USA vs. Mexico tale of the tape: Who has the edge for the Columbus clash?
The United States takes on Mexico in Columbus, Ohio on Friday -- a renewal of the hostilities that have come to define the two countries' fortunes in international soccer over the last 25 years.
Not only have the Stars and Stripes never lost to Mexico in Columbus, they've defeated El Tri by identical 2-0 scorelines in four consecutive World Cup qualifiers in Ohio. Naturally, the Americans will take a win by any margin on Friday night, but the fans in attendance will be pulling for a fifth instance of the "dos a cero" result.
It's too early to know how Jurgen Klinsmann and Juan Carlos Osorio will set up their starting XIs at MAPFRE Stadium, but the tale of the tape by position (and a few other areas) might give an inkling as to who holds more advantages heading into the colossal clash in Columbus.
Since taking over as Mexico head coach, Osorio repeatedly has turned to Toluca man Alfredo Talavera in goal. Talavera is a fine goalkeeper, and only Guillermo Ochoa fans will find fault with Osorio's choice, but the 34-year-old lacks the experience in these matches that his opposite number, Tim Howard, brings to the proceedings.
Howard was named the starter for Friday's match by Klinsmann earlier this week, putting to rest any question that the longtime U.S. No. 1 still holds the position over Brad Guzan.
Call it a dodge, but picking between the two groups of defenders is made more difficult because of Geoff Cameron's injury and Osorio's tinkering with formation. With a group of defenders made up of mostly of natural center-backs, evidence abounds that Mexico will go with a three-man back line to counter the U.S.'s two-man front line.
Cameron's absence looms large for the USA, but Klinsmann has options. The smart money is on Omar Gonzalez -- an experienced international familiar with several of El Tri's Liga MX-based attackers -- to step into the void alongside the excellent John Brooks. Perhaps a bigger problem for the U.S. is uncertainty at full-back, where Klinsmann is likely to line up two players of middling defensive ability against a side that presents significant danger from the wings.
Traditionally an area of strength for Mexico, El Tri holds a rather clear advantage over the Americans in midfield -- allowing for some gray area in how players are labeled in Osorio's system.
Led by PSV man Andres Guardado, Mexico's midfield has an excellent combination of savvy and skill. Players like Guardado and Jonathan dos Santos do the heavy lifting, leaving the dynamic attacking work to names like Giovani dos Santos, Marco Fabian and Jurgen Damm. Osorio does not lack for options here.
The American midfield is functional in most areas, but lacks the sheer number of high-quality players that Mexico brings to the table. That is not to suggest that the U.S. is far behind through the midfield, but rather that Klinsmann doesn't have as much positional freedom with his group. Both sides have exciting young game-changers.
Jozy Altidore is in scorching form and Bobby Wood is getting along fine in Germany's top division, but the advantage at forward still goes to Mexico. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Oribe Peralta bring experience and a knack for scoring important goals to the team, while younger players like Raul Jimenez and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona present imminent danger with their on-the-ball abilities and athleticism.
Mexico also has brought Real Sociedad striker Carlos Vela back into the squad. Vela's wing play and goal-scoring threat make his return a big boost to the squad and yet another excellent option for Osorio -- either in the starting lineup or off the bench. Hirving Lozano, 21, is a rising star at Pachuca and has the ability to slice defenses apart with his dribbling and quickness.
It feels odd to say it considering some of the travails Klinsmann has faced as U.S. head coach, but the German is the more stable, trusted boss coming into Friday's game in Ohio. A semifinal appearance at last summer's Copa America Centenario, a reasonably easy stroll into the Hexagonal and the introduction of a number of exciting new players have galvanized support behind Klinsmann as the final round of qualifying begins.
This comes as Osorio is under the gun, leading a team notorious for firing head coaches at the slightest hint of trouble. That Osorio survived the humiliating 7-0 loss Mexico suffered against Chile in the Copa America is both a blessing and a curse; while he gets a chance to turn things around, he could also be one loss to the U.S. away from the axe. That hardly breeds confidence, especially considering his reputation as a habitual tinkerer.
If there's one area in which the USA has a clear and unchallenged advantage, it's in the intangibles. History leans heavily in the Americans' favor in Hex games in Columbus, and the confidence within the team is relatively high. Mexico has a strong, talented team, but talented teams have arrived in Ohio assured of massive wins only to leave with defeat by the same scoreline every time. If Mexico is going to upend the history in this match, they'll need to overcome a pro-U.S.crowd and put aside the questions swirling around their manager.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.