Saturday’s unprecedented CONCACAF Cup showdown between the U.S. and Mexico at the Rose Bowl is certainly the game of the year in Southern California and is a huge occasion for fans of both national teams. The game, which is a one-game playoff to determine which of the past two CONCACAF Gold Cup champions will represent the region in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, is seen as an absolute must-win game on both sides, and should be a memorable chapter in the border rivalry.
One fascinating subplot of the game is the coaching situation. While Jurgen Klinsmann is settled in as the USMNT’s coach, an interim coach, UANL Tigres coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, is at the helm of El Tri. It’s a unique situation for such a high-stakes game, but while the pressure is on Mexico to deliver, Ferretti is well-supported as Mexico rallies behind their temporary boss in a bid to set the tone for the incoming permanent coach, reported to be Juan Carlos Osorio.
Former Mexico international Mariano Trujillo, now an analyst for Fox, spoke to SoccerNation.com about the importance of Saturday’s game for Mexico.
“It’s the most important game for the Mexican national team,” he said this week. “They did ok in the Gold Cup, I guess they played well in one or two games, one of those was the final, but other than that I think the level the team showed wasn’t the best. So even though they achieved the objective, the fans, the owners and the front office weren’t happy with the performances.”
“I think now, the mindset of the players, the coach, and the owners, it’s a little bit different. They obviously want to win the game, because they know if they don’t win it’s going to be a huge setback. Not only for the owners and for the staff but for the new coach.”
“They know what they’re playing for. They know what they’re going to face this weekend and one of the positive things I see under Tuca’s management is the confidence that the coach projects to the media to the fans and obviously to the players. He has a lot of experience and he knows how to manage all the atmosphere around a big game.”
Trujillo, who spent three seasons with Chivas USA in MLS, explained part of the reason Ferretti is respected despite the interim tag is because of the way he sets up his teams.
“If you analyze Tuca’s teams, he prioritizes order, organization. And obviously he likes to have players that have talent. We have a couple that can make a difference. But they won’t be like Messi or Ronaldo — they have to have the support of the rest of the team,” Trujillo said.
When asked which players he thought could step up and make the big play for his country, Trujillo pointed out young attacker Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and veteran Javier Aquino for Mexico, while citing Clint Dempsey’s experience and ability to step up during big occasions as a game-changing factor for the U.S. But he also discussed the possibility of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez having the motivation to make a difference in this match.
“Even though he’s not as sharp as he used to be back in the day, he still has that level to prove he still has what it takes on the national team level,” said Trujillo. “I think he’s a little bit frustrated by the injury [he suffered] just before the Gold Cup. He wants to prove to himself, not the media and fans, in a big tournament or in a big game.”
The last time the two countries met in Southern California, it was the very same venue, the Rose Bowl, in the 2011 Gold Cup final. After the U.S. took an early 2-0 lead, Mexico came back and won 4-2. But Trujillo said he isn’t expecting a similar game on Saturday.
“I think it’s going to be a very tight game. Jurgen Klinsmann likes, just the same as Tuca, teams that are well-organized. They like their midfield to attack yet cover the spaces. I think it’s going to be a very similar style and in the end it’s going to be a very tight game in the middle of the field. In the end, it will be about the individual skill of the players in 1v1 situations and set pieces. I don’t see a lot of goals in the game.”
“I see a possibility of it going to extra time and probably PKs.”
CONCACAF Cup is sold out. The game, which kicks off a 6 pm PT on Saturday, will be broadcast on FS1 in English and Univision and UDN in Spanish.