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USA U-23 vs. Mexico, 2021 Olympic qualifying: What to watch for

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Bitter rivals meet with low stakes.

Dominican Republic v USA - 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images

The dream scenario for the United States has come to fruition during this Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament. Jason Kreis’ side has clinched a spot in the all-or-nothing semifinal round before even having to play hosts and Group A favorites Mexico after winning their first two group matches. Thankfully that means this matchup between bitter rivals in an important competitive tournament is about as low stakes as it could possibly be. The finishing order of the group is still up for grabs with the winner getting the privilege of playing the runner-up in Group B. The U.S. can only take home top spot with a win because they trail on goal differential. Here are a few things to watch for in this interesting edition of the U.S./Mexico rivalry at the U-23 level:

To Dare Is To Don’t

With every USA/Mexico match at any level the first inclination is to throw caution to the wind and go all-out for the win. Unfortunately, if there are any logical bones in Jason Kreis’ body, he doesn’t have that luxury. With the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Olympics, this match means very little in the big picture. He must ignore any desire to puff his chest out against El Tri and be smart when it comes to his team selection. Both Jesus Ferreira and Justen Glad, starters in both group matches so far, are one yellow card away from picking up a suspension. It stands to reason both should be used with a lot of caution on Wednesday, if at all. This could easily apply to any player Kreis deems crucial to the team’s best possible lineup. There’s really no need to risk players for this match when there’s an exponentially more important match in the semifinals a few days later.

This is not the time for being bold or daring when it comes to picking the team. Being conservative and smart is the way to ensure your ticket to Japan.

On The Rise

Jason Kreis has said multiple times that there really is no preferred starting lineup for this group of players. He proved that with six different changes to the lineup that beat Costa Rica in the opening group match. One player who is making a great case for his name to be inserted into the semifinal lineup is Minnesota United’s Hassani Dotson. The versatile midfielder subbed on against the Dominican Republic and immediately offered some much needed dynamism in the midfield. Outside of his two well-taken goals, he was a breath of fresh air in the middle of the field. His ability to get on on the ball, offer some quality and push the team forward was desperately lacking for the first opening hour of that match. The question now becomes can he continue that level of play against better competition? If he can, he should play a huge role in the team’s midfield three in the do-or-die match to come.

Playing With Dy-no-mite

Looking across the field and Mexico are in a similar position. They are in great form heading into this match, scoring seven goals so far and only conceding once. Sebastian Cordova has been El Tri’s star man thus far with four goals and is the tournament’s leading scorer. However, the biggest story for Mexico may be who hasn’t been at the forefront.

Chivas striker J.J. Macias was expected to be this team’s talisman and so far he’s barely featured. With Mexico in the same position to experiment with their lineup, perhaps this is the perfect time for Macias to get back in favor of manager Jaime Lozano. The 21-year-old has been one of the most prolific scorers in Liga MX since his emergence in 2018. While Mexico are nearly shoo-ins for the other qualification spot, they’ll be hoping to get the young striker back in top form heading into the summer. If they are going to be the first team to score against the U.S. in this tournament it could be Macias who poses the biggest threat despite not having found the net yet in two matches.