Wednesday night the USMNT will take on Mexico in a
cash grab international friendly in San Antonio, Texas. The match will not be taking place on a FIFA Fixture date, which means clubs are not obligated to release their players. This means both teams will fill out their roster with players based out of the MLS or Mexico where travel is limited, who missed out on the previous two friendlies where the roster was mostly European based players. However, the US just had a couple of friendlies in January where the roster was made up of their MLS and Liga MX players, so what exactly is the point of this game against Mexico?
I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this question for quite some time now and I can’t come up with an answer*. For the US it just seems like a lot of negatives can come out of this match and very little positive. For starters, Mexico will be fielding their ‘B’ team (only three players on their 22 man roster went to last years World Cup) while the US will be playing with their not quite ‘A’ team but certainly not their ‘B’ team either. An almost full strength US side playing at home is expected to beat Mexico’s B team and failing to do would be an embarrassment.
Another possible theory is this game is about preparing for the 2015 Gold Cup but that’s not it either. While Jurgen Klinsmann has used every friendly since the World Cup to tinker and experiment with his roster, he is on record saying that the US will be bringing their strongest team possible to the Gold Cup this summer.
While there are some bright young players who can possibly play their way into Gold Cup consideration included in the team, the team also features some players who raise a few question marks. 22 year old Ventura Alvarado was once again called into the squad after making his debut in March vs. Denmark and coming on again vs. Switzerland. I’m not saying Alvarado was noticeably bad, because he wasn’t, but I will say it wasn’t a coincidence that the bulk of the goals the US conceded came after he was subbed on. Chris Wondolowski also returns to the team, Wondo doesn’t exactly have a long future ahead of him with the USMNT and even if he were to score a goal or two in this game, it won’t change the fact that he really has only been able to score against B teams and smaller CONCACAF countries.
Despite all the changes, debuts, and experiments Klinsmann has made over the past year, the US 2015 Gold Cup team is going to look a lot like the 2014 World Cup team and that’s OK. While we all know the 2018 team is going to look radically different then the 2014 team, we aren’t quite there yet, and despite some of the players getting older that doesn’t mean that at the moment they don’t comprise the US’s strongest side. While 2018 will be different then 2014, change is gradual. This summer’s team will be slightly different from last summer’s, and the Copa America ’16 team slightly different from this one, until you hit 2018 and look back and see how much has changed.
And that brings me to the *only purpose I can think of for this match. The match really comes down to looking at four players. The first of which is Greg Garza and simply finding out if he can lock down the left back spot that is up for grabs. The other question is concerns Kyle Beckerman: is he still part of the US’s strongest side?
Due to his age everyone has assumed that Beckerman won’t be part of the picture in 2018. The question becomes is he still America’s best holding midfielder (likely) and for how much longer will that be the case? This game will be a test to see if he can be on the field and have chemistry with players, like Mixx Diskerud, that will be in the picture in 2018 and will be taking on bigger roles in the coming months/years. It’s a dangerous spot for Beckerman who’s stock can’t really go any higher, but if he has a bad game he can easily play his way off the team in the future, which is exactly what Landon Donovan did in last years 2-2 April draw vs. Mexico in Phoenix. Again, this match has a lot more negatives then positives for the US.
As you’ve probably heard over the past year, results in these friendlies don’t matter. Still, when your playing against Mexico there’s always national pride on the line and since we’re playing Mexico’s B team, failing to get a win would be a bad look for the USMNT right now.
*The actual reason for this game is it’s a cash grab. There’s really no other reason. They did it last year in Phoenix and they’re doing it again this year in San Antonio. You know what those places have in common? Big stadiums that will be filled with both home and away supporters. Cash grab.