US vs. Mexico soccer: Live updates from Estadio Azteca – Los Angeles Times

The first question here is, “How will the U.S. line up?” The feeling here is that if the Americans run out in the same formation they used against Trinidad and Tobago three days earlier – a 4-4-2 with Christian Pulisic at the top of a midfield diamond – they will be destroyed by the Mexican attack.

Does Coach Bruce Arena go with another version of the 4-4-2, inserting the more defensively inclined Kellyn Acosta in the central midfield alongside Michael Bradley and pushing Pulisic wide? Or 4-2-3-1 to better protect the suspect back line? Or 3-5-2 to flood the midfield? What about a 5-2-2-1 with DeAndre Yedlin as an outside back who is free to venture up the field?

Mexico’s the clear favorite here. Arena’s historically pragmatic temperament points to the U.S. playing conservatively, which should result in a modest margin of defeat for the Americans. The Americans should also be helped by the absence of winger Jesus Corona, who left Mexico’s team to deal with a personal situation.  

The most interesting part of this game will be to see how the 18-year-old Pulisic responds to getting butchered by Mexican defenders at high altitude in polluted air as the most hostile crowd he’s ever encountered howls at him.

Pulisic is a special player, already the best the U.S. has ever produced. And up to this point, he’s passed every test. When Arena made him the focal point of the attack in a must-win qualifier against Honduras, he produced one of the greatest offensive performances in national team history.

In the next game, he single-handedly secured a draw on the road against Panama. Three days ago, he scored both of the U.S. goals in the win over Trinidad and Tobago.

Here’s what I really like about the kid: He’s absolutely fearless. He doesn’t get discouraged when he makes a mistake and he doesn’t back down when he takes a vicious whack from an opposing defender, something that has happened with increased frequency in recent qualifying matches.

Fans of the U.S. don’t want to say this out loud for fear of putting too much pressure on the kid or jinxing him, but the team’s supporters have to be secretly hoping he can pass this test like every other and lead the Americans to their first-ever victory at the Azteca. 

It’s unreasonable to expect a teenager to win this game for the U.S., but the possibility shouldn’t be entirely discounted. This kid is that good.

Hernandez’s prediction: Mexico 2, U.S. 1.

Estadio Azteca used to be an impenetrable fortress but the home-field advantages that made it that way have mostly faded, which explains why the U.S. is unbeaten there since 2009.

Ten players on the Mexican team for Sunday’s game play in Europe, erasing the advantage of altitude. The smog that once choked Mexico City has largely abated and Sunday’s game will be played at night, with mild temperatures, making the midday heat a non-issue.

Mexico does have a clear advantage in talent, though, boasting arguably the deepest roster in its long soccer history. Yet even that edge isn’t as strong as it could be with injuries sidelining Rafa Marquez, Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun and Nestor Araujo while Jesus Corona left the team over the weekend to an attend to unspecified personal matter.

Then there’s this last gem: The U.S., which lost its last match to Mexico in November on goals from Layun and Marquez, hasn’t been swept in the two-leg qualifiers since 1972. An omen, perhaps?

It looks like a perfect storm for the U.S. (and speaking of storms, scattered thundershowers are forecast for Sunday night). However what’s left of the Mexican team is so good, even all those factors might not be enough to swing the game in favor of the U.S.

Baxter’s prediction: Mexico  2-1.

 

 

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