Mexico’s new national team soccer coach Luis Fernando Tena attends a press conference last Saturday in Mexico City. Tena replaced former coach Jose Manuel De la Torre.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Alejandro Bedoya remembered back four years ago, when he walked onto the field with his American teammates to face Mexico at the Rose Bowl and saw the crowd of 93,000-plus.
“A sea of green,” the 26-year-old midfielder said, referring to the Mexican jersey color.
While American soccer fans are outnumbered by visiting supporters at many venues, the U.S. team has found a home at cozy Columbus Crew Stadium.
It’s become the traditional site of the Stars & Stripes’ World Cup qualifier against regional rival Mexico following 2-0 victories in 2001, 2005 and 2009.
And tonight the Americans hope to emulate their performance of four years ago, when they clinched a World Cup berth by beating El Tri.
“We have history here. And for soccer in our country, that’s not always the case,” said midfielder Michael Bradley, who will miss the match because of a sprained left ankle. “Soccer is still in its growing stages, and so for us to feel like we walk into a stadium and there’s history is a special feeling.”
Coming off a dismal 3-1 loss Friday at Costa Rica on Friday night, the U.S. can assure its seventh straight World Cup appearance with two games to spare if it beats Mexico and Honduras defeats or ties visiting Panama — a game that kicks off about the time the second half gets under way in Columbus.
Costa Rica (4-1-2) leads the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 14 points, one ahead of the U.S. (4-2-1), four in front of Honduras (3-3-1) and six in front of Mexico (1-1-5). Panama (1-2-4) has seven points, and Jamaica (0-4-3) is last.
The top three nations qualify for next year’s 32-nation field in Brazil, and the No. 4 finisher winds up in a playoff with New Zealand.
Mexico will be playing its first game since coach Chepo De la Torre was replaced by Luis Fernando Tena following Friday’s 2-1 defeat to Honduras at Azteca Stadium.
After this, the Americans play Jamaica at Kansas City, Kan., on Oct. 11 and finish four days later at Panama.
“You don’t want to be waiting until the last game and wanting other teams to do you a favor because you’re not able to get the job done,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. “So ideally, we’d like to get that wrapped up as soon as we can.”
The U.S. is 23-0-2 in home qualifiers since losing to Honduras in September 2001 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and 37-1-7 in qualifiers on American soil since losing to Costa Rica in 1985 at Torrance Calif.
The defeat to the Catrachos prompted then-coach Bruce Arena to pronounce: “Only in America, I guess, we’re fighting for a home-field advantage.”
Since the 2001 loss, the U.S. Soccer Federation has focused on selecting sites for home games likely to produce a pro-American crowd, sometimes giving up revenue that could have been collected at larger grounds.
Earlier qualifiers this year included a 1-0 win over Costa Rica at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver, a 2-0 victory over Panama at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field and a 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium outside Salt Lake City.
“If every time we came here, the crowd was great and we lost, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much,” American goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
“It’s a raucous crowd. There’s very few places in America that we can get a full house, a pro-U.S. crowd, a city that’s really hungry for national team games. This is probably one of three or four venues that we have the ability to do that.”
The 2001 win, on goals by Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart, came on a 28-degree February night and became known as “La Guerra Fria” (The Cold War).
Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley scored in the more temperate 2005 match, played in early September, and Bradley got both goals four years ago — a game preceded by a tornado watch, lightning and gusts of up to 61 mph.
The U.S. is 6-0-3 at Columbus Crew Stadium and 4-0-2 in home qualifiers against Mexico since a 1972 defeat at Los Angeles.
“The fans have been amazing when we come to Columbus,” Beasley said.
In addition to Bradley, three Americans will miss the match because of yellow card accumulation: forward Jozy Altidore, midfielder Geoff Cameron and defender Matt Besler.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was critical of the yellow card on Besler, assessed by Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez after the Ticos’ Joel Campbell fell down, acting as if the defender had hit him.
Replays appeared to show that Campbell was untouched, but Rodriguez was nonetheless advised to give the caution by one of his linesmen.
“It kind of just confirmed my fears before the game with the yellow card issue,” said Klinsmann, who complained that a Mexican referee could impact the U.S. roster against El Tri.
Because of Bradley’s injuries and the cards, Klinsmann called in four additional players. Clarence Goodson could start in place of Besler in central defense along with Omar Gonzalez. Midfielders Joe Corona and Jose Torres brought to five the American players from Mexican clubs.
The U.S. knows it has to play far better on defense than it did in Costa Rica, where the hosts scored twice in the first nine minutes.
“We want to punch our ticket man,” Howard said. “We want to get this thing finished.”
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