Five keys to Mexico defeating the United States

Posted by Tom Marshall

El Tri arrives in Columbus, Ohio, like a dazed boxer almost out on his feet.

The disastrous 2-1 loss against Honduras on Friday in the Estadio Azteca led to the firing of Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre and now interim coach Luis Fernando Tena is charged with steadying a sinking ship.

- Gomez: Tena could be one and done as Tri boss
- Bennett: Is the U.S. poised to humiliate Mexico?
- Ramos: Columbus not a Mexico stronghold
- Ramos: Is Tena the savior of the Tri-tanic?
- Faitelson: El Tri are a disaster

To make matters even more severe, El Tri now faces its most difficult game of the hexagonal, against bitter rivals the United States. On Tuesday it will be 41 years to the day since El Tri last won a World Cup qualification match north of the border, and while three points looks beyond a shaky Mexico, Tena will be hoping to inspire his troops and land the job on a permanent basis.

Here are five keys to a Mexico victory:

1. Recover psychologically

When the teams are given out by CONCACAF on Tuesday, player for player Mexico's XI will be at least as talented as that of the United States. Tena needs to remind the players of that.

The coach mentioned on Monday in an interview with ESPN's Fernando Schwartz that the psychological state of the players will be important in a hostile environment, especially after the heartbreak of Friday night. The change from Chepo will help clean the slate, as will Tena's past, as he guided nine of the current squad to the Olympic gold medal at London 2012. Tena's role in maintaining squad unity and creating an atmosphere for the youngsters to flourish was widely regarded as crucial at the Olympics. He doesn't have a lot of time to work, but with the players mainly the same ones who have been present throughout qualification, getting them to believe again is key.

2. Show some character

History tells us that Mexico's qualifiers against the United States north of the border are hard-fought affairs and that El Tri rarely gets its own way. On Tuesday, the players have to show that they have the character to overcome difficult moments in the game and respond. That hasn't happened so far in this World Cup qualifying, as shown on Friday when El Tri wilted under the glares of 100,000 fans inside the Estadio Azteca in that second half. The fragility has to give way to leadership or it could be a long and embarrassing night.

3. Win the midfield battle

With both teams realistically satisfied with a draw, the game is unlikely to be a classic. Everything indicates it will be played out mainly in the center of the field, with a hard-fought battle over control ensuing.

Mexico has been handed a major positive with the news Michael Bradley is set to miss the game. Gerardo Torrado's loss is nowhere near as significant for Tena, with Carlos Salcido a like-for-like replacement who played that position in the Olympics.

The Mexico coach could also opt for a three-man central midfield of Salcido, Fernando Arce and Hector Herrera, in a bid to try to control the game.

4. Break the Klinsmann spell

In many ways, that game back in August 2012 in the Estadio Azteca when the United States won 1-0 set the tone for Mexico in the hexagonal phase of World Cup qualifying. The U.S. concentrated on reducing the space down the center of the field that Mexico's nimble, flair players could operate in, thus forcing El Tri to play longer balls, which the U.S. center backs dealt with easily.

Even aside from that particular game, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a grip over El Tri and is yet to lose in three games against the bitter rivals, with Mexico going 253 minutes without even scoring a goal.

Tena will have to bring some fresh ideas on finding a way to conquer a U.S. team that has been slippery of late.

5. Convert shots into goals

This shouldn't take much explaining. Mexico has outshot opponents 91 to 51 over the seven games in the hexagonal phase of World Cup qualifying, with 31 of those on target compared to just 19 from the opposition. Although such stats don't tell the whole story, it's improbable that the team has won only once considering those numbers.

When the United States came to the Azteca in March, it had just one shot compared to Mexico's 19.

The bottom line is that Mexico needs to convert a higher percentage of those into goals, especially in what is likely to be a game of few chances in Columbus Crew Stadium.

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