Colum­bus is home-field weapon for U.S.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Mitch Stacy

COLUM­BUS, OHIO » The U.S. is back in Colum­bus this week, where it en­joys a dis­tinct home-field ad­van­tage.

MAPFRE Sta­dium, the 20,000-seat home of Ma­jor League Soc­cer’s Colum­bus Crew, hosts the Amer­i­cans’ fifth straight home World Cup qual­i­fier against Mex­ico.

The game has be­come known as “Dos a cero” fol­low­ing four straight U.S. wins by 2-0 scores.

“There’s just his­tory here,” Amer­i­can de­fender Matt Besler said ahead of Fri­day’s match. “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 Amer­i­cans are 8-0-3 at the venue, a few miles west of sprawl­ing Ohio State and its 105,000seat football sta­dium. The MLS sta­dium’s size al­lows the U.S. Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion to en­sure a pro-Amer­i­can crowd.

“The ma­jor­ity of U.S. fans fill up that sta­dium. It’s in­cred­i­ble,” said U.S. de­fender Omar Gon­za­lez, a Mex­i­can Amer­i­can who plays for Pachuca. “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. When the U.S. plays Mex­ico at larger venues such as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, a large per­cent­age of the crowd has been El Tri sup­port­ers.

“Here in Colum­bus, we know that one way or an­other, the ma­jor­ity are go­ing to be our peo­ple,” said backup goa­keeper Wil­liam Yar­brough, a Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can who plays for Leon. “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.”

The match is the opener of the 10-game fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing in the North and Cen­tral Amer­i­can and Caribbean re­gion. The top three na­tions qual­ify for the 2018 World Cup, and the No. 4 team ad­vances to a play­off against the fifth­place Asian team for an­other berth.

Mex­ico has gone 121-2 since for­mer Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls coach Juan Car­los Oso­rio took over in Oc­to­ber 2015 — the loss was a 7-0 quar­ter­fi­nal de­feat to Chile in Copa Amer­ica in June.

“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

United States fans cheer on their team dur­ing the first half of a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing soc­cer match against Mex­ico in Colum­bus, Ohio in 2013. 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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