The United State Men’s National Team (USMNT) takes on Mexico on Wednesday night from Phoenix, Ariz., its final international match before opening World Cup training camp next month.
Whether you’re a longtime USMNT supporter or a casual soccer fan just getting World Cup fever, here’s what you need to know.
The World Cup’s not until June. What is this?
If you’re new to the game of soccer, a “friendly” is a match that doesn’t count on either team’s record. Teams play them all the time to try out prospective players or just get in some practice.
This is the USMNT’s final friendly before World Cup training camp begins, but the American team will play three more just before leaving for Brazil in June. Those matches should feature essentially the final USMNT roster, as manager Jurgen Klinsmann has until June 2 to submit his final 23-man list of players.
This match, meanwhile, features a roster made up almost entirely of American players who play professionally in the United States or Mexico (many others play for European clubs). For some, it will be a key chance to impress Klinsmann one more time and hopefully earn an invite to training camp. For others guaranteed a World Cup spot, it’s an important opportunity to build chemistry with teammates.
So this game may not count, but it definitely matters. ESPN’s broadcast starts at 11 p.m. ET.
What to watch for
We’ll be treated to a preview of three of the USMNT’s more important players: Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Watch how they read one another and see if they can do some damage together on the attack and in the midfield. If the USMNT is to make some noise in Brazil this summer, it will need all three MLS stalwarts to create scoring chances and control the ball against top-notch competition.
Beyond those three stars, Wednesday is also an excellent chance to get a look at some lesser American lights who could nonetheless contribute significantly in Brazil. Among the names to keep an eye on: midfielder Graham Zusi and defender Matt Besler of Sporting Kansas City in MLS, midfielder Maurice Edu of the Philadelphia Union, Los Angeles Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez and DC United striker Eddie Johnson.
It’s likely that half the USMNT roster will ultimately be made up of MLS players You can read more about the other candidates here. Meanwhile, here’s the USMNT’s official 2013 highlight video, if you’re looking to get pumped up.
What’s the deal with this Julian Green kid?
The short answer: No one really knows, but we should know more after Wednesday.
The longer answer, if you’re just catching up: Green is an 18-year-old German-American forward who was born in Tampa but lived almost his entire life in Germany. He plays for Bayern Munich, the world’s top club team, but had the option of playing internationally for either the United States or Germany, which has one of the best national teams in the world.
In March, Green committed his international future the United States. This is seen as a potentially huge deal for American soccer, as many feel a player with his combination of youth and potential has never before chosen to suit up for the United States over another country.
But is getting Green a move that could simply pay longterm dividends, or might he actually help this summer? No one knows for sure, and some skeptics fear adding him to the final 23-man World Cup roster over a player who’s been grinding away for this opportunity for years could disrupt the team’s chemistry. Then again, if Green can really add something, it’d be stupid to leave him home.
Whatever the future holds, Green is all but assured to play against Mexico on Wednesday, giving many USMNT fans their first real look at him in action.
The Mexican club that wouldn’t
DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco are both Americans who play for Puebla F.C. in Mexico’s Liga MX. They’re both players who Klinsmann called up for Wednesday’s friendly. And they’re both players Puebla would not release for the match.
This didn’t make Klinsmann happy, and he took to Twitter (among other places) to vent.
Very disappointed that @PueblaFC did not release DaMarcus Beasley & Michael Orozco. Not in the spirit of this great rivalry!
— Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) March 31, 2014
So what the hell is going on here? Puebla is not legally obligated to release Beasley and Orozco, since Wednesday’s match doesn’t fall on one of the official international match dates laid out by FIFA (world soccer’s governing body).
Klinsmann purposely did not call up other American players who play for clubs that have important matches of their own this week. Puebla, however, doesn’t play again until Saturday. Puebla, in fact, is doing so poorly this season that it’s in danger of being demoted to a lesser Mexican division; trying to avoid that relegation is its best rationalization for keeping the two Americans home.
More than likely, however, there’s a bit of partisan gamesmanship at play here from the Mexican club. Just because this thing is called a “friendly” doesn’t mean it’s that friendly, after all.
A first look at the USMNT’s new look
The USMNT unveiled its new away kits (that means uniforms, for you soccer n00bs) on Tuesday, and will wear them for the first time on Wednesday against Mexico. (They’ll wear them in Brazil, too, along with these previously unveiled home numbers.) Here’s what the brand-new away kits look like, as modeled by Clint Dempsey:
— Sam Laird (@samcmlaird) April 1, 2014
Many online were quick to dismiss the jerseys at looking vaguely Russian, or resembling a classic brand of popsicle. We don’t think they look so bad at all, but are curious to see them on the field Wednesday.
Now back to that World Cup we mentioned …
This match is important in many ways, but don’t take any positive or negatives from it too seriously. Coming from their regular professional clubs, this batch of USMNT players won’t have practiced together much before kickoff, and that will likely show a bit. Similarly, there are many big names — Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard, for example — not playing so Klinsmann can get a better look at others based closer to home. And the Mexican squad won’t be at full-strength either.
All that being said, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on what’s ahead for both countries.
The United States finished first in the two countries’ shared regional qualifying group, while Mexico surprisingly needed a playoff win over New Zealand to reach the World Cup. But the United States was unfortunate to get a tougher draw when pool-play foursomes were decided, landing alongside Germany, Portugal and Ghana in Group G. Mexico, meanwhile, landed in a Group A with host country Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon.
The USMNT’s Group G is already being called this year’s “Group of Death,” but Mexico’s draw is no cakewalk either. Suffice to say, both sides could use all the practice they can get before the World Cup starts June 12 — practice that begins Wednesday night against one another.