Commentary

My 23 for Mexico

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

Just about every U.S. fan is anxious to see who will be picked to face Mexico in the Rose Bowl Oct. 10 in the first, and perhaps only, Concacaf Cup and here's one man's plan starting from scratch, not selecting from the designated list of 35 players already submitted to Concacaf.

This is the ultimate test of X's and O's for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, whose results have been in many cases superb but quirky decisions regarding tactics and personnel have called into question his long-term direction.

There's no need here for grooming young players, reshaping the team's identity, and setting a clear path to a future of success and prosperity. Beat Mexico. The rest is just details.

Here are the players, and the reasons they have been chosen, to accomplish that end. The starting back five from the World Cup is restored, Michael Bradley gets a new role and a new central partner, and there's a major change up top.

Starters:
GOALKEEPER: TIM HOWARD.
This isn’t punishment for Brad Guzan’s shaky outing against Jamaica in the Gold Cup finals, or being left-footed, or anything else. In big games -- the 2009 Confederations Cup shutout of Spain and countless Hexagonal qualifiers -- Howard has been the difference between victory and defeat. He knows the foe and his teammates’ faith in him is absolute. In a do-or-die showdown under the brightest lights, that’s what I want.

LEFT BACK: DaMARCUS BEASLEY. I hope the Beas is sharp come Oct. 10. Though his play for the Dynamo hasn’t consistently been up to his high standards, the U.S. desperately needs his speed, experience, confidence and unquenchable spirit. He’s won and lost against Mexico and will relish the chance to stamp one final victory in his lengthy dossier.

LEFT CENTERBACK: MATT BESLER. He’s the smartest, toughest and most tenacious central defender in the U.S. pool and one of its most accurate passers out of the back. He can step into midfield to win entry passes and seldom loses his mark. He’s quick and shrewd enough to cover up for teammates’ mistakes. His long throw-ins are dangerous. After being snubbed several times since the World Cup, he’ll have fire in his belly and a chip on his shoulder.

RIGHT CENTERBACK: GEOFF CAMERON. He’s playing in the middle for Stoke City and is tall enough (6-foot-3) and strong enough to win balls in the air. Though his positional sense in this position is still developing, he’s played enough tough games for club and country to cope with a potent opponent. In short, he’s one of the few Americans currently playing regularly in a challenging league, and this has been a trouble spot for the USA, so he simply must be on the field. He can also slide over to right back in a pinch.

RIGHT BACK: FABIAN JOHNSON. Assuming he and Beasley are both fit and healthy, Johnson will anchor the right side and get forward judiciously against a team that occasionally struggles to regain its shape when the ball turns over. If teammates are moving off the ball, he can find them with early passes to get Mexico into retreat mode, and his one-v-one defensive ability is essential to quelling the myriad attackers he might face.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: SACHA KLJESTAN (not included in 35). I would have called him up for the Peru and Brazil friendlies, along with Benny Feilhaber and a few other guys, and though his record against Mexico isn’t great he’s blossomed into an excellent two-way midfielder. No one ever questioned his vision and passing, and while not a defensive dynamo he can step into tackles and cut off passing lanes. What he doesn’t know about his teammates, he’ll pick up during the training sessions and he’s the ideal component to balance out the attributes of his partner.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: MICHAEL BRADLEY. Bradley is going to complement the attack, not direct it, and only someone with his experience and savvy can judge when to push forward and not get caught out by Mexico. One of the Mexicans’ few flaws is that they lose track of players arriving in the box late, which is Bradley’s forte. Yet he’s also going to need a monster game defensively, to clog up the middle and win balls off deflections and double-teams. If he loses the ball it can only be in Mexico’s defensive third.

LEFT MIDFIELDER: ALEJANDRO BEDOYA. He’s played in too many important games not to start against Mexico, and of the European-based players he has the most appropriate skill set for this match. He can hold the ball in wide spots or go past people to stretch the back line and his sense of space and timing will aid greatly the Americans’ combination play. He also has the acumen and tactical discipline to combat opponents that can hit you with pace as well as power 

RIGHT MIDFIELDER: GYASI ZARDES. The Galaxy attacker and Bedoya can flip sides, and he’s also capable of playing as a de-facto forward to add another presence in the penalty area. I want the Mexican back line confused about who is coming at them and from which angles, so at times Zardes will push up to a centerback’s shoulder, at other teams he’ll start wide and knife into the middle. He’s also a good target in the air and can be very effective at the near post.

