World Cup Qualifying
Confidence, Predictions, and One Really Big Soccer Game
June 11, 2017
MEXICO CITY—"We're going to try to win the game tomorrow. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying it."
Bruce Arena's right. There's nothing wrong with saying that the United States men's national team is going to try to win against Mexico in Estadio Azteca on Sunday night.
The coach's comments game during a Saturday afternoon press conference in response to a question about Christian Pulisic's bold statement—"We’re going to come out with a win there, too"—following the Americans' 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday.
In the ensuing 48 hours, those words became a talking point, a debate about confidence and over-confidence, youth and propriety. It's all rather ridiculous, really. It's not a big deal that an 18-year-old phenom, coming off a two-goal game, thinks the U.S. could win against Mexico. His coach believes that confidence is beneficial.
Sure, Mexico has clearly demonstrated that they have been the best team in the Hex to date, Arena said, adding this: "In order to beat them, we have to have confident players, fit players, and a little bit of luck." This is how you win any soccer game. Arena should know; he's won many. He talked about his team trying to win, answered a few more questions, then went out to practice. As his players wandered out to the field, he paced off the distance between the 18-yard box and the sideline, just to be sure. If you're going to win, you need to pay attention to the little things.
"I thought it was crazy that Mexico could beat the United States in Columbus, Ohio," he said in response to a Mexican journalist's question about whether the Americans could come home with three points. "And maybe you think it's crazy that the United States could beat Mexico in Mexico City. That's why we play the game."
The players know the difficult task they are facing, but they clearly trust their coach.
"It's definitely going to be a tough game, playing a rival like Mexico and obviously playing here in a huge stadium full of these fans but we have a plan that was implemented by Bruce and we're going to do what we can to get the result that we need," Kellyn Acosta said. "I'm going to go out and treat it like another game. Connect my passes, help my teammates, and help us win."
The FC Dallas star was preparing for the altitude: "The biggest thing is getting over that first hump. It's very imperative that you have a good warm up, get the lungs going. After 30 minutes, we get the second wind and go from there. You kind of need to overwork in the warm up to get your wind going, getting your lungs used to it."
Darlington Nagbe may or may not start on Sunday evening but he's brought a little something different to the team. He downplayed his influence somewhat, saying "I'm just another guy who's comfortable in possession." But then he reinforced something we all saw against T&T. "At the same time, I can eliminate players off the dribble and find the final pass."
Does Nagbe feel confident that he could do that against Mexico? "I don't know," he said. "We'll see. This is probably the best team I will have faced coming into the team but hopefully I can."
OK, but can the U.S. win? "Definitely," he said. "We can win every game that we play."
Noah Davis is a New York City-based writer and the Deputy Editor of American Soccer Now. Follow him on Twitter.