With the United States Men’s National Team having already qualified for the upcoming World Cup as co-hosts, a need exists for a stronger schedule populated by challenging foes. The newly-established Allstate Continental Clásico is an “annual event” that will involve “a top-tier opponent from North, Central, or South America.” The inaugural match features the eternal rival, Mexico, presenting the opportunity to renew the old conflicts and perhaps create some new hostilities ahead of June’s CONCACAF Nations League Finals. The fixture will be hosted at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a 63,400-seat venue with the expanded capacity to accommodate 73,000 spectators.
This is the 75th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the visitors holding a 36-22-16 advantage, although the USMNT is currently enjoying a four-match unbeaten streak dating back to June of 2021. Ranked 15th internationally by FIFA, Mexico crashed out of the 2022 World Cup in the group stage, ending a run of seven consecutive qualifications to the Round of 16. Recent results in the Nations League are underwhelming (a 2-0-2 record against Jamaica and Suriname), but El Tri managed to grab a spot in the semifinals.
Mexico appointed Diego Cocca to the manager role, replacing Gerardo “Tata” Martino who parted ways with the program after failing to reach the knockout stage in Qatar. The 51-year-old Argentine had recently been hired to lead domestic outfit Tigres UANL in January, adding to a lengthy résumé that includes stops at Godoy Cruz, Santos Laguna, Millonarios, and Atlas. The retired defender is described as a “smart leader with values and group management,” winning three league titles and being named Liga MX’s Manager of the Year in 2022.
Despite having qualified for the 2026 World Cup as co-hosts, the manager already responded to criticism after his squad was booed at the Estadio Azteca. “The fans have the right to say what they want,” Cocca said after drawing with Jamaica. “We’re feeling strong and confident, and are focused on working hard and moving forward... This is a three-and-a-half-year process. I’ve been with the players for a month, and, in that time, we’ve reached a lot of conclusions. We know that we need to adjust things, improve and work together to do that. That’s the job we’ve got to do and the conclusions that we’ve reached so far are very positive.”
¡ELLOS SON!— Selección Nacional (@miseleccionmx) April 13, 2023
Aquí los 23 elegidos por @Diegococca1, con los que viajaremos a Arizona para ir por el triunfo ante Estados Unidos.
➡️ https://t.co/5h6GuAVgro#LaSelecciónEsDeTodos pic.twitter.com/G9IPQyDm2w
Cocca named a 23-player roster for the Allstate Continental Clásico, a somewhat muted squad due to the match occurring outside of an international window. The majority of the group competes in the domestic Liga MX, with one familiar outlier on the books at Barcelona. Club América, Guadalajara, Pachuca, and Santos Laguna are home to more than half of the call-ups. Efrain Alvarez was called up late Sunday night to replace Henry Martin on the roster.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Luis Ángel Malagón Veláquez (América), José Antonio Rodríguez Romero (Tijuana), Carlos Acevedo López (Santos)
DEFENDERS (7): Néstor Alejandro Araujo Razo (América), Israel Reyes Romero (América), Julián Araujo (Barcelona), Gilberto Sepúlveda López (Guadalajara), Kevin Nahin Álvarez Campos (Pachuca), Jesús Daniel Gallardo Vasconcelos (Monterrey), Víctor Andrés Guzmán Olmedo (Monterrey)
MIDFIELDERS (11): Jonathan Ozziel Herrera Morales (Atlas), Aldo Paúl Rocha González (Atlas), Carlos Uriel Antuna Romero (Cruz Azul), Carlos Alberto Rodríguez Gómez (Cruz Azul), Roberto Carlos Alvarado Hernández (Guadalajara), Fernando Beltrán Cruz (Guadalajara), Ernesto Alexis Vega Rojas (Guadalajara), Luis Gerardo Chávez Magallón (Pachuca), Erick Daniel Sánchez Ocegueda (Pachuca), Omar Antonio Campos Chagoya (Santos), Alan Jhosué Cervantes Martin del Campo (Santos)
FORWARDS (2): Efrain Alvarez (LA Galaxy), Roberto Carlos de la Rosa González (Pachuca)
During his brief tenure, Cocca has used Mexico’s traditional 4-3-3 formation, although his preference is for the 3-5-2. He is described as having an orderly, defense-first style reliant upon “a highly-coordinated midfield core and pacey wing-backs” that press the opponent before shifting into a direct, vertical attack. Whether the manager’s ideas can be implemented at this early stage of his tenure appears an unlikely prospect, but matches outside of the international window present the opportunity for experimentation.
