Columbus is ‘home’ for U.S.
Final round of qualifying starts Friday vs. rival Mexico
The U.S. men’s soccer team is back in Columbus this week, where it enjoys a distinct homefield advantage.
MAPFRE Stadium, the 20,000-seat site of the MLS Columbus Crew, on Friday night will host the biggest international soccer game on American soil in three years: U.S. vs. Mexico in a qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup.
Unlike in some other U.S. venues, MAPFRE will attract a vocal crowd that is all-in for the Americans.
“There’s just history here,” veteran U.S. defender Matt Besler said. “The fans have always been supportive of us, and I think it’s changing now that it’s not just people from this area. There are people from all over the country who are flying in to be a part of this game.”
The familiar spot a few miles west of sprawling Ohio State University and its 105,000-seat football stadium has been good to the Americans. The U.S. has never lost here in 11 games (8-0-3) and has beaten El Tri 2-0 in four consecutive home qualifiers, in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013.
“The majority of U.S. fans fill up that stadium. It’s incredible,” said U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, a MexicanAmerican who plays professionally in the Mexican league. “You don’t really get that anywhere else you go, so it’s definitely an advantage for us to play here in Columbus. It’s not the biggest stadium, it’s intimate but it’s loud, people are close to the pitch so it’s going to be great.”
Players began arriving Monday for training ahead of the match and know they will see a stadium bulging at its seams with American fans. U.S.-Mexico matches in the past years at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California; San Antonio, Texas; and Phoenix have attracted a good percentage of El Tri supporters.
“Here in Columbus, we know that one way or another, the majority are going to be our people,” said Mexican-American goaltender William Yarbrough, who also plays in the Mexican professional league. “We know of the great fans that Mexico has in the United States. So it’s also important to look for those venues where we know that the support is going to be 100 percent for us, this is one of them.”
Twenty-six players are at a training camp ahead of Friday’s game, the Americans’ opener in the 10-match final round of qualifying in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Twentythree players can dress for each game.
The top three nations qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and the No. 4 team advances to a playoff against the fifth-place Asian team for another berth.
Mexico has gone 12-1-2 since former Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls manager Juan Carlos Osorio took over in October 2015. The loss came in the form of a 7-0 quarterfinal defeat to Chile in Copa America Centenario in June. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s crew looks to make it five straight home World Cup Qualifying wins against Mexico.
“We know the crowd is going to be on our side,” said 20-year-old midfielder Lynden Gooch, who plays for Sunderland in the English Premier League. “They’re going to be our 12th man, as they say, and it’s going to be rocking. It’s going to a fierce rivalry. There’s a big three points at stake.”
In this Sept. 10, 2013 photo, United States fans cheer on their team during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. MAPFRE Stadium, home of the MLS Columbus Crew, is the site Friday night of the biggest international soccer game on American soil in three years: U.S. vs. Mexico in a qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup.