RICH FIDLER - Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The United States and Mexico will square off on Wednesday evening in Columbus, Ohio as CONCACAF gets the final round of World Cup qualifying underway.
The game returns to the cozy confines of Columbus Crew Stadium, where the Americans have defeated their southern rival in the two most recent qualifying campaigns.
The first, played in the frigid winter of 2001 saw the Red, White and Blue stun the Mexicans 2-0, and more recently they repeated the same scoreline in their build-up to the 2006 World Cup held in Germany.
Head coach Bob Bradley will look to an experienced bunch when facing a formidable Mexican side on what is expected to be a rain-soaked field after a ferocious storm with rain and hurricane force winds are expected to invade Columbus.
Striker Landon Donovan, who's currently on-loan with Bayern Munich, will be expected to lead the attack along with former teammate and current Houston Dynamo target-man Brian Ching.
The midfield is expected to boast the pacey DaMarcus Beasley and tricky Fulham wide midfielder Clint Dempsey. Youngsters Michael Bradley and recent revelation Sacha Kljestan are expected to form the middle of the defensive midfield for the home team.
Although it's the expected midfield lineup, the head coach could easily slot in the Dynamo's Ricardo Clark who has tenacious skills or the up and coming Jose Francisco Torres who knows many of the Mexicans from playing his club ball for Pachuca in the Mexican Primera División.
The defense will no doubt see the regular central defensive pairing of Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra playing in front of in-form Everton 'keeper Tim Howard. Due to the injury of Hannover's Steve Cherundolo the home fans should see a start from Crew defender Frankie Hejduk and European based Heath Pearce on the outside of the defense.
Mexican head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson's lineup isn't nearly as set as the home team, with injuries to Andres Guardado and Jonny Magallon as well as the suspensions of Carlos Vela, Gerardo Torrado and Fernando Arce, the Swede is looking for others to step up on the big stage in Columbus.
Mexico will no doubt be lead by central defender and captain Rafael Marquez, who recently returned from an injury suffered with his club team Barcelona. He'll anchor a defense in front of goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez.
Midfielder Pavel Pardo who also recently overcame an injury to be fit for Wednesday's crucial opening match will be paired with Leandro Augusto in an effort to give the young American midfield tandem fits on the slick field in Columbus. The experience of Pardo is unmatched on either side with over 140 international caps to his name.
The Mexican attack with be lead by a trio of players who are currently playing well for their clubs teams including Antonio "Zinha" Naelson, Omar Bravo and Nery Castillo. Castillo in particular gave the Americans trouble with his pace and skill during their 2007 Gold Cup match in Chicago.
Following the match, both teams players will head back to their clubs and won't reconvene until the end of March when the Americans travel to El Salvador on the 28th for their next qualification match before coming home three days later to face Trinidad & Tobago.