February 11, 2009
By Michael Lewis
READY FOR SOME FUTBOL?
U.S. vs. Mexico in a big, big WCQ
Columbus, Ohio -- It may not be the cold or even snowy weather that was expected when the game originally was booked, but the U.S. National Team has Mexico right where wants its foes for tomorrow's World Cup qualifier -- Columbus Crew Soccer Stadium.
The Americans have to hope that the stadium and its incredible home unbeaten streak will play with the Mexicans' heads again. They have won a pair of qualifiers over their archrivals in Columbus -- in 2001 and 2005 -- by 2-0 scores. Just as important, they own a 10-game unbeaten streak on U.S. soil against the Mexicans that dates back to last century -- March 13, 1999.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley felt there is a psychological advantage to playing in Columbus.
"For the guys who have played in those games there is a good feeling about playing here," he said via conference call earlier this week. "They enjoy the crowd that comes and roots us on. The fact that it’s a smaller stadium really ensures that the atmosphere on the inside of the stadium is great. . . . When you play this time of year, the fact is that it’s going to be a fast field and a fast game. When you play at night and the field is quick, it is really the kind of game that players get excited for. They all knew that would be part of Columbus and that’s certainly a good edge for us."
The game kicks off the final CONCACAF round of 10 games, which stretch through Oct. 14. The top three teams from the group, which includes Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, El Salvador and Honduras, will qualify for South Africa. The fourth-place side will meet the fifth-place South American team for a WC berth.
Bradley faces some challenges. He has several key Euro-based players who haven't been playing regularly lately finding their form. Combine that with rusty players from MLS who are just getting into shape.
"Yes, that is a concern," he said. "Those are decisions that we make as a staff and sometimes in a training session, you don’t always get a great answer. But you get a gut feeling. In other cases you’re going on past experiences and a track record."
The Mexicans must cope with their own problems. They have won only once in six games. After barely squeaking through the semifinal round, coach Sven-Goran Eriksson finds himself on the hot seat as the media has been calling for his head six months into the job. If he is axed, it certainly won't be the first time a Mexican coach is shown the door after losing to the U.S. Miguel Mejia Baron (1995) and Bora Milutinovic (1997) have been among the casualties.
Mexico also has some problems with its forwards not getting enough placing time across the Atlantic.
“We are going to prove on the field that we are better,” striker Carlos Ochoa was quoted by Reuters. “This U.S. dominance has to end, we have to support Eriksson with a good result and by playing a good game.”