March Madness and the USMNT’s Road to the Gold Cup

If the wild weekend in the NCAA college basketball tournament knocked you out of your office pool, you can still enjoy some quality team sports by checking out the U.S. men’s national soccer team battle in their version of March Madness. Two friendlies this month pit the national team against formidable European challengers, testing Jurgen Klinsmann’s ability to field a cohesive, goal-scoring squad. The matches are additional preparation for this summer’s Gold Cup. The first finds the team facing Denmark, currently in the No. 1 spot in Group 1 in the 2016 European Championships qualifying, on Wed. Mar. 25 before they head to Zurich to play Switzerland, a team that competed in the 2014 World Cup, on Mar. 31.

Julain Green

Julian Green will play in his first match this year for the national team when they face Denmark. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

With the continent as the backdrop, Klinsmann has the opportunity to select European-based players for the squad, many of whom were not in the U.S. January opening season camp. That includes John Brooks, who scored the winning goal in the first World Cup match vs. Ghana, Julian Green, who scored his first career World Cup goal in the Round of 16 loss to Belgium, and fellow German Americans who were on the World Cup roster, Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson. Also selected was Aron Johannsson, who has not played for the team since the first match of the World Cup when he came on to fill in for an injured Jozy Alitdore.

In this preview, from WorldSoccerTalk.com,

It’s the first chance of the year for Jurgen Klinsmann to get a look at most of his European based players in the national team setting. It also looks like Klinsmann will have his strongest squad since the World Cup, with 11 of the players on that World Cup team called into this camp.

A total of 23 players have been called in for this camp, but the headliners on the roster for the US are Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore, all of whom play in MLS. Seven MLS players were called in along with four from Liga MX and one from the NASL. The remaining 11 all come from European clubs.

And Bleacher Report offers advise to Klinsmann on how best to get the most out of his inexperienced players in a first-time national team setting.

Match time: 12 pm PDT

Firsts and Goals

Kickoff weekend in Major League Soccer earlier this month marked firsts for lots of players and teams. Two expansion teams, Orlando City, featuring the debut of Brazilian star Kaká, and New York City FC, met in Florida for their inaugural match and drew even at 1-1. Even more history was made when national team player Mix Diskerud, who signed with the club in the offseason, scored the first goal in New York City FC history in the 76th minute. And in their first match of the new season, reigning MLS Cup champions, the LA Galaxy beat the Chicago Fire 2-0.

But national team player Jozy Altidore made the most headlines after his re-entry into MLS as a member of the Toronto FC when he scored two goals in his debut. He was then promptly named MLS Player of the week.

Sold Out — USA vs. Mexico 

It’s real and it’s deep.The rivalry between the U.S. national team and the Mexican national team is one of the most heated in CONCACAF. And they will face off again this April 15, in San Antonio’s Alamodome for a sold out ‘amistoso.’ The teams have played each other since 1934, with the South of the Border neighbors having the winning advantage for decades. Teeth-gnashing upsets, including a loss to El Tri in the 2011 Gold Cup Final, have added to the already high levels of animosity. And the fact that in the last 20 years or so, the scales have been tipping more and more in favor of the U.S.

USA v MEX balls

‘Dos a cero’ prevailed in Sept. 2013, when the U.S. team toppled Mexico and clinched a berth in the World Cup. And it is no matter that the matches are held on U.S. soil or not. In all likelihood the majority of the fans in the Alamodome will be draped in Mexico’s bandera and colors.

In a report on the animosity between the two teams, FoxSports.com reveals the passion of the fans:

Many Mexicans see it as their birthright to be better at soccer than the United States. Americans can have baseball, basketball and football. The US can be more prosperous and dominate in all other arenas, and take more than half of Mexico’s territory in various wars and annexations. But soccer is theirs.”

Both teams are sure to play with equal parts pride and revenge. Should be a good one.

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