By Michelle Kaufman
A sellout crowd of 92,000 will pack the Rose Bowl Saturday night for the latest edition of the USA vs. Mexico rivalry. This time, the clash, being called the CONCACAF Cup, is for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, a tune-up for the 2018 World Cup.
The crowd is expected to be at least half Mexican, so the U.S. team will not benefit from home-field advantage.
The Americans are underdogs after a disappointing summer in which they were upset by Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals and then played poorly in a 4-1 exhibition loss to Brazil. It was the team’s worst Gold Cup performance in 15 years.
Former captain Landon Donovan, who was cut by Klinsmann before the 2014 World Cup, suggested to ESPN that Klinsmann should be fired if the U.S. team loses on Saturday.
"We had a very poor summer with bad results in the Gold Cup," said Donovan. "The last game against Brazil was probably the worst game I've seen them play under Jurgen ... Anywhere else in the world, if this coach had those results, and they lose this game against Mexico, they'd be fired.’
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said after the Gold Cup that Klinsmann’s job was safe. He is under contract through 2018.
Klinsmann is 3-0-3 against Mexico since he took over as coach. Overall, he has a .734 winning percentage, and has led the U.S. team to road wins at Germany, Italy, Mexico and Netherlands.
Mexico is coming off a Gold Cup win and the firing of coach Miguel Herrera. The team is loaded with talent, despite the injury to Giovani Dos Santos of the L.A. Galaxy, who will miss the game.
Boca Raton native Jozy Altidore told reporters he is eager to finally play in a big game against Mexico. He hurt his hamstring during the 2011 Gold Cup and missed the final.
“Always something happens to me, or I get injured or something,’’ Altidore said. “So knock on wood I’m OK, and I get the chance if the coach gives it to me on Saturday to take part in a special event.’’
U.S. forward Clint Dempsey has a long history with Mexico.
“I grew up in Texas, and I played with a lot of kids from Mexico that went to my high school, and we were always talking trash,” Dempsey said. “It’s just that competitive rivalry, being so close in proximity to Mexico. It’s just exciting to have big games like that and want to win so bad. I think both countries want to be able to flex their muscles, and want to be able to have bragging rights.”
Despite the criticism, Klinsmann remains optimistic.
"I'm very confident about it," Klinsmann told ESPN. "With all the respect to the Mexican team -- there's no doubt that they have a lot of quality -- I'm confident that if our group sticks together and works with a tremendous amount of energy and chemistry, we're going to beat them."