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U.S. moves add intrigue to Mexico match
by Ridge Mahoney, August 15th, 2012 1:27AM

TAGS:  men's national team, mexico, world cup 2014


[MEXICO-USA] You've got to give Maurice Edu some credit. Faced with the prospect of playing centerback against Mexico's formidable array of attackers in their home fortress, Edu confidently referred to playing in the middle at the 2008 Olympic Games. The fact he's rarely played there since didn't seem to faze him, nor did the possibility of being partnered with Geoff Cameron, whose conversion from midfield to the back line has been encouraging but is still strictly a work-in-progress at the international level. This will be one subplot to the main story when the USA and Mexico meet Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Univision) for the first friendly on Mexican soil since 1984.

Angst over the aging U.S. back line has overshadowed some other nettlesome problems, such as how to get sufficient offensive impetus through midfield against good teams without sacrificing too much defensive resiliency. If the rugged, talented Edu had the same range and quickness as Ricardo Clark, for example, Klinsmann could deploy the other three (or four) midfielders confident that there was a rock-solid anchor backing them up. But there's not yet anyone in the U.S. player pool who can serve as its Gennaro Gattuso or Patrick Vieira and thus Klinsmann has tweaked his formations and personnel in search of the right balance.

Players of that ilk greatly ease stress on the centerbacks and also serve as vital conduits to the attack. Jermaine Jones can destroy and get forward occasionally but he's foul- and caution-prone. Kyle Beckerman has tremendous heart, great workrate, and good feet ... at the MLS level. In Concacaf he's borderline.

If Edu does start at centerback against Mexico, it's hard to tell whether this is a one-off Klinsmann move out of necessity or if the coach has him far enough down the depth chart at central mid to truly consider him a long-term solution. The age of Carlos Bocanegra (33), the worrying struggles of Oguchi Onyewu, and the limitations of Clarence Goodson have the centerback position of great concern with Brazil 2014 less than two years away. Maybe Tim Ream and Cameron accelerate their development sufficiently in England to fill the void, but with Bolton's relegation Ream's short-term future is one division below the Premier League, and Cameron's coach at Stoke City, Tony Pulis, may try him out in midfield.

The exclusion of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley from the Azteca squad significantly weakens it, yet Klinsmann does have six Mexican league products at his disposal. While they are months behind their MLS counterparts in game sharpness -- the Liga MX campaign began 10 days ago --  they do know the Mexican players and have labored in the heat and altitude and smog of Azteca. But a key feature of Mexico's re-ascension over the past two or three years has been the growth of their collective game, to attack and defend as a unit, and to connect passes and swap positions, rather than perform as individuals insistent on showcasing their uniqueness. They won the Gold Cup last year despite losing five players to a tainted drug test, and last week took the Olympic gold medal in the absence of projected linchpin Javier Hernandez, who is in the team that will face the USA.

There are few players as different as Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and at times he gave the Americans migraines with his bunny hops and sombreros. But he and many teammates didn't deal well with frustration and much of the Mexican mindset of the last decade focused on why success against the top European and South American teams -- and not only in Azteca -- didn't translate against the USA. That stigma has been obliterated by recent results, thus removing a critical factor that helped the USA defeat technically superior players. There are certainly gifted Americans --- Landon Donovan, Jose Torres, Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, Dempsey -- but in the Mexico team confidence with the ball is nearly universal.

In one regard, during his year in charge Klinsmann has been plagued by the same absences as predecessor Bob Bradley toward the end of his tenure. Striker Charlie Davies and midfielder Stuart Holden have yet to return to the national team, and while neither is the Ulimate Solution at his position, being deprived of their talents shows how shallow is the water in certain areas of the player pool. One year at the helm, or even two or three, isn't enough time for Klinsmann to change that dynamic.

  1. Thomas Brannan
    commented on: August 15, 2012 at 12:10 p.m.
    Finding it difficult to find the word I need here to describe the playing of Maurice Edu at Central Defender, but why is the first word that comes to mind when someone considers Edu as a central defender, "ouch". This is not a criticism of Maurice Edu. He just isn't a Central Defender or he would have been playing there by now. A decision like that seems to me to call out in desperation, "why don't we have anyone else". Are two left footed central defenders better than one left footed central defender and someone who really isn't a central defender. Or could you play three in the back instead of four, maybe with two HMFs in front of them. It is not a good situation is it.

  1. John Hooper
    commented on: August 15, 2012 at 12:49 p.m.
    I would honestly rather not see Edu in the squad at all. His first touch is atrocious by international standards, leading to constant give-aways. He does have a decent game now and then, but they are few and far between. Rather see Jones, Bradley, Torres, and (even!) Beckerman in the central midfield spots. As far as the center back spots, we're going to need a miracle there, and Edu isn't it. I hope Ream can develop into one solution, but we need two. Personally, I don't think Goodson is anything special. I'm happy with him being the third center back, but I really hope we find a different starter. I haven't seen that much of Cameron, but in the USA-Venezuela friendly he was right in front of me and I remember thinking that he took an awful lot of chances letting the ball bounce and run when he was under pressure, ending up with his back to the field. He's not going to develop his ball skills under Pulis, who is a hoof-and-run coach, but he may be forced to be more decisive and quicker to deal with situations. Finally, have any of these SA writers actually watched the Championship? I watched a lot last year beacuse my club (Southampton) was in it, and I would say that the top half of the Championship is pretty much indistinguishable from the bottom half of the Premiership.

  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: August 15, 2012 at 1:49 p.m.
    Cameron and Edu are big enough, quick enough, and have pretty good soccer skills. Having a slightly more experienced pair to work with, while waiting to see how Ream develops, not so bad. Easy to criticize, but suggest a better pairing for a try?

  1. John Hooper
    commented on: August 15, 2012 at 3:41 p.m.
    I would go with Goodson and Boca right now, and probably Ream and someone else (maybe Gutierrez or Opara) in the future. I honestly think that Edu's skills are NOT good enough--definitely not "pretty good." I once tried to count the number of times he lost the ball in a game, and when I got bored with it I was over 20! That's just ridiculous, and it comes down to his very, very poor first touch for the level at which he plays. What's the point of telling me off? Of course it's easy to criticize, that's what discussions like this are about, isn't it? It is an internet message board, after all. I think I made it clear that I'm concerned about all our potential center back pairings going into 2014. As I said, I think we're going to need a miracle. I think, in the end, we are going to end up taking Ream and Goodson, with an aging Boca and Cameron on the bench.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: August 15, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.
    Ridge -- this is possibly the most even handed analysis that I've ever seen from you. Keep it up. Stay on your meds!!! I am very happy with JK's approach to this game. This is a great chance to experiment against a top notch team. The pool is shallow so some radical experiments are necessary. Good luck to the R_W_B .

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