Opportunity knocks: The United States could officially qualify for World Cup 2014 with a win tonight against rival Mexico
Sep 10, 2013, 7:30 AM EDT
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A tremendous double dip of opportunity stands before the United States national soccer team Tuesday night in Ohio.
Qualifying for a World Cup is clearly the be-all, end-all in world soccer, the dream-maker that defines individual careers and helps assign rank to the game’s global order.
Booking official passage to World Cups has become a quadrennial U.S. highlight, and officially nailing the high-stakes target is always a moment to breath it all, to ceremonially harvest the fruits of three years labor. That could all happen tonight.
And then there is the rivalry with Mexico, a bit of a fallen giant at the moment, reeling from a weekend coaching change and teetering too close to the unfamiliar cliff of World Cup elimination. Every U.S. player, coach and supporter, even those feeling a touch of empathy, relishes the opportunity to sock El Tri in the nose at every possible chance.
So that’s the double dose of opportunity when U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s and his national team kicks off tonight from Crew Stadium, the chosen venue now for more than a decade for these critical World Cup qualifiers against Mexico. Game time at the 24,000-seat home of the Columbus Crew is 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, in Spanish on UniMas).
The Americans are in great shape in the six-team final-stage CONCACAF group, from which three teams qualify for Brazil, with a fourth heading into a play-in series against New Zealand. Klinsmann’s team will make it official with a win tonight, coupled with a Honduras win or tie at home against Panama.
Klinsmann badly wants to seal the deal in Columbus and was upset about Friday’s loss in Costa Rica, about dropping an opportunity move closer to the finish line there. “You do not want to wait,” he said. “You want to [qualify] at the next possible chance. Knowing what Mexico is going through, but we have to look this purely from our end, and we have got to secure our points, and make sure nobody is getting nervous about it.”
U.S. Soccer federation leaders leave money on the table by not staging U.S.-Mexico at a larger venue. But smaller facilities allow organizers to better control ticket sales, helping to ensure a pro-American crowd. Plus, there’s that increasingly meaningful history; The United States defeated Mexico in Columbus, sometimes famously so, en route to World Cup qualification in 2001, 2005 and 2009.
“We have history here, and for soccer in our country that not always the case,” injured U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said Monday. “So for us to walk into a stadium where there is history, it’s a special feeling. The people in Columbus, in this part of the United States, they love soccer, they love our team, the love supporting soccer in the United States.
“So when we come here, when we step out on the field, there is an overwhelming feeling of American support. When you play against Mexico, when you play in these games where so much is on the line, that can push us. That can help the bar swing our way.”
U.S. defender/midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (pictured above) called the Columbus effect the team’s “12th man on the field.” Beasley, who has been around the team since before the 2002 World Cup, knows better than most that hasn’t always been the case for U.S. matches.
Even with such slanted history, this contest is painfully difficult to predict. Both teams have significant holes to fill. For the United States, that starts with Bradley, the most indispensable U.S. man these days. But with three key figures out due to yellow card accumulation, Klinsmann also has holes to fill at center back and striker, plus looming decisions at two pesky trouble spots, left and right back.
Still, if you put the United States problems on the table and then look at Mexico’s mangled pile-up of issues, you’ll take the U.S. set. Mexico has lineup issues and an ongoing inability to score goals, for starters, plus the comprehensive turmoil of a coaching change with just three matches remaining in final stage of World Cup qualifying.
Last Friday’s loss at home to Honduras was the final straw for Mexican manager Jose Manuel de la Torre, who was replaced within hours by assistant Luis Fernando Tena. How El Tri will react – motivated by the coaching change, or stuck in the same funk, with the same set of players and most of the same coaching staff? – really is anybody’s guess.
Klinsmann and his players warned that Mexico remains a dangerous team, with talent throughout the lineup, even if they haven’t put the pieces together in the best way possible. U.S. forward Clint Dempsey says the players don’t see Mexico as “vulnerable.”
“Mexico is a team that has quality, and we need to prepare that way,” Clint Dempsey said. “Every game at home is a must-win, you have to get those points at home to get to a World Cup.
“Getting to the World Cup is the most important thing, no matter how we do it. But you don’t want to wait ‘til the last game, wanting other teams to do you a favor because you weren’t able to get the job done. So we liked to get it wrapped up as soon as we can.”
May 4, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT
Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey provided all the scoring Arsenal needed in a dominant first half, making it a comfortable victory in the end.
May 4, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Our first repeat winner as MLS Player of the Week, Fabian Castillo is in scary-good form right now.
May 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The stars of Week 9 are recognized as MLS’s standout performers. Giovinco, Oba and the Dallas duo highlight this star-studded cast.
May 4, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Twenty-two players have hit the pitch for Chelsea so far this season. Let’s grade them out in order of Premier League import.
May 4, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
But what does that mean? If you’re reading it like we are, Marotta has not ruled out accepting a mega-millions offer for Pogba.
May 4, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
Laurent Koscielny makes his 200th appearance for Arsenal, which seeks to move into second place in the Premier League standings.
May 4, 2015, 12:55 PM EDT
Inside: some keys to the fortunes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus as the first legs begin this week.
May 4, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT
Arsenal still holds the inside track in the race for second place in the Premier League.
May 4, 2015, 11:11 AM EDT
Now, when United prepares for a home match, it can prepare for everything but the crowd.
May 4, 2015, 10:22 AM EDT
The Magpies have allowed multiple goals in all but two matches of the losing streak, and have dropped to just two points shy of the drop zone.
May 4, 2015, 9:39 AM EDT
Chelsea are the champions of England, and anyone holding a gripe with the Blues’ title simply harbors some other form of resentment for the London club.
May 4, 2015, 8:34 AM EDT
The 24-year-old right back has long been behind Dani Alves in Barca’s pecking order. Alves is out of contract this summer, but the 31-year-old is still wanted by Barcelona.
May 4, 2015, 7:49 AM EDT
Greaves also played for Chelsea, AC Milan and West Ham United during the prime of his career.
May 3, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
Sour grapes from a manager who just lost his trophy.
May 3, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
One miss and you’re out. That’s the Louis van Gaal way.
May 3, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
The combination of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins was too much to handle for NYCFC as the duo ran rampant at Yankee Stadium.
May 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT
Chelsea may have just won the title, but Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino are already looking ahead to next season.
May 3, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
John Carver is almost certainly on his way out at Newcastle United, but how quickly will the club make changes?
May 3, 2015, 7:03 PM EDT
It was far from pretty for Sporting KC, but three points is three points, as they say.
May 3, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Catch up on all of Sunday’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.
- Hull City 1-3 Arsenal: Gunners dominant in first half, cruise past Tigers 0
- MLS Player of the Week — Week 9: FC Dallas’ Fabian Castillo 0
- MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 9 0
- Watch Live: Hull City vs. Arsenal (Lineups and Live Stream) 0
- Five things to look out for in UEFA Champions League semifinals 2
- Newcastle United standing by Carver through final matches of relegation battle 0