Colum­bus is ‘home’ for U.S.

Fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing starts Fri­day vs. ri­val Mex­ico

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Mitch Stacy

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.”

JAY LAPRETE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

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.

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