SmorgasBorg: Could Sept. 10 spell the end of USA-Mexico in Columbus?
On Thursday, the U.S. Soccer Federation awarded yet another USA vs. Mexico World Cup qualifier to Columbus Crew Stadium. Finally. The suspense was just too much.
Let's be honest: Although the USSF considered other venues for USA vs. Mexico, it was difficult to imagine this match being played anywhere else in the United States.
"It's a no-brainer to have it there," former USMNT and Crew legend Frankie Hejduk told Thursday's edition of ExtraTime Radio. "Mexico is our No. 1 opponent and, if you can beat them consistently anyplace, that's a good sign."
But exactly what is it about Columbus that makes it a "no-brainer"? Aside from the active streak of three straight 2-0 qualifying wins against the Americans' toughest and most hated rival, is there a good reason why this should be such an automatic?
Many talk about the weather factor in Columbus and how it plays in the USA's favor. And yet it was a comfortable 53 degrees in Feb. 2009 and a warm 74 degrees in Sept. 2005. So much for the Guerra Fría (Cold War), especially with another September date this year.
Is it the Crew Stadium atmosphere that has pushed the USMNT over the top? You might be able to argue it, but I doubt El Tri are really intimidated by a 25,000-sold out, pro-US crowd. Plus, there are newer stadiums that transmit even more intensity and noise compared to Columbus while still keeping a pro-US vibe.
So what exactly is this famous home-field edge at Crew Stadium when there are no natural or artificial elements at play? No altitude, no smog, no peculiar surface, no shaking locker room ceilings, no bags of urine being hurled from the stands.
Let's face it: U.S. Soccer is banking purely on Crew Stadium's psychological edge. And Hejduk, who played in two of the matches, agrees.
"We really felt more at home than we ever did and on top of that it's a psychological factor," Hejduk continued. "We were in their heads and couldn't wait for the snow and rain and cold. Sept. 10 probably won't be [cold], but we have that mental edge and any type of edge you can get when the teams are this tactically and technically close."
But what happens when Mexico manages to win or even pull out a draw against the USA, perhaps even on Sept. 10? Is that the end of the "edge"? Although Hejduk disagrees, anything less than a US win and Columbus wouldn't be nearly such an automatic when 2017 rolls around. And by then it will be even harder to pass over places like Seattle, Portland and Kansas City for this match.
"If we don't get the result [on Sept. 10], and odds are we will – let's stay positive, I still think it's an edge," Hejduk said about Columbus. "The players feel comfortable against Mexico in Crew Stadium, for whatever reason."
But with the cutthroat scrap for USMNT matches among the multitude of new soccer stadiums that have sprouted around the country, "for whatever reason" is probably not going to cut it anymore for Crew Stadium.
And if Sept. 10 does represent the final chapter of USA-Mexico in Columbus, we'll always have "Dos a Cero," a phrase that will forever be identified with a very particular era of American soccer: the USA's first successful spell as CONCACAF's top nation in the modern era. And it all materialized in MLS' first soccer-specific stadium, the symbolic foundation for the high expectations heaped on Klinsmann's squad today.
And by the way, if the USA is as far along as everyone imagines from that momentous Feb. 28 back in 2001, then beating Mexico shouldn't have to depend on mind games. Or Columbus Crew Stadium.