The U.S. Men’s National Team has a chance to avenge its defeat to Mexico in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup final as CONCACAF’s two giants face off in a friendly match on Friday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The teams will look slightly different on Friday than on that July evening in Chicago, but it should be a terrific matchup between two squads full of talented youngsters, with some veterans sprinkled in. There will be battles all over the pitch, but here’s three key matchups to keep an eye on during the match.
Christian Pulisic v. Miguel Layun/Luis Rodriguez
All eyes will be on Christian Pulisic - and his Mexican winger counterpart Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. More on that later. Pulisic could certainly play in midfield, as the top of a three, but he seems more likely - having been listed as a forward on the roster, to take up one of the wide positions.
That puts a lot on Mexico’s wide players on the backline, Jesus Gallardo on the left and either Miguel Layun or Luis Rodriguez on the right, to keep Pulisic in front of him. If Pulisic can repeatedly find space down the wings and cross into the box, that could leave to issues. Also, they’ll have to communicate effectively if Pulisic floats around, combining with the center forward to create goal-scoring opportunities for himself too.
In the Gold Cup final, Andres Guardado and Edson Alvarez did enough to stifle Pulisic. If he plays out wide, away from those pair, can he be the difference?
Lozano v. Reggie Cannon/Sergino Dest
Similar to Pulisic, another key matchup will be the USMNT outside backs against Lozano. Assuming he starts on the left, Lozano will likely go up against incumbent right back Reggie Cannon or Sergino Dest. Both are young and inexperienced at this level, but they certainly have the speed to keep up with Lozano in a footrace.
Lozano presents a difficult opponent, as he can certainly play within the channels or play outside along the wing, and he’ll certainly be a key focal point that El Tri will try and utilize during the game. How Cannon or Dest respond to this matchup will certainly also help the pair in future USMNT call-ups.
Aaron Long v. Raul Jimenez
Long, subject to transfer rumors from West Ham, will likely be battling with Wolves star forward Raul Jimenez all evening. Jimenez has taken his game to a new level, turning into a consistent scorer and great striker for Wolves. He’s a rare breed of a physical target forward, who also has excellent technical ability on the ball.
For Long, he’s adept at positioning and reading the game from his time as a central midfielder growing up and his transition to centerback with the New York Red Bulls. He’ll have to be on his toes, anticipating passes into Jimenez’s feet or his head, as well as win long-balls in Jimenez’s direction. If the USMNT can keep Jimenez quiet in front of goal, it bodes well for the final score.