Tim Howard’s most recent outing against Mexico was a painful one. It was uncomfortable for the USA as well.
The Colorado Rapids goalkeeper departed last November’s opening game of the Hexagonal after 40 minutes, with a serious groin injury. The USA were stunned by a late winner from Rafael Marquez.
That 2-1 loss in Columbus was the first of two successive defeats for the US. It was the start of a four-month rehabilitation process for Howard.
His return to the Rapids’ lineup came at New York Red Bulls on March 11, when he put in a Team of the Week performance. He stepped back into the international spotlight 13 days later, for the 6-0 crushing of Honduras, and the start of the USA’s recovery.
Thursday’s 2-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, coupled with results elsewhere, has lifted the USA up to third in the six-team standings, and into the automatic qualification places for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.
But they know that Commerce City and Mexico City are worlds apart. Mexico are 7-1-2 against the USA inside Azteca, and the majority of the 87,000 expected fans will be passionately backing El Tri. The USA’s only win in hostile territory came in an international friendly on August 15, 2012. Howard wore the captain’s arm-band that day as the US escaped with a 1-0 win thanks to Michael Orozco.
“We know it’s going to be tough,” said Howard after the win over T&T. “It’s always tough against those guys. We need a result, a good performance, a resilient performance, and a result - either a point, or three - will stand us in very good stead coming back home in September.”
Following Sunday’s showdown, the USA will have four games remaining in their bid to automatically qualify. They host Costa Rica (September 1) and Panama (October 6), and have trips to Honduras (September 5) and Trinidad and Tobago (October 10).
After five rounds of the Hex, Mexico sit top of the standings with a 4-0-1 record. The only points dropped came from a 0-0 draw in Panama in game two. To date, at home, they have beaten Costa Rica (2-0) and Honduras (3-0). The only goal given up in five games was the effort from John Brooks in game one.
The rivalry is rated as one of the most intense in world soccer and, having gone 2-0-1 since the ousting of Jürgen Klinsmann, the US will take extra special delight in denting El Tri’s home record while continuing their own rehabilitation.
Coverage of Mexico versus the USA is on FS1, Univision and UDN, with a 6.30 p.m. MT start.
Elsewhere, Mekeil Williams and T&T take their now desperate need for points to Costa Rica on Sunday. T&T sit bottom of the Hex on three points from five games.
Both Howard and Williams should return to Colorado in time for next Saturday’s home game with Portland Timbers (7:30 p.m. - TICKETS).