ATTACKING MIDFIELDER. CLINT DEMPSEY. He’s looked sharp and pumped up for Seattle since sitting out the Peru and Brazil friendlies and like Howard and a few others, is at his best in the biggest games. His skill, experience, guile and hunger are irreplaceable and he simply must provide defining, decisive moments if the Americans are to win.

FORWARD. ARON JOHANNSSON. This choice is a major gamble, but the Americans need his sharp dribbles and angled runs to cut around and through Mexico’s defenders. Hopefully, the Bundesliga has tightened up his touch and extracted more power from his shots. He may not be on the ball that much but the gaps he carves open will be exploited by others, especially Dempsey, who thrives on the array of short passes Johannsson can supply.

Reserves:
BRAD GUZAN. He’s a top-class keeper who would start for a lot of national teams. No worries if he has to jump in.

BILL HAMID. Best of the younger bunch.

OMAR GONZALEZ. Not always trustworthy as a starter, Gonzalez is nonetheless tested at the top level.

JOHN BROOKS. There are situations in which he could contribute in a game of this magnitude, such as defending on set plays.

KYLE BECKERMAN. He hasn’t been in the best form this season yet there are so many crucial games on his resume he might be needed.

JERMAINE JONES. If healthy, he’s got a persona of confidence and respect this team needs.

DANNY WILLIAMS. A savvy player who has much room to grow yet has enough experience and ability to handle this assignment.

DeANDRE YEDLIN. Can’t risk him as a starter, his defensive deficiencies are just too glaring, even in midfield. But he’s a perfect option to either run at a tired defense or close down spaces in the final minutes.

MIX DISKERUD. He’s not been as influential offensively for the national team recently as in the past, but his increased range and soft feet keep him in the picture.

BENNY FEILHABER (not included in 35). He’s done more than enough to merit inclusion and in the final minutes might be just the kind of player Mexico won’t be able to stop without fouling.

JOZY ALTIDORE. He’s a big, strong, experienced man who has scored important goals many times over.

JORDAN MORRIS (named to U-23 qualifying roster). I don’t project him to be an immediate superstar when he turns pro but there’s no question he’s not fazed by hard opponents and harsh conditions. And didn't he score against Mexico just a few months ago?

16 comments about "My 23 for Mexico".
  1. An Animus, September 24, 2015 at 1:15 a.m.

    We're all still wondering how Benny offended Klinsi when he went to Brazil with the team prior to the World Cup. He hasn't been heard from since. If you need to feed the ball into a player draped by defenders, have him hold it up and actually make a positive play forward, there are no US options better than Feilhaber and Dempsey. Feilhaber has also added ruthless defending to his game. He is at his peak and is so much more of a complete player than so many of the hopefuls that we are forced to watch in Klinsi's perpetual experiment. USE HIM. USA! USA!

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, September 24, 2015 at 9:09 a.m.

    He sure was useless against the Dynamo last night...Too inconsistent on Offense and Non-Factor On Defense...We already have Dempsey fullfilling that Role..

  3. Santiago 1314 replied, September 24, 2015 at 9:24 a.m.

    By the way, Beasley played the Full 90 last night for the Dynamo...Set up the Goal with 90 yard Overlap and Cross...

  4. Allan Lindh, September 24, 2015 at 2:52 a.m.

    I agree right down the line, and since Sacha and Benny aren't available (I would fire K Littleman for that further bit of childishness) Jermaine Jones lends strength and savvy. But KL won't start this lineup, and we will lose, and then maybe they will finally fire his childish, not so bright, useless ass.

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, September 24, 2015 at 9:12 a.m.

    Sacha is the Same as Bedoya...Doesn't Hurt you; Doesn't Help you...Stick with Bedoya, he understands the Opponents Language. ..

