People like to say that there is no such thing as a friendly between the United States and Mexico. That may be true, to a degree, but Wednesday's friendly in Philadelphia, PA between the two was going to be decidedly friendly and rather uninteresting. The two teams just played in the Gold Cup final in June and the friendly couldn't live up to that, while CONCACAF reinstating the "hex" for World Cup qualifying means two important matches between the two are on the horizon. The friendly was just going to be like any other qualifier.
That is until the U.S. fired head coach Bob Bradley less than two weeks ago and replaced him with Jurgen Klinsmann. The Americans have a big name manager in charge now and will be immediately challenged by El Tri. All of a sudden Wednesday's match is the first look at the new U.S. regime, giving the match an intrigue that it previously lacked.
One reason that that the U.S. made a change and brought Klinsmann in is because Mexico has jumped so far ahead of them in the race to be CONCACAF's top team. The Mexicans have won the past three matches between the two rivals, including a 4-2 victory more dominating than the scoreline would suggest in the Gold Cup final. Mexico also only figures to get better with a young core of attackers led by Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardado.
That leaves the U.S. trying to play catch up in a time they have reached a transition period in their talent pool. Older stalwarts like Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo are on the wrong side of 30, the only dependably attacking forces, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, are creeping up on 30 and there aren't any established players to replace them.
Klinsmann will be challenged to find a way to bridge the gap by either keeping some of the older guys at top form for a little while longer or hastening the development of some of the younger guys like Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, Timothy Chandler, Eric Lichaj, Juan Agudelo, Mikkel Diskeruud and Brek Sheak. Not all of those players are on the roster for the Mexico friendly, but some are as Klinsmann tries to revamp a team in a lull.
In all of his interviews since being hired, Klinsmann has made it clear that he wants his team to play a more attacking brand of soccer than they have in recent years. The friendly against Mexico will provide the first look at this new and improved attacking side. Based on the players he named to the team it looks like he could come out in a 4-3-3 formation geared to fly forward.
Some have argued that the U.S. do not have the personnel to play such attack-minded soccer. They have had enough problems defending in more conservative formations, but Klinsmann appears committed. This is his team and he expects them to attack. It could very well be a disaster. After all, you can only do as much as your players will allow for and the U.S. may not have the players to get it done, but the German thinks the U.S. can do it. Step one in learning whether or not they can starts Wednesday.
One thing that will make things easier on the U.S. defenders is the absence of Chicharito, who was left off the team after suffering a concussion with Manchester United. With nearly the entire first team on the roster though, the Americans will have a tough go of it.
Of course, Klinsmann is facing unrealistic expectations. His big name status and the U.S. Soccer Federation's long flirtation with him have raised expectations beyond what the weak U.S. player pool will allow. Mexico are better than the Americans, but that won't stop many fans from expecting the U.S. to give the Mexicans a good go.