The United States has some demons to exorcise in March. To begin that quest, the squad must endure a trip to a familiar-yet-hostile environment at the Estadio Azteca against archrival Mexico (Thursday, March 24 at 10 p.m. ET).
The pain of 2018 World Cup elimination is still recent, and USMNT fans will be hoping the three matches to close out their 2022 qualifying campaign will serve to put to bed the ghosts of Couva, where the Americans' World Cup dreams were crushed with a shock loss to Trinidad and Tobago.
While qualifying for the quadrennial World Cup is now a minimum expectation for fans of the U.S. men's team, clinching a spot in 2022 would still represent a first, massive step in recovering from missing out four years ago.
Mexico's mission is different, yet largely the same.
Sitting third in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table, El Tri also has grander aspirations of being a protagonist at the World Cup, but like the United States, qualification is also not a foregone conclusion. Yet there are no painful memories for Mexico to erase, only fears of future ones.
MORE: Full USMNT roster breakdown for March World Cup qualifiers
Qualification has been uncharacteristically rocky for Mexico, with head coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino seeing his squad suffer from inconsistency and struggling to find a winning formula. Road losses to Canada and the U.S., plus uninspiring draws against Panama and Costa Rica have left El Tri with more questions than answers.
While neither side can secure World Cup qualification with a win on Thursday, three points would be exactly what the doctor ordered for both squads, and the victor could be forgiven for believing itself to have one foot in the World Cup draw. Still, a point does both sides good, and for that reason neither will be looking to take too many risks in the rivalry match.
When is Mexico vs. USA?
- Date:Thursday, March 24
- Time: 10 p.m. ET
- TV channel: CBSSN
- Spanish-language TV: Univision, TUDN
- Streaming: fuboTV, Paramount+
Thursday's match between the United States and Mexico from the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network (English) and Univision and TUDN (Spanish) in the USA.
Those channels are available to stream onfuboTV, which is available via a free trial for new users. The match will also be streamed on Paramount+ for subscribers.
MORE: USMNT injury news for World Cup qualifiers
USMNT roster vs. Mexico
The United States has a number of injuries to contend with heading into this match. Key midfielder Weston McKennie is out with a broken foot suffered in UEFA Champions League play with Juventus. Goalkeeper Matt Turner also misses out because of a sprained ankle, and Sergino Dest picked up a hamstring injury in Barcelona's Europa League match last week. All three are not on the roster.
#USMNT’s Gio Reyna went the full 90 today. Good sign for his fitness ahead of this crucial window. https://t.co/wWegGVaAuu— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) March 20, 2022
Brenden Aaronson was also a late scratch after picking up a knee injury in training with his RB Salzburg club team in Austria.
Goalkeepers (3):Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson, Zack Steffen.
Defenders (9):George Bello, Reggie Cannon, Aaron Long, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson, Miles Robinson, James Sands, DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmerman.
Midfielders (6):Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams, Gianluca Busio, Luca de la Torre, Yunus Musah, Christian Roldan.
Forwards (8):Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Morris, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Tim Weah.
Projected USMNT starting lineup
Manager Gregg Berhalter has his work cut out for him given the key absences during this March window. Among the key decisions he'll have to make is how to useGio Reyna,who's coming back from a hamstring injury that has kept him out for a while.
The goalkeeping spot is Zack Steffen's unless Berhalter believes his limited playing time at Manchester City in recent months leaves EthanHorvath or SeanJohnsonin better position to perform. Both Horvath and Steffen started for their respective clubs in the FA Cup this past weekend.
In midfield, Luca de la Torre could be trusted to fill in for McKennie again after impressing against Honduras. But with experience valued heavily on the road against Mexico, Kellyn Acosta might prove the wiser choice alongside Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah.
Predicted USMNT starting lineup (4-3-3): Steffen (GK) — A. Robinson, Zimmerman, M. Robinson, Cannon — Musah, Adams, Acosta — Pulisic, Pepi, Weah.
Can the USA clinch World Cup berth in Mexico?
The USMNT can mathematically secure a spot in the World Cup with a positive result against Mexico, but the combination of other results required makes the scenario highly unlikely.
In order for the United States to guarantee a World Cup berth as one of the top three teams in the standings, it would require:
- a U.S. win against Mexico at the Azteca
- a Costa Rica loss or draw against first-place Canada
- a Panama loss to last-place Honduras
That combination of results would leave the United States seven points clear of Panama with just two matches remaining (six points), a gulf that would be mathematically impossible to make up. But a Panama loss at home to Honduras is seen as an unlikely result going in.
