Under little pressure, U.S. could go for it in Mexico

Posted by Jason Davis

Friday's win over Costa Rica in near-whiteout conditions at in Colorado did a number of things for Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT.

Most are positives, along the lines of "bringing the team together" and "boosting confidence." Even if FIFA throws cold water on the American effort and forces a replay following Costa Rica's official protest of the match (which seems highly unlikely), Klinsmann’s team will still feed off of that team-building effort as it takes on Mexico at Estadio Azteca Tuesday night (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

-- Jones out for U.S.
-- Carlisle/Gomez: Who has edge at the Azteca?
-- FIFA studying Costa Rica protest

Despite Friday's win, expectations are extremely low for a game on the road in the region’s most daunting environment. Anything better than a decisive loss would be a surprise to most -- not just because the Americans haven’t proven themselves good enough to play toe-to-toe with Mexico, but also as history is decidedly on the side of the hosts. Last year's friendly victory before a sparse home crowd remains the only win on Mexican soil in the history of the USMNT while the Americans (1-8-1 in Mexico overall) have managed to earn just one competitive point there, ever.

As such, Jurgen Klinsmann's team is full of newfound confidence and spirit heading into a game it's not supposed to win. Low expectations mean low pressure, arguably giving Klinsmann a free pass at the Azteca. He could throw caution to the wind without any fear of repercussions, because it's doubtful there would be any. With three points in his pocket (and the resulting credit that bought him with fans and pundits ready to start calling for his job) and a break until June looming in the Hex calendar, the best way to leverage Colorado is to act without fear in Mexico City.

Consider how the following might inform a decision on Klinsmann’s part to take the game to the Mexicans:

1. Mexico chose an evening kick-off, a departure from the usual approach of playing in the middle of the Mexican capital's smoggy afternoon. The Americans won’t be sapped of energy so quickly in the less humid part of the day.

2. With Jermaine Jones eliminated from consideration due to an ankle injury, Klinsmann will need to shift his lineup regardless of his chosen approach.

3. Mexico is reeling from its own poor start to the Hex (two points through two games, including a home draw with Jamaica), ratcheting up the pressure on the home side. an aggressive approach could see El Tri crumble.

4. With Herculez Gomez, DaMarcus Beasley and Joe Corona all available, Klinsmann could field a team more comfortable in the Azteca than any in recent US memory.

Perhaps Klinsmann should put out a team that -- at least on paper -- indicates a desire to go for three points. Something as simple as naming a lineup with just one defensive midfielder (a massive risk against a side that can pass as well as Mexico) would send the message that the Americans aren’t cowed into praying for a point.

If ever there was a time to throw caution to the wind in Mexico, this is it. Klinsmann has failed to make good on many of his promises as USMNT coach so far, and while playing an attacking-minded team Tuesday probably doesn't give his side the best chance at a positive result, such symbolism could serve the German boss well moving forward.

Ultimately, Klinsmann playing an overtly attacking team Tuesday night would be a bigger upset than an American victory. Like most coaches, Klinsmann defaults to the conservative approach when the odds are stacked against him, as they almost certainly will be in Mexico City.

Jones' makes choosing a team best suited to absorb Mexican pressure slightly more difficult, but there are reasonable replacements available: Corona, the two-way midfielder from Tijuana; Kyle Beckerman, a defensive midfielder with a good passing touch; Sacha Kljestan, the most offensive-minded of the group; and Maurice Edu, who could be pulled into the back line but will bring speed and grit to wherever he plays.

Defending deep in Mexico is the most the prudent way to play and recently worked for Jamaica last month. Klinsmann surely has that game in his mind as the Americans prepare for their biggest rivals.

Such a unique combination of pressure-mitigating factors may never again align for a U.S. visit to the Azteca. Klinsmann has a chance to send a message, to truly play as if he has nothing to lose. Considering the relatively small chances of getting points no matter how they play, could doing so actually benefit the USMNT more than sitting back and betting on a lucky break? Or does playing too offensively risk a bad loss and more of the angst that plagued us all last week?

In his press conference Monday, Klinsmann refused to tip his hand as to Jones’ replacement. Who he chooses to step into midfield will go a long way towards telling us whether he hopes to take to game to Mexico, or do the prudent thing and sit back.

He gave lip service to the idea of going after Mexico, but it won't be his words that reveal his intentions.

A single point earned in Mexico would be a massive bonus to the United States, and could be crucial at the end of the Hex. Even when everything is just right for an all-out American attack, it's not completely certain that the juice is worth the squeeze.

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