Tuesday’s U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier at Crew Stadium marks the fourth straight time those countries have squared off in Columbus in the final round of World Cup qualifying. All three previous contests resulted in 2-0 U.S. wins. Here’s a recap of each one, along with my own memories from each contest.
Feb. 28, 2001
Looking to secure a genuine home-field advantage against Mexico after Mexican supporters drowned out U.S. fans in major markets, and to freeze Mexico’s players to death, U.S. Soccer scheduled the 2001 qualifier at Crew Stadium, which was just two years old at that point and still widely renowned as our country’s first soccer-specific stadium.
The plan worked. Temperature at kickoff was 29 degrees Fahrenheit. After a scoreless first half, goals from Josh Wolff (who entered as a sub for bloodied hometown hero Brian McBride) and Ernie Stewart bookended the second half, ensuring the Yanks got the final round of qualifying off to a good start.
I remember: Shivering and cackling to myself about how much the Mexican players must be shivering; unbelievable thrill about a game this big happening in Columbus; immense disappointment about McBride, a standout for my beloved Crew, leaving the match just 11 minutes in; coach Bruce Arena praising the fans a few years after decrying the “circus” atmosphere when the Crew was playing at Ohio Stadium.
Sept. 3, 2005
Labor Day weekend in Columbus is far more amenable to sporting activities than February, but the game came back to Crew Stadium anyway. Good vibes, karma, ch’i, sentiment, whatever.
Other than the glorious weather, things played out in remarkably similar fashion. The first half was scoreless again. After halftime, the U.S. took over, sealing the victory (and a trip to World Cup 2006) with two goals in a four-minute span courtesy of MLS products Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley. Dos a cero, otra vez.
I remember: Worrying that the good weather would render the home-field advantage moot; Beasley streaking down the wing, giving the Mexicans fits; beaming with pride about both goals coming from MLS products; feeling a more bittersweet kind of pride upon seeing ex-Crew striker Jeff Cunningham subbed in for ex-Crew striker McBride in the 90th minute.
Feb. 11, 2009
Despite much dramatic fanfare about whether Columbus should bogart the biggest match on the U.S. Soccer schedule, the game returned to Crew Stadium for another round of February frigidity.
The result was the same as always: a 2-0 win for the States. How they got there was a different story. Relentless box-to-box midfielder Michael Bradley opened the scoring in the 43rd minute and put the nail in Mexico’s coffin with a stoppage-time strike. This was the kind of trend an American fan could get used to.
I remember: More hometown pride, this time for reigning MLS Cup champion and Crew captain Frankie Hejduk in the U.S. backline; seeing red at Mexico’s Rafael Marquez, who then saw red himself after daring to go studs-up on Tim Howard; the chill, feeling like an old friend; Bradley, feeling like a new friend (and shaking off any lingering doubts about nepotism — his dad was the coach).