Ahead of the U.S. and Mexico's clash in front of 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, Ryan Rosenblatt and Rob Usry sat down to discuss the match. Specifically, is the highly-anticipated match-up that important and what is there to be gained (or lost)?
Ryan: It’s the United States vs. Mexico for the CONCACAF Cup. We’re told that rivalry matters, that the Confederations Cup spot on the line matters and that there is something on the line here so this match matters. Does it?
Rob: Any U.S. vs. Mexico game matters. Whether its a competitive game or a cash-grab friendly. They are our biggest regional competition and the measuring stick we'll be put up against. In the grand scheme of things, if we lose on Saturday, not making the Confederations Cup won't affect this team in any way shape or form.
Ryan: I think that's the thing. This matters because it's against Mexico. If Jamaica had won the Gold Cup, would we be blowing this up? Would it be the most important match for the U.S. since the World Cup? Would Jurgen Klinsmann's job (which isn't on the line at all) be talked about like it is? No, no and no.
The Confederations Cup is a second-rate competition and if you like Klinsmann, you'll keep liking Klinsmann regardless of what happens. If you don't, you won't. There's not really that much on the line, at least not significantly more than there is when these two teams play a friendly.
Rob: Obviously, because it's Mexico the hype around the game is magnified tenfold. But any consequences of a loss from this game are purely cosmetic. As fans, our pride will be damaged severely like it is any time Mexico beat us. I'd argue that Bob Bradley's fate was sealed in 2011 because it was Mexico. Our World Cup hopes and long term goals won't be affected if we lose, but our pride and dignity could be harmed and that's when things start getting ugly around a fan base.
Ryan: I think that was different because U.S. Soccer wasn't committed to Bradley long-term. They hired him on an interim basis to begin with and even tried to replace him in 2010. His job was always on the line. That's entirely different than Klinsmann, who U.S. Soccer is committed to as a manager and technical director, not to mention a very expensive contract.
As dismissive as we are of the implications of the match, though, I think there is something more to it than "it's Mexico." It is bigger than a friendly against them. Why is that?
Rob: I'd put that squarely on the novelty of it all. It's new and fresh. It's basically CONCACAF bragging rights for the next four years. We've always had a friendly every year to keep the rivalry fresh. Sure, you could say we've had the ultimate bragging rights since 2002, but this will be the first time CONCACAF actually acknowledges a "champion". This just feels bigger than even a World Cup qualifier because it's (kind of) at a neutral site and there's so much hype surrounding the game.
Ryan: I think it may have as much to do with timing and CONCACAF than anything else, actually. This is the biggest match the U.S. has played since the World Cup. Why? Because they haven’t played a big competitive match since then. And guess what? They won’t again until they play Mexico in World Cup qualifying. This match falls right in the middle of a giant span of uncompetitive matches with little hype, even if the "competitive" part of the CONCACAF Cup is a bit of a joke.
And that’s what makes this funny. The reason this is rare is because CONCACAF is so weak and the confederation has done so little to grow the other countries. Because they hold the Gold Cup every two years. Because they’re so busy chasing money that they forget that they might occasionally have another obligation. And then on top of it all, it’s a joke because they didn’t announce a format for the CONCACAF Cup until July, or a venue, or make roster rules clear, or even figure out that they wanted to call it the CONCACAF Cup. So their incompetence helped make the match important and also helped make it more of a joke.
Rob: I would agree that it's just another cash-grab. They are probably so happy that it ended up USA vs. Mexico. Which kind of makes Mexico's semifinal with Panama and the quarterfinal with Costa Rica even more sketchy. But that's another conversation for another day, I suppose.
Ryan: So we're in this match because CONCACAF wants money. And it matters because it's Mexico, which CONCACAF loves. And it's a joke because it's CONCACAF. And CONCACAF is going to be the biggest winner in all of this...
Despite all that, what do you think the U.S. gets out of this match?
Rob: I think this will be a reality check that the team and Klinsmann needs. Whether it be positive or negative. So many excuses were made after the Gold Cup about luck and fortune. Now is when we play our biggest competition and this will tell us exactly where we are as we enter World Cup qualifying. At least that's how I see it. What do you think?
Ryan: I think generally the same. Klinsmann can talk about progress or growth or anything he wants, but only five players on this team - his best 23 players - got their first call-ups under him. He’s not bringing new players through and into the first team. He’s not playing free-flowing soccer or being proactive. He’s not making the progress he promised.
So without all that, what does he have? He has wins, theoretically. He’s won friendlies, but what about when it counts? That he has yet to prove, but he can, to a degree, against Mexico. That would at least be quantifiable success, and prove that the team is better than it was in 2011, after a match against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, when he took over.