The night before MEXmas

....what IS it with me and post titles this week? I should be shot for that one.

Buffalo Soldier beat me to the LA Times article about the Latino US fans. It's a wonderful piece, and it sure makes up for the superficial work Grahame Jones did today previewing the game. C'mon, Grahame. If I wanted vague opinions wrapped in fluff, I'd read my own blog.

Anyway, go read it. Maybe after the Mexico game, in the down time before the MLS season, we can talk about it a little more in depth. But notice that writer Hector Tobar and Angel Soto, the US supporters, have Guatemalan ancestry, while Joel Aceves and his family come from Mexico. Much like a spider monkey, therein hangs a tale.

I've been trying to get all the information I can about Mexico for tomorrow's game - the problem is, nearly everything seems to be written in this kind of...I don't know how to describe it. It's sort of like Latin, but it's as if it's being written by people who have been cut off from the Roman Empire for about fifteen hundred years - I can't make head or tail out of it. I will never not find this joke funny, so don't bother complaining.

I like Front Page Pal texmex's coverage, with one complaint. It's not how the goalkeeper compares against the other goalkeeper, it's how the goalkeeper and defense matches up against the attack, and vice versa. Ochoa doesn't have to stop shots against Tim Howard. Texmex, the Fighting Talkers, and everyone covering this game have focused like a diamond bullet to the brain - the US is in Mexico's heads like the leech Khan put in Chekhov's ear.

As with all mental blocks, that's true...right up until it isn't anymore. Was a time when the US went the odd decade without beating Mexico anywhere. Was a time when no one went into Azteca and won. Was a time when Spain could never win a major trophy.

Well, I'm not worried about the weather. I'm not worried about the past, which like Mexico, is another country. And if the US assumes they're already in Mexico's heads, El Tri will hand them theirs.

It's a good thing the US is a better team right now. That's not always going to be true, but at least it'll be true tomorrow.

The US is a little simpler to figure out - just think, what's the most conservative, least risky lineup I can put out there? That will almost certainly be: Howard; Hejduk, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Pearce; Donovan, Bradley, Kljestan, Beasley; Dempsey, Ching.

I have listened attentively to those who insist Jozy should start ahead of Ching, and while I agree, Ching played well in a US jersey a couple of weeks ago, while Jozy has had minimal playing time since leaving New Jersey. Bob is not repeat not going to take any chances here. Ching is the safe choice. It seems insane saying Hejduk is a safer choice than anyone, and if this were against Trinidad or even Costa Rica, I'd say go with Wynne. Mexico is different.

And yeah, I hate Donovan on the wing, and I know Dempsey plays on the wing for Fulham. I still think Bradley keeps Clint up top and Landon on the side. Because however much we might hate it, it's worked.

Say...the US should be pretty easy to scout at this point, and holds no surprises whatsoever. Mexico, meanwhile, has a whole lot of new, exciting players. You would think Bob would be at a fairly significant tactical disadvantage regarding...oh, wait, it's only Sven-Goran Eriksson. Or, as I like to call him, Sven-Goran Tobefired.

Was a time when Mexico's rosters were downright comforting in their predictability - one big, big superstar playing in La Liga, eight guys from Chivas, eight guys from America, and four or five guys from whoever had just slapped the crap out of Chivas and/or America to win the latest championship.

Nowadays, there's a diaspora of young Mexican talent, and it looks awfully familiar to those of us who remember Yanks Abroad being thirty names next to thirty different clubs followed by "DNP." Theoretically, this should have the same benefit as Americans skipping over the ocean does - more homegrown players coming up through the ranks to take the place of the emigrants, and more total players in the pool.

The problem is, of course, the growing pains. Who knew "Nery Castillo" was Spanish for Freddy Adu? Who knew "Dos Santos" was Spanish for Eddie Johnson? Who knew "Sinha" was Portuguese for "Regis"? It's kind of like watching "Cannonball Run" on Channel 52 - it sounds different, but it's definitely familiar.

The difference is the direction the federation went with the coach. Mexico went for the foreign name that American fans demanded from Sunil Gulati, and now Sunil looks like some kind of Ivy League professor. When your talent goes from the youth ranks to parts unknown - seriously, the Ukraine? Was Castillo hoping to find the ninja guru who taught Dema Kovalenko all he knows? - it helps to have a national team coach intimately familiar with the talent pool. That goes double when a bunch of your starters get hurt and suspended. Instead, Sven is showing the genius that made Manchester City what it is today.

Here's my guess at the Mexico lineup:

Sanchez, and let's stop right there. Mexico needs fresh blood worse than Dracula at this point, and they're still hoping Osvaldo's finally going to have a productive game in Columbus. But Eriksson doesn't dare put in anyone less experienced, even if his best experience is at giving up goals to underqualified Americans.

Salcido, Marquez, Galindo, Osorio in the defense, probably. Same problem here. It's led by Rafa, all of whose worst moments in life were against the guys with the white shirts, ugly crests and horrible anthem. Eriksson can't drop him, not by a long shot - but he's going to let someone through, and Sanchez won't be able to cover. And that's the high quality guys on the Mexico defense.

Eriksson's best hope is to damn the torpedoes. Three midfielders - Pardo, Sinha, Augusto. If he wins, it won't matter that he started naturalized citizens. If he loses, it still won't matter. I'm not getting a big "Yes, but at least we got our asses kicked with native-born players!" vibe from our friends to the south. This works if Bradley tells his central midfielders to go defensive and conservative. This doesn't work if Donovan ignores Bradley and takes over the game. But if Donovan is feeling it, even five midfielders aren't going to help.

And hell, turn the young guns loose. If they're that good, well, they're going to have to beat Bocanegra, Gooch and Howard at some point. Work the wings - Hejduk is too old, Pearce is too young. Make Beasley, Kljestan and Donovan defend, if possible. Mexico isn't going to win in any case if Pearce and Frankie have good games tomorrow, so might as well be damned for overzealousness than cowardice. Nery and Dos Santos could really use a career jumpstart, and Ochoa is hot - so why choose between them? At least it's not Borgetti and Fonseca yet again.

In theory, this is a ridiculously easy game to predict. US at home, only Cherundolo missing. Mexico is missing a ton of players, and all that young talent up top has had no consistent guidance for either country or club. It's just too early for the theoretical Golden Generation. Meanwhile, Landon Donovan, the Mexicutioner, is playing the very best soccer of his eventful life. You almost can't blame Eriksson for sneezing this one.

But then again, the US almost didn't nuke Nagasaki.