USA head coach Bob Bradley announced his traveling party to the Azteca this afternoon. No real surprises at all, possibly other than Brian Ching and Conor Casey both being on it. That’s interesting as those two seem like pretty similar players- hold-up/work-rate forwards in the vein of Emile Heskey. Since only 18 of the 20 players called up can be on the game-day roster, one of those two will likely be dropped. Otherwise, it’s the A-team, with Chad Marshall and Stuart Holden added on the strength of their performances in the recent Gold Cup.
ESPN and Ives Galarcep give their thoughts here and here. I like Ives’ lineup suggestion, but I think Bob Bradley will probably start Jozy Altidore over Charlie Davies, assuming Ching is a near lock in order to win balls near the goal. Altidore has been starting for a while, so that’s one of the main reasons for this opinion. Also, I think Steve Cherundolo may start over Jonathan Spector if he’s fully fit. Veteran over youth in a cauldron-like environment.
Mexico’s team was revealed last week. The big surprise is no Pavel Pardo, whom Mexico coach Javier Aguirre apparently doesn’t rate at this level. Also, captain Rafael Marquez is injured and will definitely miss the game. Of course, that also means he won’t get himself sent off as he did in the reverse qualifier back in February with a petulant kick at Tim Howard. But ageless veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco does get the call. It’s certainly a team that can score goals. Where they seem to be vulnerable against the U.S. is on set pieces (free kicks and corners), so watch out for that during the game.
So, can this be the first American team, and only the second overall, to win at the Azteca come Wednesday afternoon? My honest guess is no, but stay tuned. Mexico just has to win this game to feel comfortable about their chances of getting to South Africa for the World Cup via an automatic qualifying spot (CONCACAF’s top-3 make it, fourth place has to win a two-leg playoff against South America’s fifth place team), while the U.S. should pretty much book their ticket by winning their two remaining home games. Plus, if they don’t, the crowd and media down there are known to put big-time heat on the Mexican players and coaching staff after any poor performance. Against their biggest rivals? Dial it up times 100.