will miss the match after suffering an injury on Thursday, and head coach Juan Carlos Osorio will likely rotate other starters given the quick turnaround and with a trip to Russia for the FIFA Confederations Cup looming.

History

Mexico holds a commanding all-time lead in the series, posting a 34-18-14 record against the US through the history of the matchup. That dominance is mainly due to a 43-year unbeaten streak that ran from 1947-1980, however. The US actually has the upper hand this century, holding a 13-7-5 edge since 2000.

The US haven’t exactly had much success at the Azteca, however. The Yanks are 1-7-2 in 10 matches in the famed stadium, with the lone win coming in a friendly in 2012. A win in Sunday’s qualifier would be historic, but a second-straight draw – the US tied El Tri 0-0 in Mexico City in 2013 – would be a welcome result, too.

Players to Watch

USA – Christian Pulisic

As if we could go with anyone else. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder is only a teenager, but he’s already one of the top players on the USMNT, scoring, assisting or drawing the foul that led to each of the US’s last eight goals. He hasn’t faced anything like the Azteca during his young international career, but he does have plenty of big game experience with Dortmund in the Bundesliga and Champions League. If he can carry that and turn it into a big performance on Sunday, the US will have a shot at their first qualifying win in Mexico.  

Mexico – Hirving Lozano

Pulisic isn’t the only talented youngster that’ll take the field on Sunday. Mexico’s 21-year-old attacker Hirving “Chucky” Lozano is a bona fide star, and is reportedly on his way from Pachuca to Manchester City. He came off the bench to score El Tri’s second goal against Honduras on Thursday, and, with Osorio’s habit of regularly rotating his lineup, is probably a safe bet to start on Sunday night.  

USA Roster

Goalkeepers (4): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders (10): Matt Besler (Sporting KC), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Geoff Cameron (Stoke), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)

Midfielders (8): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)

Mexico Roster

Goalkeepers (3): Jose Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (Malaga), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)

Defenders (6): Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas), Nestor Araujo (Santos Laguna), Hector Moreno (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael Marquez (Atlas), Luis Reyes (Atlas), Diego Reyes (Espanyol), Carlos Salcedo (Fiorentina)

Midfielders (8): Jonathan dos Santos (Villarreal), Jesus Duenas (Tigres), Andres Guardado (PSV Eindhoven), Jorge Hernandez (Pachuca), Hector Herrera (Porto), Miguel Layun (Porto), Jesus Molina (Monterrey), Orbelin Pineda (Chivas)

Forwards (11): Javier Aquino (Tigres), Jesus "Tecatito" Corona (Porto), Jurgen Damm (Tigres), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Marco Fabian (Frankfurt), Jesus Gallardo (Pumas), Javier Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Hirving Lozano (Pachuca), Oribe Peralta (Club America), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)

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