Why U.S. Soccer Loves Columbus

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Team USA faced Mexico in Crew Stadium in 2001, 2005 and 2009, and the results were identical each time: a 2-0 triumph over its southern foe. The winning streak gave birth to the famous "dos a cero" fan chant that booms through Columbus every four years-a rare highlight in a dismal overall Team USA record of 16 wins, 32 losses and 13 ties against Mexico.

The national team is hoping for another shutout Sept. 10, when it returns to Columbus to face Mexico in a World Cup qualifier.

Bigger, newer soccer venues have popped up across the country, so why pick Columbus for the most important home game every four years?

"Columbus is a true home-field advantage, which isn't something we always had in the past," says Neil Buethe, spokesman for governing body U.S. Soccer. "When we play matches against Mexico or other Central American countries, there are a large number of fans for those teams in certain pockets of the U.S."

Raucous pro-America crowds consistently pack the stadium with face paint and waving flags. Even the weather has given the U.S. an advantage, with freezing temps during February games in 2001 and 2009. (Mexico didn't even come out for warm-ups in 2001.) Now, with its track record, Crew Stadium has gotten into the heads of Mexico's players, says Mark McCullers, Crew president and general manager.

"There's a psychological edge that comes with three consecutive victories against our biggest rival," he explains. "The fans know that and feed off of it, creating an imposing environment for the opposition."

Mexico's home field is even more lethal to opponents than Crew Stadium. Crew brand ambassador and former national team defenseman Frankie Hejduk shares what it's like to take the field in notorious Estadio Azteca, where Team USA is just 1-19-2.

"It's normally 90 to 100 degrees. It's at high altitude. You can cut through the smog with your breath. You show up, and the bus is getting rocked as you're getting off. Then, inside, you have 105,000 screaming Mexican fans. They pee in bags, ziplock them and throw them at you. There's beer cans blowing everywhere-bottles, coins, anything you can think of getting tossed at you on corner kicks or throw-ins. You honestly can't hear a foot away from you-you play the whole game on your instincts. Every game, you just knew you were getting into an absolute dogfight. The fans had passion, and I respected it."