Can the US soccer team finally win in Mexico? – USA TODAY
Teenage American soccer phenom Christian Pulisic came through for Team USA again on Thursday.
USA TODAY Sports
MEXICO CITY — Everything changes whenever the United States men’s soccer team prepares to visit Mexico, its fiercest rival, but nothing more so than the way the players talk about it.
Tim Howard says a “sadistic” streak is a plus when facing not only Mexico’s national team, but also its passionate and noisy home fans. Michael Bradley is looking forward to “the right kind of hate,” in Sunday’s World Cup qualifying match at Estadio Azteca.
With five games remaining, Mexico, at 13 points, leads the CONCACAF group with the U.S. in third place at seven points. The top three teams advance to the World Cup in Russia next year.
“(These games) always meant a lot, but they are even more special now,” Howard, 38, told USA TODAY Sports. “I won’t have another chance to go to Azteca in my career, so this will be special.
“It’s fun. I’m sadistic so I like that. It is exciting because the other side of the fear factor is success and joy so we will hopefully have some of that.”
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Success has been limited at the famed Azteca, the only stadium to have hosted two World Cup finals. The U.S. has never won a competitive game here, although it did manage a 0-0 tie in a World Cup qualifier for the 2014 World Cup.
Television commitments mean Mexico no longer stages its games in the middle of the afternoon to maximize the visiting team’s level of discomfort. The air quality in the city has improved in recent years, while higher ticket prices have served to take some of the sting out of the home support base’s legendary ire.
Many members of the Mexico squad are now based in Europe, and therefore derive little or no benefit from the altitude.
For the U.S. players, however, there is no game that is more important, even without factoring in the need for points in the CONCACAF standings.
“There’s no doubt there’s respect there,” U.S. captain Bradley told mlssoccer.com recently. “There’s also admiration for their team and what they’ve been able to achieve in certain moments, how they’re able to play.
“But there is also absolutely the animosity, the right kind of hate, the burning desire to do anything to beat them.”
Mexico came within a whisker of missing the 2014 World Cup but is experiencing no such trouble this time around. A 3-0 victory at home to Honduras on Thursday put it five points clear at the top of the group. Another win against Bruce Arena’s Americans would essentially book qualification.
For the U.S., there is still work to be done. Thursday’s 2-0 win at home to Trinidad and Tobago was useful, yet Arena’s side remains just one point ahead of Panama after five games.
Losing to Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, in November after four straight 2-0 home wins in World Cup qualifiers against the old enemy was a bitter blow. Creating the program’s own slice of history by winning for the first time at Azteca in a meaningful match would be a welcome tonic.
“I don’t know if it is the best (chance to win there) but we are sure going to try,” Arena said. “Mexico has had an outstanding start and they are a great team. We all know playing in Azteca is very difficult. We can go there and relax and have a good tactical approach and try to come out of there with at least a point.”