New England Soccer Today

Getting Serious

It’s been a summer marred by disappointment for U.S. Soccer. Most notably there was the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final collapse against Mexico by the U.S. Men’s National Team and the loss to Japan in the Women’s World Cup Final by the U.S. Women’s National Team.

But while those two defeats may have garnered the most attention, the youth national teams on the men’s side were also falling well short of expectations. The U-20 team failed to qualify for the upcoming U-20 World Cup after reaching the previous seven and the U-17 team was crushed 4-0 by Germany and eliminated in the round in the Round of 16 of U-17 World Cup after finishing second in their group thanks to a loss to Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, the United States’ neighbors to the south, Mexico, have retaken dominance of the region after an impressive summer. Not only did Mexico defeat the U.S. to claim the Gold Cup for the second consecutive time, but the Mexicans also impressively took home the U-17 World Cup and won the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.

The present and future look bright for Mexican soccer and while the U.S. were the team to beat in the region for the 2000s, it’s hard to argue that Mexico hasn’t become the dominant soccer nation in the region in the 2010s so far. And because of their recent success, Mexico has every reason to be confident as they head to Philadelphia to take on the United States Wednesday night in an international exhibition.

There can be no doubt Mexico is taking the match seriously either, as the visitors bring a roster packed with their top talent including veteran defenders Rafael Marquez and Carlos Salcido and young promising attackers Giovani Dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera.

For the United States, the unveiling of German Jurgen Klinsmann at the end of July as head coach to the U.S. Men’s National Team brought a renewed sense of hope to a program that seemed to have stagnated over the past year. The friendly with Mexico will be Klinsmann’s first match in charge.

Klinsmann left his mark already in naming the roster for the match. Sure regulars such as Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Michael Bradley are still there, but Klinsmann also brought in players who had been out of the national team picture for over a year, including DaMarcus Beasley, Jose Torres and Edson Buddle, and youngsters such as Edgar Castillo and Michael Orozco Fiscal.

Undoubtedly Klinsmann has the players needed to test Mexico on his roster as well as likely quite a few who aren’t quite ready for the big match. But while it may be tempting to get a few youngsters out there with the veterans for experience, now is not the time.

Sure the friendly provided a great opportunity for Klinsmann to call players into camp and see where they are at in person for the first time, but come game day it needs to be about finding the U.S.’ style and getting a result. If a player is not quite ready to step in for one of the U.S. veterans, they shouldn’t see the field Wednesday.

When a team’s winning, they can afford to sacrifice the result of a friendly in the name of experimentation, but not against their biggest rival and not when a nation is largely in need of a boost of positivity after a summer of disappointment. Klinsmann needs to start tenure on the right foot, with a confidence boosting win against the country’s biggest soccer rival, Mexico.

Beating Mexico won’t allow the U.S. to instantly reclaim their perch atop the region. What it will do is provide a much needed lift to the nation and Klinsmann and his team cannot afford to spurn that opportunity.

The U.S.-Mexico match can be seen live at 9 p.m. on Wednesday on ESPN2, and Univision.

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