Tim Howard: "This is the one real, true home-field advantage we have in America."
The U.S. Men's National Team beat Jamaica 1-0 last night in a World Cup qualifying match at Crew Stadium.The first words out of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's mouth at the press conference: "I think first of all, we want to thank that crowd out there in Columbus for the tremendous support, for that tremendous atmosphere and that push. I think the players and every one of us really appreciated that. It was fantastic."
As it has in the past, the Crew Stadium setting played a crucial role in helping the U.S. emerge victorious from an important qualifying match. The atmosphere was as electric as I've experienced at a sporting event - loud from start to finish, even louder when the Americans went on the fast break or the officials botched a call, and downright deafening when Herculez Gomez slotted home a gorgeous bending free kick for the game's lone goal in the 55th minute. The players, it seemed, needed every last decibel. Despite dominating play from start to finish and creating countless scoring chances, Gomez's goal was all they could muster on the score sheet. ("Posts unfortunately don't count," Klinsmann said.) And when the final whistle blew, there was a palpable sense of relief. Had the U.S. come away from this match without the full three points, their road to the next round of qualifying would have become a lot more treacherous.
Columbus rolled out the red carpet for U.S. Soccer this week, and the city clearly made a good impression on Klinsmann and the rest of the program. Of course, this is nothing new. The Americans have defeated archrival Mexico 2-0 here in three straight World Cup qualifying cycles and are undefeated here in nine appearances all-time. But with the increasing number of soccer-specific stadiums popping up across the country, many of them larger with more potential ticket revenue, it never hurts to remind the powers that be what a Columbus crowd can do for the Yanks. After last night's win, the U.S. leads their four-team group heading into this round's final two matches. Assuming they advance to next year's final qualifying round, a fourth straight showdown with the Mexicans at Crew Stadium seems all but preordained. At least, it should be preordained.
Though Tim Howard doesn't pull those pursestrings, the U.S. goalkeeper seems to think so. In an interview after the game, Howard nodded to the difference between Columbus and coastal cities that often attract lots of foreign fans: "The atmosphere was fantastic. I think this is the one real, true home-field advantage we have in America. Very pro-American crowd. They didn't sit down for 90 minutes. Thousands and thousands of flags waving. Hats off to the people of Columbus and the fans. It's not the first time it's happened either. It's happened time and time again. So we're hoping we can come back here more often because it's special. It really makes us feel like playing at home counts."
Those who treasure the tradition of the U.S. trouncing Mexico in Columbus - and those who just want to see the Yanks thrive at home - should hope the men in charge are listening closely. Assuming they can still hear at all after last night.