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USA-Mexico, Act III in Columbus
by Ridge Mahoney, December 17th, 2008 6:45AM



Contrary to reports from ESPN Deportes and several other sources, the U.S. quadrennial qualifying bash against Mexico is headed back to Columbus Crew Stadium.

The North American neighbors renew their rivalry on Feb. 11 with the kickoff time to be decided, depending on television arrangements and availability of snowcats and other bad weather equipment.

Salt Lake City and Seattle were cited as possible venues last week, though the odds that U.S. Soccer would risk playing a qualifier against Mexico on grass laid over FieldTurf at Qwest Field in a venue that drew a crowd of 56,000 for a Mexico-China friendly last year defied logic.

The Utah venue made more sense if U.S. Soccer again wished to "ice" the Mexican team, which worked well in a 2-0 qualifying win at Crew Stadium in February 2001. The USA. beat Mexico by the same score during the 2005 Hexagonal in the same venue and in much more temperate setting. The victory on Sept. 3 of that year clinched qualification for the 2006 World Cup.

"Our first priority is to give our team the best chance to be successful and achieve the goal of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and Columbus Crew Stadium has always been a great venue for the national team," said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati in a press release. "We carefully considered our options, and ultimately we felt that playing in Columbus is the right fit for this match."

Prior to the announcement, Coach Bob Bradley noted he would prefer not to play on a temporary grass field, and that the desire to play on a surface conducive to decent soccer had to be balanced with maximizing the home-field advantage.

"We all know how important it is to win your home games, no matter who the opposition is," he said.  "We certainly don't want to play with a foot of snow on the ground or have conditions so bad we can't play the game. But at the end of the day we want to give our team the best chance to win and that's what we base our decisions on."

Seattle and Salt Lake City are in the mix as venues for the Gold Cup to be played next July. Possibly a dozen venues, including some with FieldTurf, could be utilized in that tournament, according to a source.

Television conflicts may force the USA-Mexico qualifier in Columbus onto one of the network's lesser lights, as both ESPN and ESPN2 are frozen solid with college basketball on mid-winter Wednesday nights.

As per current schedules, both networks are full-court pressed on Feb. 11 until 11 p.m. Eastern, which is why a Western venue made some sense; an 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. kickoff would translate to 11 p.m. on the Right Coast, and of course, practically ensure that whichever basketball game preceding Guerra Fria would run well into overtime and trigger the dreaded Curse of JIP (joined-in-progress).

Ticket announcements are pending.

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