The USMNT and Mexico resume their rivalry tonight (7pm ET, FS1) to open The Hex as they seek World Cup qualiciation. Dozens of storylines surround the match, but a handful of individual matchups might decide the outcome on the field. Let’s take a look at these key battles.
John Anthony Brooks vs Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez
Shutting Mexico out for a fifth straight time in Columbus will be a tall order. Chicharito scored the last time out against the U.S. and needs only one more to tie Jared Borgetti’s all-time record. His excellent instincts and hyperactive movement could create problems all night for the U.S. backline, which will miss the injured Geoff Cameron. But Brooks has been a rock for both Hertha Berlin and the USMNT this year, and was perhaps the Americans' best player at Copa America. If Brooks can put the shackles on Chicharito, the U.S. will have silenced Mexico’s most dangerous weapon.
Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood vs. Hector Moreno
Moreno anchors Mexico’s three-man backline and is arguably the best defender in all of CONCACAF, but he’ll need to be at his best and get help from whoever lines up next to him given the form Altidore and Wood are in. Altidore has four goals in his last five games for Toronto FC while Wood is basically the only one scoring for Hamburg in the Bundesliga, and together they form the USMNT’s most physical partnership in recent memory. If Mexico want to prevent another “dos” in Dos a Cero, it starts with slowing down Altidore and Wood.
Christian Pulisic vs. Rafa Marquez
It's the youngest on the pitch against the oldest. Pulisic has only been part of the USMNT for nine months and yet the 18-year-old is already its most creative force and arguably its best player. Pulisic aced his first audition in the No. 10 role for the U.S. against Trinidad & Tobago in September, and if he earned Klinsmann’s trust to be the USMNT’s playmaker again on Friday, he’ll likely have to deal with Marquez most of the match. Mexico's 37-year-old captain has a ton of experience on Pulisic, but can he keep up with the young stud’s quickness? It could decide the match.
Michael Bradley vs. Andres Guardado
Neither Guardado or Bradley were at their best at this summer’s Copa America, but both remain their respective teams’ most important player. They figure to see a lot of each other, too. If Jermaine Jones gets the nod next to Bradley as expected, the USMNT captain would be free to play further up the pitch to orchestrate the offense. There he’ll run into Guardado, who will likewise try to start attacks from his own end. Controlling the midfield is always a good recipe for success, and whoever gets the best of the other will be one of the more fascinating battles to watch.
Fabian Johnson and Matt Besler vs. Gio dos Santos and Jesus “Tecatito” Corona
Wing play could have a huge impact on the match, particularly when Mexico is on the ball. Dos Santos and “Tecatito” have bags of tricks and speed for days, and they'll look to exploit a U.S. backline that hasn't played together much. Johnson has the wheels to keep up with Dos Santos, who’s had a terrific year for the LA Galaxy, but with DeAndre Yedlin struggling, Besler will likely get the call at right back. He’ll have his hands full with Tecatito, especially when the dangerous Miguel Layun pushes forward to join Mexico's attack. For the USMNT to make it five straight wins over their rivals in Columbus, sniffing out danger on the wings will be key.