USMNT vs. Mexico: Top Storylines and Predictions for 2023 Nations League
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The United States men’s national team’s Concacaf Nations League semifinal against Mexico has one big storyline surrounding it.
The expected USMNT debut of striker Folarin Balogun should happen on Thursday night inside Allegiant Stadium.
Balogun chose the United States over England in May, and Thursday will mark the first time he will don the red, white and blue.
The 21-year-old immediately upgraded the American depth at the position. He finished in a tie for fourth in the Ligue 1 Golden Boot race while on loan at Reims from Arsenal in the recently concluded French season.
The USMNT needs to continue its strong defensive form from the Nations League group stage to allow Balogun or a teammate to win the game with one strike and advance to the final against either Panama or Canada.
Folarin Balogun Expected to Make USMNT Debut
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Balogun is the primary player USMNT fans have talked about leading up to Thursday’s game.
His commitment to the U.S. filled a gaping void at striker that the team had been searching everywhere to fill.
The USMNT scored just one goal by a true striker at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and that came from Haji Wright when it it lost 3-1 to the Netherlands in the round of 16.
There are plenty of fascinating prospects in the American talent pool, but none have developed into the true No. 1 forward yet, which is why Balogun’s recruitment was so important.
Had Balogun chose to represent England at the senior international level, he may have waited behind the likes of Harry Kane for a few more years before he got his chance.
Balogun is an automatic starter for the current iteration of the USMNT, and he should receive the start up top on Thursday.
Only Kylian Mbappé, Alexandre Lacazette and Jonathan David scored more goals than Balogun in Ligue 1 during the 2022-23 campaign.
A goal on his USMNT debut would skyrocket the already-high expectations for what Balogun can contribute to the program.
USMNT Looking to Extend Unbeaten Streak Against Mexico
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The USMNT owns a five-game unbeaten run against Mexico dating back to the 2021 Concacaf Nations League final.
The Americans beat El Tri in the Nations League and Concacaf Gold Cup finals two summers ago and then rounded out the year with a home victory in World Cup qualifying.
Mexico played the USA to a scoreless draw in the reverse fixture of World Cup qualifying in 2022 and then to a 1-1 result in an April 2023 friendly that featured a bunch of fringe players for both teams.
Mexico has not beaten the USMNT since a friendly in September 2019. El Tri’s last competitive win over the Americans came in the Gold Cup final in July 2019.
No one is exactly sure how either team will play on Thursday because Mexico is playing its biggest game under new manager Diego Cocca, who arrived in February from Tigres.
The Americans are on their second interim manager, B.J. Callaghan, as they continue their search to replace Gregg Berhalter. Anthony Hudson was the interim boss to start 2023, but he took a job in Qatar with Al-Markhiya SC.
Both teams are in flux at the moment, but the uncertainty on either side may go away once they step on the field on Thursday because of how intense the rivalry can be.
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United States 1, Mexico 0
Thursday’s contest may not be the most beautiful soccer match you have ever seen.
The Americans will rely on their defensive strengths to contain Mexico, while Balogun and the other attackers work out their in-game chemistry.
The USMNT conceded more than once on a single occasion in its last six competitive matches between the World Cup and the Nations League group stage.
Callaghan should not change much stylistically as the USMNT interim boss, and that should allow the back line, led by Walker Zimmerman and Antonee Robinson, to play with confidence against Mexico’s top attackers.
El Tri has a single player in its current squad, Uriel Antuna, who has a double-digit goal tally in international play.
Santiago Giménez, who scored 15 Eredivisie goals for Feyenoord, is Mexico’s most-dangerous threat, and Thursday could be the first time he makes a major impact on the international stage.
The USMNT may take some time to figure out its attacking rhythm playing with Balogun for the first time, so a goal may not come until the second half. But as long as the defense is sturdy, it can win the game 1-0.