Here we go: some international soccer news that doesn’t involve FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1, the United States men’s national team will square off against Mexico’s in a one-game playoff that’s being called the CONCACAF Cup. It will be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., a historically pro-Mexico venue, and the winner of the game will go on to represent the region in the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017.
Saturday’s game between the rivals has been looming for months, ever since Mexico won the Gold Cup in July. Tournament rules required the tiebreaker game because the U.S. won the 2013 Gold Cup and Mexico took the following title this summer. The winning team advances to play in the Confederations Cup, a tournament held one year before the World Cup that allows the best teams from around the world to see how they measure up against stiff international competition.
Here’s what you need to know about the game:
1. U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann Under Pressure
After a disappointing performance in this summer’s Gold Cup, Klinsmann started to feel the heat. While the German’s leadership and vision for the U.S. squad has been questioned repeatedly since he took over in 2011, former U.S. star Landon Donovan ramped up the rhetoric this week, calling for Klinsmann’s job should the U.S. lose, according to ESPN.
“Around the world, if a player plays poorly and a player has a bad string of results, they get dropped from the team. Jurgen said many times he wants our players to feel pressure — so if they lose a game they can’t go to the grocery store the next day. If they lose a game, they are getting hammered in the press.
“Well, the same holds true for the coach, and so we had a very poor summer with bad results in the Gold Cup. The last game against Brazil was probably the worst game I’ve seen them play under Jurgen.
“The reality is that now, anywhere else in the world, if this coach had those results, and they lose this game against Mexico, they’d be fired.
“I think if Jurgen wants to hold all the players to that standard, then he has to be held to that standard too.”
Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that some bad blood lingers between Donovan and his former coach after Klinsmann decided to leave the all-time leading scorer for the U.S. off the 2014 World Cup roster. But then again, former U.S. head coach Bob Bradley was fired after the team lost to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final, which could be seen as a precedent should the U.S. decide to cut ties with the coach. For what it’s worth, the U.S. has never lost to Mexico under Klinsmann.
2. Mexican Star Giovani Dos Santos Out With Injury
The Mexican national team confirmed on Twitter this week that Giovani Dos Santos is suffering from a muscular injury and will not be with the team.
The 26-year-old striker already has 89 starts with the national team and 17 goals, including the winning goal in Mexico’s 4-2 victory over the U.S. in the 2011 Gold Cup final.
Dos Santos’ absence could definitely hurt Mexico, but El Tri has a talented cast of characters ready to step up and fill his cleats, including his brother, Jonathan Dos Santos.
3. Battle Of The Advertisements
Remember the ad aired on Mexican TV last month that used Donald Trump’s controversial remarks on immigration to hype the game? As we reported at the time, the ad spliced snippets from Trump’s comments with footage of the U.S. team losing to the Mexican side.
“In the ad, an electric guitar wails ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in the background as the Republican presidential candidate says things like ‘we don’t have victories anymore’ and ‘the American dream is dead.’ Meanwhile, a video montage plays of Mexican players scoring goals, frustrated U.S. players and disappointed American fans.”
On Friday, Fox Soccer responded with its own ad, again using Trump’s words. In this promotion, however, Trump is seen saying, “Our country has tremendous people, tremendous potential,” and “we will make American great again.” He also says, “I love the Mexican people.”
The ad immediately incurred backlash on social media. There were hundreds of negative responses to the commercial, including from U.S. men’s national team player Herculez Gomez and the Twitter account for one of the main U.S. soccer fan groups, American Outlaws.