Sep 09 U.S. Men Close In On 2014 World Cup Berth

By Seth Vertelney | Sept. 09, 2013, 11:38 a.m. (ET)
DaMarcus Beasley is fouled by Bryan Ruiz while battling for a header during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier at Estadio Nacional on Sept. 6, 2013 in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Clint Dempsey reacts after falling 2-0 to Costa Rica during the FIFA
2014 World Cup Qualifier at Estadio Nacional on Sept. 6, 2013 in
San Jose, Costa Rica.

The U.S. men’s soccer team ended a 12-game winning streak Friday with a 3-1 loss on the road at Costa Rica in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match.

There is little time to sulk.

The Americans are back on the field Tuesday, hosting archrival Mexico in what is arguably the most anticipated home game of each four-year world cup qualifying period. With three games remaining in qualifying, the United States could wrap up a berth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil with a win against Mexico (and if Honduras defeats or ties Panama Tuesday). The top three teams in CONCACAF automatically qualify for the world cup while the fourth-place team goes into a playoff, and the United States enters the game against Mexico ranked second.

The match kicks off at 8:06 p.m. ET at Columbus Crew Stadium with ESPN and UniMas providing TV coverage.

Goal USA editor Seth Vertelney joins TeamUSA.org with five storylines to follow entering the game.

How will Team USA cope with so many players out with injuries?

Vertelney: The match at Costa Rica (last Friday night) proved to be a worst-case scenario for Team USA. Not only did the team lose the game, but it lost four crucial members of the squad. Already missing regular right back Brad Evans with injury, the United States lost Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron for the Mexico match after the trio picked up yellow cards against Costa Rica.

Those absences hurt, but nothing will be as damaging as the loss of Michael Bradley, who injured his left ankle in warm-ups and missed that game and has been ruled out against Mexico as well. The center/midfielder is the man who makes everything go for the Yanks, and his loss was particularly felt against Costa Rica as the United States struggled to establish a rhythm. With Cameron also out, the U.S. squad is likely to start Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman in central midfield against El Tri.

Elsewhere, (U.S. coach) Jurgen Klinsmann will be faced with several lineup calls. Will he replace Altidore with Clint Dempsey up top as he did against Costa Rica, or will Eddie Johnson or Aron Johannsson earn a shot? With Besler out, will Klinsmann move Michael Orozco inside to his more natural center back spot, opening up a start at right back for Michael Parkhurst? Klinsmann could also call on a newcomer like Clarence Goodson, who wasn't on the initial 23-man roster but was added after Friday’s game. Also joining the U.S. team for the Mexico game are Joe Corona, Brad Davis and Jose Torres.

How will Mexico respond to a new coach?

Vertelney: For Mexico, the Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre era finally, mercifully came to an end around 3:30 a.m. ET Saturday morning, just hours after Mexico had suffered a shocking 2-1 defeat at home to Honduras, putting its world cup hopes in major jeopardy.

Because it had become painfully obvious that Mexico was no longer responding to Chepo’s message, and because teams typically get a boost immediately after hiring a new coach, the move could end up helping Mexico. However, these are certainly extraordinary circumstances.

Interim coach and former assistant Luis Fernando Tena has just three days at the helm before his side faces the United States in Columbus. It’s hardly an ideal scenario, but the Mexican federation finally took the stance that under Chepo, things couldn’t possibly get any worse. How El Tri responds to a new coach ahead of its biggest game in years is anybody’s guess.

Can the USA continue its winning streak over Mexico in Columbus?

Vertelney: Dos a cero. After just three USA-Mexico world cup qualifiers in Columbus, the term has become a part of American soccer folklore. The United States has faced Mexico in Columbus in each of the last three world cup qualifying cycles, and the result each time has been a 2-0 win for the home team. It’s hardly surprising the U.S. federation decided to return for a fourth time in 2013.

It started with Josh Wolff’s breakout performance in 2001, when the young forward came on as a 15th-minute sub and tallied a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win. Four years later, second-half goals from Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley gave the United States its now familiar 2-0 score. And four years ago, it was a brace (two goals) from Michael Bradley that led the United States to victory at a frigid Crew Stadium.

It hasn’t just been Mexico, though. The home of the Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew has been very kind to the U.S. national team, no matter the opponent. In nine matches at Crew Stadium, the United States has allowed just one goal, outscoring opponents, 13-1, for a 6-0-3 record in Columbus.

How will Landon Donovan continue to integrate with Team USA?

Vertelney: Friday night against Costa Rica marked the first time Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey played together for the U.S. national team since June 2012. At times, the pair demonstrated the connection forged over so many matches together over the years, like when Donovan set up Dempsey for a shot that rang off the post in the second half. Other times, though, the attack was disjointed.

With Altidore out against Mexico, it’s possible Klinsmann will ask Dempsey to play as a forward again, but it’s more likely he'll have Dempsey, the latest Seattle Sounders star, revert back to his more natural No. 10 (captain) role, with Donovan playing off him on the wing. Donovan has been in red-hot form over the past several months, leading him to claim he’s playing the best soccer of his career. Against Mexico, he will have a chance to back his words up on the biggest stage.

Can the United States clinch a berth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil?

Vertelney: Even though the United States suffered a tough loss at Costa Rica Friday, its qualification to Brazil is still a near certainty. In fact, just like in 2005, it has the opportunity to qualify for the world cup against its biggest rival in Columbus. If Klinsmann’s side can defeat Mexico Tuesday night, and if Honduras manages a win or draw at home against Panama, the United States will qualify for Brazil with two games to spare. If not, it will be down to the final two games in October: against Jamaica in Kansas City Oct. 11, followed by a trip to Panama City Oct. 15.

Seth Vertelney has been an editor of Goal USA since 2010, where he's covered the U.S. national team and American soccer. He is a freelancer for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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