In the previous Nations League fixtures, Mexico struggled to defend the counter, giving countless opportunities to Suriname. The goals came from set pieces and counter-attacks, utilizing wingers cutting into the box. As always, El Tri will shoot early and often, unafraid to blast speculative attempts from distance that tempt the opposing back line into stepping forward and, in turn, opening space.
The goalkeeper corps have a combined five caps, all of which belong to Carlos Acevedo of Santos Laguna. The 26-year-old is in his third season as a starter at the club level and was named a Liga MX All-Star last summer. While a touch undersized at 6’, he is an acrobatic shot-stopper and uses his entire body to keep the ball out of the net, equally adept at long-range and short-range denials. His low, line-drive punts enable quick transitions into the counter-attack and can catch opponents by surprise.
One of the squad’s veterans, Néstor Araujo was on the roster for the 2022 World Cup, serving as an outlet in the buildup. The 31-year-old América centre-back is a long, physical presence and shifts into tackles without any hesitation. There should be few chemistry issues as his likely partner is club teammate Israel Reyes, who started and played 90 minutes in the recent Nations League fixture against Suriname. He is another strong tackler and excels in one-on-one situations, also possessing the ability to occasionally contribute in the final third.
Jesus Gallardo with @Rayados' third goal and a dance pic.twitter.com/ztKNh87V6S— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 16, 2021
Jesús Gallardo patrols the left side of the line, overlapping with the winger and serving as an additional attacker. The pacy 28-year-old from Monterrey can shuttle and break out with his skillful dribbling, looking to play low crosses across the goalmouth. The likely right fullback is Pachuca’s Kevin Álvarez, another advancing presence who is coming off two appearances at the World Cup. He is becoming more of a threat in the final third with three goals this season, comfortable unleashing dangerous shots from distance. Expect former United States international Julián Araujo – a strong tackler “with a proficiency for pressing, creating chances, and making interceptions” – to come off of the bench.
Holding midfielder Luis Chávez had a transformative year in 2022, making his international debut in April and scoring at the World Cup with a jaw-dropping free kick. Despite reported offers from clubs in Spain and the Netherlands, the electric 27-year-old continues to dazzle with his technical dribbling and long-range passing at Pachuca. The shrewd Fernando Beltrán serves as a complementary piece, working hard off the ball to make himself available when combining with teammates. While not an overly physical presence, he throws himself into challenges and rarely surrenders possession. Completing the triangle is Carlos “Charly” Rodríguez of Cruz Azul, who appeared twice in Qatar as a substitute and covers the width of the field. His long runs and accurate distribution serve to drive the counter-attack, while also appearing as a trailing option to recycle loose balls at the top of the box.
WHAT A FREE KICK LUIS CHÁVEZ— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 30, 2022
Alexis Vega started all three matches at the World Cup after entering the competition on scorching form with three goals in three friendlies. Despite missing the previous Nations League fixtures, the creative attacker is an essential inclusion for El Tri, providing creativity and a constant desire to embarrass opponents off the dribble. On the other side of the formation is Uriel Antuna of Cruz Azul, another pacy and direct player who is always looking to put the ball on goal. He thrives in zone three, forcing defenders to decide between allowing him to cut inside or break toward the endline. There should also be an appearance from the buzzy Roberto Alvarado, bringing effective skill and the occasional eye-popping display of audacious trickery.
While never quite being able to replicate his club production at the international level, Henry Martín continues to be relied upon by multiple Mexico managers. He is having a dominant season for América, contributing 26 goals and 11 assists in 36 appearances. His role is that of an undersized target striker, facilitating possession with his back to goal and finding a crucial yard space in the box. One of the (if not the) world’s most in-form attackers is expected to make an impact, even if by attracting the attention of the back line.
While this match will lack the star power of past or upcoming meetings, these two nations always manage to put on an entertaining show. Mexico is currently attempting to fix the downward-sloping trajectory of the program, although success at the international level can be an independent outcome determined by the born fruit of a current generation. With most eyes looking ahead to June’s Nations League semifinal round, expect spirited proceedings punctuated by moments of individual brilliance that take advantage of the lacking chemistry.
The match is scheduled for Wednesday, April 19th at 10:22 p.m. Eastern, 7:22 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include TBS, Telemundo, Universo, HBO Max, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).