The Clean Sheet: US National Team Prepares for Azt

The Clean Sheet: US National Team Prepares for Azteca Two-StepForward Eddie Johnson is a rising star for the U.S. team. (Tony Quinn/MLS/WireImage.com) By Tino Palace / Special to MLSnet.com -The No. 1 film at the box office last weekend was a horror flick called "The Ring Two." Being a little squeamish I have seen neither the sequel nor the original but understand the plots have to do with a videotape that if watched leaves you um dead. And you thought watching Sylvester Stallone giving boxing tips on "The Contender" was the most painful viewing experience possible.This week it seems fitting that a movie designed to leave you quaking in your boots has swept the nation because nerves seem to be the order of the day for the build up to the big U.S.-Mexico game Sunday at Estadio Azteca. It was not that long ago when a U.S. national team heading to the lovely air of Mexico City would be the petrified party. Alas this time it is not the visitors who seem to be dreading the match despite having never beaten Mexico south of the 2-0 parallel. Instead it is the home side that seems to be the nervous lot which is exactly why I am predicting the U.S. boys will do the unthinkable and not just score a goal and not just get a result -- but will actually win at the Azteca. The only downside (and I hate to say it): the game really doesn't mean as much to the USA. But for Mexico's coach Ricardo Lavolpe he may be dusting off the resume by Monday afternoon. We'll come back to this. So why will the Yanks win? For one thing probably for the first time ever you get the feeling this team actually believes not only that it can win but it will. This is a team stacked with talented veterans (welcome back Claudio) who know what it takes to play on this stage and hungry youngsters (Eddie Johnson mucho gusto) falling over themselves to prove they are ready for the next level. Even The Bruce always guarded when speaking to the media used the word "swagger" this week to describe the culture of his side. This is a confident bunch and rightfully so -- they just don't lose much anymore. If you want the numbers they haven't lost in their last 16 games. Their CONCACAF streak is even more impressive as the Arena-men are undefeated in their last 31 matches against regional opponents. Furthermore and it seems strange but go ahead and say it out loud the U.S. gang owns Mexico this decade posting a 6-1-1 record against their border rivals. But for me one of the most important keys: the game just doesn't mean that much to the Yanks from a qualifying standpoint. With the big away win on Matchday One the U.S. bought themselves some serious breathing room as they are guaranteed three points from the first two away matches -- a fantastic start no matter what happens Sunday. Any points this weekend are pure gravy. Translation: they can go out and try to win the game without the pressure of being damaged by a loss. Overall the only harm this weekend could come from things thrown by the friendly fans at the Azteca. Landon you may want to consider playing in a motorcycle helmet. On the other side of the ball I am not the first one to write of a sense of nervousness about the build up from the Mexicans. Much has been noted about Lavolpe not only calling in all the big guns but refusing to release anyone for Copa Libertadores. The Mexican fans and the media alike just seem sick of the notion that they are gradually becoming second fiddle to the Americans in the region. The 2-0 loss to the U.S. on football's grandest stage in 2002 has left its mark and anything short of a win at Azteca Sunday will rub salt in that wound that may spell the beginning of the end for Lavolpe. So to review take a streaking and confident road team with nothing to lose who wants to win where they never have before and match then up against a home side needing a result to quiet the masses. You do the math. Now I don't want to detract from the importance of the match by saying the result is not the end of the world for the USA. In fact the media up here would seem to disagree as the lead-up to the match should be great ranging from a big Sports Illustrated preview to an ESPN "Outside the Lines" special. In fact on paper it looks huge. The two super powers of the region continuing one of international football's burgeoning rivalries in a rematch of the landmark World Cup showdown. Both teams in the top 10 of FIFA's all-important world rankings (which this month I understand were selected by the jury from the Robert Blake trial). But at the end of the day if the Yanks lay a big Easter egg on Sunday they just head to Birmingham Ala. take care of business against Guatemala and have six points from their first three matches. In other words The Bruce will still have his lads tasting the schnitzel in 2006 no matter what happens Sunday. So with all of the above the stage is set for a historic U.S. win on Sunday and I for one believe it is going to happen. In fact 2-0 sounds about right. And to our friends from down south that would be downright scary.The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs. Send any questions and comments to tcsresponses@yahoo.com.