'Chepo' Jose Manuel de la Torre is gone, and not a moment too soon. Mexico come into Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against the United States in serious need of a big result. A loss wouldn't eliminate Mexico from contention to finish top three in the Hex, but it would put them in an extremely precarious situation.
Meanwhile, the United States are in the unfamiliar position of not exactly needing a home win against Mexico, but they can potentially clinch a World Cup berth if they pull it off.
Interim Mexico boss Luis Fernando Tena has, perhaps unfairly, been thrust into the biggest game of his professional life without warning. No matter how far he makes it in management, he's unlikely too many more games of this magnitude. Mexico currently sit in fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and will likely be put into a position where they will need two wins and some help to qualify for the World Cup directly should they lose on Tuesday.
El Tri are aided by the fact that the United States are missing their two best players along with two other likely starters. Michael Bradley is injured, while Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler are suspended because of yellow card accumulations. Other injuries at the right back position mean that one of Michael Orozco or Michael Parkhurst will have to start.
Mexico have a full team at their disposal, but it's anyone's guess who makes up their best XI or who Tena will turn to Tuesday. He's making it sound like he won't stray much from Chepo's original plans, which seems to defeat the purpose of firing Chepo.
Luis Fernando Tena on ESPN: The team isn't going to change much. Against Ivory Coast we played well and I don't see the need.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) September 9, 2013
Tena implying that if he is offered the Mexico job on a full time basis, he would have to consult Chepo out of loyalty.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) September 9, 2013
That Ivory Coast friendly that Tena is referring to featured a team that looks exactly like the one that played against Honduras on Friday. It produced four goals against the Ivory Coast B-team in an exhibition, but when the team went up against another country's A-squad in a competitive match, the results were less than optimal.
However, there might be something to be said for the way that team fared in the first half. Mexico contained Honduras in the first 45 minutes of Friday's game and went to the locker room up 1-0. It was only after Honduras switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to 4-4-2 that things went downhill. The Ivory Coast's starting lineup and the one the U.S. are likely to field on Tuesday don't look much different than the one Honduras started.
Perhaps Tena's narrow 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid with Gerardo Torrado and Fernando Arce in midfield isn't a terrible idea, especially because Jurgen Klinsmann isn't one to change his starting lineup based on what his opponent might do. The United States boss is going to take the attitude that his team should play their game and try to force Mexico into changing what they want to do, not the other way around, especially with the game being in Columbus.
Don't be surprised if both managers' tactics and starting lineups produce an early stalemate. In the highly likely event the teams head into the locker room scoreless, the game will come down to the second half adjustments of each manager. Tena proved competent in that regard in guiding Mexico to an Olympic gold medal, but he's not coaching Under-23 soccer anymore.
Projected Lineups (left to right)
United States (4-2-3-1): Tim Howard; DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Orozco-Fiscal, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Parkhurst; Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones; Fabian Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi; Landon Donovan
Mexico's left winger vs. the USMNT's right back - It's not obvious if Angel Reyna or Andres Guardado will start on the left for El Tri, nor is it obvious if Klinsmann gives Orozco-Fiscal or Parkhurst the nod at right back. No matter which two start, Mexico will probably feel they have an advantage down that flank and will attack it regularly. It'll be up to the U.S. to find a way to protect whichever vulnerable right back they throw into the fire.
Mexico's midfield vs. counter attacks - Everyone who plays midfield for Mexico save for Jesus Zavala -- who is out of form and probably not starting -- is allergic to running backwards. The U.S. will probably have space to counter into unless Tena convinces his players that they can't let the U.S. run wild between the midfield and defensive lines.
Tim Howard vs. his form - It's been a rough ... jeez, almost two years for Tim Howard. He's been outplayed by Brad Guzan in both the Premier League and in a national team shirt for a while now, and he looked slow on all three of Costa Rica's goals last Friday. He's capable of putting together an insane 15-save masterclass at any time, but these days, he looks more likely to let in a howler than keep a clean sheet.
Jurgen Klinsmann vs. Luis Fernando Tena -- Don't expect dramatic team selections or tactics in the first half, but neither manager will be afraid to switch things up if the game isn't going according to plan. Klinsmann's in-game adjustments have been great since a shaky third qualifying round ended, while Chepo's in-game adjustments were always horrendous. Hopefully for supporters of El Tri, Tena has ideas beyond like-for-like fullback substitutions and subbing off two-way midfielders for forwards.
With the United States missing key players and Mexico making a managerial change just four days ago, don't be surprised by anything. It seems unlikely that El Tri will completely wake up from their slumber in less than a week, however, and the U.S. have beaten Mexico at home with worse squads. 1-0 USMNT.