March 29, 2016
By Charles Cuttone
This is our house
COLUMBUS, Ohio—Perhaps U.S. Soccer should consider playing all their future World Cup qualifying games at MAPFRE Stadium.
After all, every soccer playing nation has a National Stadium. True, most of them are in the nation’s capital, but for the United States, Columbus has become the must-win game capital.
Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying win against Guatemala proves that. After turning in an embarrassing performance on the road Friday night in Guatemala, their first loss to the country since 1988, the Americans came out guns blazing in Columbus, turning in one of the most spirited performances under Jurgen Klinsmann in a long time.
Maybe it’s being in the Midwest, maybe it’s the generally inhospitable weather for Central American opponents, or maybe it’s the fact that the stadium was the first built by an MLS team, and the “Godfather of American Soccer,” Lamar Hunt.
No matter, it works.
Nine times since the stadium opened in 1999, the U.S. has played qualifying games at the house that Lamar built. They have never tasted defeat, winning seven games, including four dos-a-cero wins against Mexico, and drawing two. The U.S. has only ever given up one goal in Columbus, that in 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica in 2004.
Some of those games are among the most epic in the history of the U.S. National Team, for instance La Guerra Fria, the first 2-0 win over Mexico, so dubbed because of the freezing temperatures.
No matter the weather, no matter the opponent, playing at MAPFRE (formerly Columbus Crew Stadium) is what the U.S. needs.
To a man, the players and the coach agree.
“It’s a great place to play for us. The stadium is tight, the field is always good, the people are right on top of the field. People get excited when we come through here, so in all ways it’s a great place for us to play,” said U.S. captain Michael Bradley.
Clint Dempsey, who scored his record setting 14th career World Cup qualifying goal on Tuesday, knows how special the place is.
“We get a great crowd, great energy kind of like the 12th man for us, with the history and everything, so it’s been a great for us, we have a lot of love for Columbus.”
Sure, the U.S. will probably draw a bigger crowd than the 20,624 announced Tuesday, for its next home qualifier, which will be played in Jacksonville, but it won’t get a better atmosphere.
“Everybody in the stadium, the American Outlaws, every single person who walked in here made it a special night, made it an atmosphere from the first second we walked on the field, we knew it was an American crowd that was going to push us on,” said Bradley.
“This is a special place for U.S. Soccer,” said Ethan Finlay.
So are most national stadiums for their national teams.