  6. Bob Ashpole, September 24, 2015 at 3:40 a.m.

    That is a good list. The only surprise to me was Sacha Kljestan, but I see your reasons. I think in the long run Geoff Cameron has the potential to form an outstanding pair with Bradley, but this game is not the time to think about the future. Whether you call Dempsey an attacking midfielder or second striker, I don't believe matters. Rosters, however, are shaped by who is available and fit.

  7. Kent James, September 24, 2015 at 9:10 a.m.

    I like most of your picks, with the exception of Sacha; he's never impressed me that much. In his stead, I'd put Feilhaber (for more offense) or Beckerman (for more defense). Mix or Williams would also be good options for Sacha's place. I also might start Yedlin instead Zardes (and bring the other in, if need be). And if Johannsson wasn't making things happen up top, I'd bring in Morris (I wasn't initially impressed with him, but he seems to keep improving and he is fearless).

  8. Santiago 1314, September 24, 2015 at 9:22 a.m.

    My Best (If they are all Healthy)..Gk-4-1-3-1-1....Howard // Beasley-Brooks-Gonzo-Johnson // Jones // Zardes-Bradley-Yedlin // Dempsey // Altidore

  9. Shaun Howe, September 24, 2015 at 9:47 a.m.

    I always wonder why Dax McCarty does not get a chance. He actually plays that #6 role for Red Bulls and is very good. I would like to see him there, Sasha at outside mid and Zardes as the forward with Dempsey.

  10. Santiago 1314 replied, September 24, 2015 at 10:52 a.m.

    I agree that Zardes could be the Long Term solution at Hi-Forward... Unfortunately Jk refuses to try him there... Jk has had multiple times; like Gold Cup v Panama&Cuba and Holland/Germany/Peru/Brazil Friendlies...He has Suprised me as a Left Mid...Best one we have at the Moment...I would bring Brad Davis as Offensive Sub for Last 15 minutes...We have NO Left footed Option on FKs/Corners... and Davis and Beasley are Combining very well on Dynamo Left side...(See video of Goal vs KC)

  11. Santiago 1314 replied, September 24, 2015 at 10:55 a.m.

    Dax is doing Good, but he is #3 on Depth Chart behind Jones and PeckerHair...

  12. Andrew Brown, September 24, 2015 at 11:04 a.m.

    Sacha has proven time and again he's not up to par against top international teams such as Mexico. He just doesn't have the ability to play the game at the necessary speed. Every coach that has tried to use him against teams that are more athletic than Costa Rica or Honduras have been snake bit. He's great for the other than Mexico CONCACAF games. He's not an international caliber player other than that.

  13. Kent James replied, September 24, 2015 at 10:38 p.m.

    I agree; he's got good skill, but lacks tenacity or speed or aggression...or maybe just the intangibles that allow a player to play at truly the highest level.

  14. Santiago 1314, September 24, 2015 at 11:59 a.m.

    As far as the Center Back Pairing...Normally, I am "All In" for Cameron...But, He Struggles against Smaller, Quicker, more Clever Hispanic Players...And in watching him at Stoke Lately, he looks like he is on Prozac, Disjointed; Almost Disconnected..GONZO has a Good Streak going against Mexico and he speaks their language...Besler is Steady, and the Long Throw is Nice...But BROOKS has Range, Height and Offensive Skills that put him ahead of Besler...

  15. aaron dutch, September 27, 2015 at 6:15 p.m.

    What no one seems to be asking even if we win how do you think we will do in the Confed Cup. I dont see any combination that can help us even if we beat Mexico. How do you think we will do vs. Chile, Germany, Russian, France or Italy, Nigeria/Cameron/Ivory Coast I just see us or Mexico getting blasted. The only shot is vs. Australia & OFC winner if we get them in our group if not we will get crushed.

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, October 2, 2015 at 6:06 a.m.

    Got to get there First... You keep forgetting that we Beat España and were ahead of Brazil 2-0 at Confed Cup 2009 in S. Africa... We'll do just fine, if JK don't Fudge It Up...

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