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Columbus is still the right call
by Ridge Mahoney, February 9th, 2009 4PM

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Now that it seems conditions for the USA-Mexico Hexagonal opener on Wednesday will be cool and wet rather than frigid and bitter, there's been more questioning of U.S. Soccer's decision to stage the match in Columbus.

If you can't chill out the Mexican players, so goes the thinking in some circles, why bother? I counter with: To win.

In qualifying, you don't mess with success. There's more than weather playing on the minds of Mexican players.
Critics have forgotten that in addition to the 2-0 La Guerra Fria victory in February 2001, the USA also beat Mexico by the same score in much more temperate conditions in September, 2005. The latter victory, roared on by a mostly American crowd, clinched a 2006 World Cup spot with three qualifiers still to play.

Three years after beating Mexico in the 2002 World Cup, the Americans notched a spot in the next one by beating their biggest rival again. Those scenes of celebration will shine forever in the memories of those who attended or watched it on television, and the synergy of the fans and the field and the success can't automatically be replicated anywhere else.

There's a counter to the mind-game method. The logic goes that since Mexico can't beat the USA in the USA anyway, why not go for a big payday in a big stadium?

Prior to the venue being announced, U.S. Soccer took some heat for not placing the game in a large stadium regardless of demographics, to thus take the money a huge contingent of Mexican fans would produce.

Retort: That's what the federation and SUM do every year by staging a winter friendly in Texas or Arizona, and no, the U.S. Soccer executives and head coach Bob Bradley do not automatically chalk up three points for a qualifier against Mexico at home.

In two of those friendlies, played in Houston in 2003 and 2008, Mexico went home with a tie. As investment companies point out, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and a tie isn't the objective against Mexico at home.

There's an image issue as well. Even if they don't pelt the American players with cups of beer and bags of urine as occurred at the Los Angeles Coliseum during the 1998 Gold Cup, Mexican fans often whistle during the U.S. national anthem, as was the case at the 2007 Gold Cup final in Chicago. It wasn't deafening, but it was clearly audible.

If you pack a large stadium with 20,000 or 30,000 Mexican fans for an emotion-charged match, how will the images of jeering full sections play on ESPN2 during Rivalry Week? The image of soccer in this country still chafes under a "foreign" label, to say nothing of the immigration issue.

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, during his tenure with D.C. United, disdainfully labeled the Crew's former home, Ohio Stadium, as "perfect for Middle America." The scene has shifted to Columbus Crew Stadium, and since it was built, fans have flocked there from dozens of states for important games.

The symbolism is important. Crew Stadium was the first in a wave of facilities tailored to MLS teams. With a few exceptions, the U.S. players selected for the game have played there for the national team and/or their MLS teams. They know the dimensions, the surface, and the environment.

Tickets were bought in sufficient numbers during a private sale to maximize a homefield advantage that, like the result, isn't guaranteed. The small capacity helps drive those early buyers into action, and makes the place that messes with Mexican minds.

Columbus, not the midwinter cold, has done the business. Sticking with what works makes perfect sense.



0 comments
  1. John Hennigan jr
    commented on: February 9, 2009 at 6:56 p.m.
    i have a question about something else does sonny askew have chance for the us soccer hall of fame

  1. David Sirias
    commented on: February 9, 2009 at 7 p.m.
    Ok. No argument for now. But the game and the era will eventually pass by Crew Stadium for the Mexico Hexagonal. You are right. It's not the weather. In a decade or so, perhaps St Louis or Cleveland or Detroit. Indoors with grass brought in if need be. You can never go to the West Coast for Mexico because of the need to keep travel down for the Euro based players. Being somewhat centrally located is very important for fan access. Fans of the USA NATs that is. We will always be able to control and direct the tickets. It's just that in the future our fan base will be big enough to fill all but the biggest houses in the nation for this game.

  1. Paul Dueker
    commented on: February 9, 2009 at 8:52 p.m.
    I was @ the Gold Cup final in 2007 sitting behind the south goal. I can honestly say I heard no jeering during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner by the Mexican supporters.


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