Let’s get to work. pic.twitter.com/VQuN1vJiZe— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) March 21, 2022
The United Statescan,however, secure at least a spot in the intercontinental playoff in June. For that scenario to materialize, the United States needs a win against Mexico, plus a Costa Rica loss or draw to Canada.
Those two results would guarantee the USMNT no worse than a fourth-place finish, and at minimum a single-game playoff against a team from Oceania for a ticket to the World Cup.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Standings
|5. Costa Rica||16||11||4||3||4||8||7||+1|
|6. El Salvador||9||11||2||6||3||6||13||-7|
Mexico roster vs. USA
While there are plenty of recognizable names on the Mexico roster, two absentees stand out among the rest.
Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez remains out of the fold despite a hot start for the LA Galaxy. Chicharito, now 33 years old, has not played a competitive match for Mexico since the 2018 World Cup, after a reported falling out with head coach Tata Martino.
With two goals in the first four LA Galaxy matches of the new MLS season, there were questions about whether he should be brought back. The injury that ruled out Monterrey's Rogelio Funes Mori also seemed to present Martino with another chance to call up the veteran.
Captain Andres Guardado is also not on the roster after suffering a thigh injury against Atletico Madrid in La Liga play and he will miss the international window. With Guardado's 173 caps, the loss of such an experienced player at such a critical time is a key miss for Mexico.
Goalkeepers (4): Carlos Acevedo, Rodolfo Cota, Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera.
Defenders (11): Erick Aguirre, Jesus Angulo, Julian Araujo, Nestor Araujo, Gerardo Arteaga, Jesus Gallardo, Cesar Montes, Hector Moreno, Israel Reyes, Jorge Sanchez, Johan Vasquez.
Midfielders (8): Roberto Alvarado, Edson Alvarez, Uriel Antuna, Erick Gutierrez, Hector Herrera, Diego Lainez, Carlos 'Charly' Rodriguez, Luis Romo.
Forwards (6): Jesus Corona, Hirving Lozano, Santiago Gimenez, Raul Jimenez, Henry Martin, Alexis Vega.
Projected Mexico starting lineup
Along with the absence ofGuardado and Funes Mori, Mexico is missing defenderJulio Cesar 'Cata' Dominguezdue to injury. Tijuana goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco and Rodolfo Pizarro were late scratches.
— Mexican National Team (@miseleccionmxEN) March 21, 2022
We'll never get tired of saying this.. ☝🏼
It feels so good to be back home! 🏠🇲🇽⚽#ApoyoIncondicional | #HechoDeLosMexicanos pic.twitter.com/tBuT1iHE0h
Finding a third midfielder to partner withHector HerreraandEdson Alvarezwill be the big decision for Tata Martino, with the choice to come down to: Cruz Azul'sCarlos Rodriguez,Monterrey's Luis Romoor PSV Eindhoven's Erick Gutierrez.
In attack,Tecatito Coronahas been a contributor for Sevilla since joining in January and is the favorite to take the wing spot oppositeChucky Lozano and on either side of Wolves forward Raul Jimenez.
WhileDiego Lainezwas a national team sensation after his initial call-up in 2020, things have gone downhill for the 21-year-old since, relegated to a super sub role with both club and country.
Predicting the Mexico starting lineup in any given match has been a fool's errand, as Martino has been mixing and matching in every single match, with limited success.
Predicted Mexico starting lineup (4-3-3):Ochoa (GK) — Gallardo, Moreno, N. Araujo, L. Rodriguez — Herrera, Alvarez, C. Rodriguez — Lozano, Jimenez, Tecatito.
Can Mexico clinch a World Cup spot vs. USA?
Mexico can mathematically secure a spot in the World Cup with a positive result against the USA plus help elsewhere, although similar to the Americans' qualifying scenario (they are level on points in the standings), the combination required seems unlikely.
In order for Mexico to guarantee itself a World Cup berth as one of the top three finishers, it would need:
- a win against the United States at the Azteca
- a Costa Rica loss or draw against Canada
- a Panama home loss to last-placed Honduras.
Those results would leave Mexico seven points clear of Panama with just two matches remaining, mathematically clinching a top three spot and a direct ticket to Qatar.
Like the USA, Mexico can secure at least a spot in the intercontinental playoff with a win against the United States and a Costa Rica loss or draw to Canada. Those two results would combine to guarantee that Mexico finish no worse than fourth place, clinching at minimum a spot in June's intercontinental playoff.