When the promotion taglines for a Friday international friendly read “choque de gigantes,” the match can feel big. Mexico’s first friendly of the September 2019 international break, a date against the United States and a direct rematch of this year’s Gold Cup final, might seem like a rivalry match at first. No two nations with histories intertwined with one another, in conflict, peace, migration, trade and everything in between, could face off so frequently without their matches being called such.
However, in practice, September’s friendly in East Rutherford serves less importance in terms of a rivalry match and instead one of preparation. The match will be one of the only times Gerardo Martino will get to work with the expected first team before Mexico’s CONCACAF Nations League campaign begins. Players like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Hirving Lozano, Hector Herrera, Edson Alvarez, and Raul Jimenez might not feature during the Nations League despite the games occurring during FIFA international windows and the stakes of the World Cup qualifying path and whether El Tri even qualifies for the next edition of the Gold Cup. Group stage matches against Panama and Bermuda might not excite casuals or convince clubs in deeply intense and challenging domestic and international club competition to release players, even on these international breaks.
The United States, along with Argentina, will present a significant challenge El Tri in part because of how their skill lines up. Among the new players El Tri has not seen in 2019 are 18 year old Ajax fullback Sergino Dest, who is still eligible to represent Oranje at the senior level despite playing a significant role in an impressive Stars and Stripes U-20 World Cup team, and 19-year-old Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent, who was out of the USA’s Gold Cup side due to injury. Winger Christian Pulisic and goalkeeper Zack Steffen also present significant tests for El Tri‘s nerve and concentration on both sides of the ball. In fact, early reports suggested that Dest is already penned into the initial United States lineup that El Tri will face.
But in the friendly, it will be important for El Tri to recognize that all of those players do not make a collective and the team has to remember that they can force any of those players and their teammates into mistakes that they can exploit. Hirving Lozano, who has already bagged his first goal with Napoli and was good at moving world class man-marking and zonal-marking defenders out of position. His entry into the game, particularly against a team overly reliant on circuits to do everything as previous Maurizio Sarri-coached teams were, had changed the complexion.
Just as importantly, the problem solving that happens in the friendly against the United States and players like Lozano have already demonstrated with their clubs will need to be implemented throughout the two games. In the pre-match press conference, ‘Tata’ Martino told reporters that outside of one or two players, the team that will feature against the United States on Friday will be completely different from the one that faces Argentina on Tuesday, September 10.
And already there are some clues as to who will play the match against the United States and who would not. Luis ‘Chaka’ Rodriguez and Cesar Montes are among the players ruled out of Mexico’s friendly against Argentina, while reports by TUDN have suggested Hirving Lozano and Raul Jimenez will not be deployed against the Untied States.
Combining Martino’s evaluation of El Tri‘s U-23 side as it takes on Japan in a friendly of its own in Celaya, outside of a few players who may have already ruled out playing in the Nations League, players who do manage to not just play a significant factor in the team’s result to the good, but also do so in ways that consistently hurt the United States in defense, transition, and build-up might not end up making Martino’s Nations League or World Cup qualifying sides. And when El Tri will start its Nations League campaign, it will find itself in second place in Group B behind Panama, who defeated Bermuda 3-0 in the opening match of the group.
But there are still a number of controversies beyond the control of the national team that could create tension around the team’s match against the United States. The potential for some El Tri supporters to react to being expelled from the match and for the game to be stopped if fans engage in the “Pu–” chant on goal kicks is very much real. In social media, online, and even in real life, some anti-Mexico USA supporters making a big deal about the chant and El Tri supporters defying Pancho Villa’s Army’s official policy to stop using the chant could create further resentment to both the supporters’ group and promoters promoting the game in the United States. [Even though the chant is not directly homophobic, the copy of the “Pu–” chant by national team supporters of other nations where the word clearly translates to a homophobic slur has been enough of a concern that the process of eliminating the chant had to start at the cost of FIFA penalties.]
Also, additional details about the sale of Lobos BUAP to FC Juarez’s current owners through Guanajuato-based fixer Antonio Alvarez via shell companies and involving present FMF officials including president Yon de Luisa and Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla were revealed in an investigation by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office. The federation is also increasing scrutiny from both FIFA for its clubs’ restrictions of player movement (now lifted) and some clubs not paying foreign clubs agreed-upon transfer fees for players or former players and by Mexico’s anti-monopoly authorities for anti-competitive practices. And so, the federation itself during these friendlies could find itself under scrutiny with questions it is not accustomed to answering during an international window.
The match kicks off at 10:00 PM Eastern DST (UTC -4) and can be seen in the USA on Fox Sports 1, Univision, and TUDN in the USA and streamed on Sling Blue, Sling Best of Spanish TV, fuboTV, Univision Now, the TUDN app, YouTube TV, Fox Sports Go, and Fox Soccer Matchpass.