Home Football Mexico-USMNT World Cup qualifier at fortress Azteca ends an era, and the fans are nervous

Mexico-USMNT World Cup qualifier at fortress Azteca ends an era, and the fans are nervous


MEXICO CITY — As you drive down the Avenida del Iman, Estadio Azteca looms on the horizon. From afar, it seems to be like a hulking birthday cake was plopped down within the Santa Ursula neighborhood of Mexico Metropolis. As you get nearer, the concrete helps appear to be the collective arms of Mexico supporters, pushing up on the venue’s rim and out of the bottom. As soon as inside, the stands — regardless of their immense measurement — give off a claustrophobic really feel, and that is with none followers current.

On Thursday, the Azteca — which has hosted two World Cup finals, in 1970 and 1986 — will welcome the newest incarnation of the Clasico between Mexico and the United States males’s nationwide groups in a 2022 World Cup qualifier. In some ways, it appears like the top of an period.

To date, the World Cup qualifiers between the 2 neighbors have been the primary followers have regarded for when the fixtures are launched. However change is coming. With each nations internet hosting the 2026 World Cup, together with Canada, there shall be no qualifiers to sit up for for that event. By the point the 2030 qualifiers beckon, the World Cup could have expanded to 48 groups, which might outcome within the variety of computerized qualifying spots from CONCACAF being doubled to 6.

Granted, video games between the 2 CONCACAF heavyweights will at all times imply one thing. The need for bragging rights will stay. However the stakes — no less than by way of World Cup qualification — shall be lessened, the harm achieved by a defeat much less extreme, and thus a few of the rigidity will dissipate.

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Whereas such ideas give attention to the longer term, it’s the current that considerations the U.S., and the stakes surrounding Thursday’s encounter are excessive certainly. The 2 groups are degree with one another within the standings, with the U.S. simply edging forward on purpose differential.

The neuroses of each groups are additionally in full bloom. Mexico might be the extra determined facet, and the U.S. staff’s residence match in opposition to Panama on Sunday is extra vital within the general image of qualification. However a outcome for both staff could be an vital step ahead within the quest to achieve Qatar. To take action at their rival’s expense could be treasured.

But for El Tri, pessimism guidelines the day, in no small half because of the three-game shedding streak it’s at present struggling in opposition to the U.S. The day earlier than the sport, sports activities newspaper CANCHA put Christian Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi entrance and middle (and over Mexico gamers) with a “They Have An Advantage On Us” caption. Fox Sports activities Mexico’s Fernando Schwartz went on a one-minute rant on why “Mexico is no longer the giant of CONCACAF.” Over at Common Deportes, the headline reads “Make it Weigh,” imploring El Tri to make extra of its historic home-field benefit.

This negativity has permeated into on a regular basis life as properly. Luis, an area driver who traveled with ESPN colleague Cesar Hernandez, spoke at size about his dismay with the present Mexico nationwide staff. Whereas weaving out and in of Mexico Metropolis’s site visitors, he mentioned what he thought was a scarcity of lideres (leaders) inside El Tri’s squad, and pined for the times when former greats reminiscent of Rafael Marquez and Jorge Campos have been nonetheless round. The fan violence that plagued a league match between Queretaro and Atlas has added to the general gloom.



Herculez Gomez debates how a lot Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, Brenden Aaronson and Matt Turner shall be missed.

There are different considerations as properly for El Tri. Relying on how issues go within the recreation, the offensive and anti-gay chant might resurface on the Estadio Azteca this Thursday. Social media campaigns, reminiscent of #MexicoSinMundial (basically “#MexicoWithoutAWorldCup”) have been trending on Twitter lately. However what are they? In brief: Attributable to quite a lot of totally different complaints about how Mexican soccer is ruled and run, followers have made on-line threats in regards to the utilization of the anti-gay chant within the recreation in opposition to the US, which might then doubtlessly damage the Mexican Soccer Federation (FMF).

One other aspect in regards to the Azteca is the situation. Its lung-searing altitude has weighed closely on the U.S. through the years, though that has been lessened in current occasions. The U.S. has gained simply as soon as on the venue, with a 0-3-3 file in World Cup qualifiers. U.S. supervisor Gregg Berhalter even went as far as to say the U.S. staff’s file on the Azteca is “horrendous.”

That the U.S. should play with out the injured quartet of Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, Matt Turner and Brenden Aaronson makes it an enormous job certainly. However checked out one other method, the usis unbeaten in its previous three matches right here: a pair of ties in World Cup qualifying preceded by a pleasant win in 2012.

That’s what Max Croes, a 37-year-old political guide from Helena, Montana, is specializing in. He is been at every of the previous three matches between the U.S. and Mexico on the Azteca, and Thursday shall be his fourth. “I’m a good luck charm,” he quipped. “I will take that. I will be gratified with one point. I would be out of my mind with three points.”

The decreased capability of fifty,000, an 8 p.m. native time kickoff and the truth that some Mexico stars now play overseas additional scale back the home-field benefit. For some U.S. followers, that really counts as a disappointment.

“Going into Azteca, it’s a fortress,” stated Heather Borjon, a center college trainer from Orange County in California. “I’ve wanted to come here for so long. It’s taken me ’til now to get here, and it’s not even going to be the full experience at this reduced capacity. But I’m here. So, best spring break ever.”

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The U.S. is carrying a further stress. The failure to qualify 4 years in the past in Couva, Trinidad — mainly The-Recreation-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named — nonetheless hangs over the collective head of the U.S. program, despite the fact that simply 4 gamers on this roster have been round for that debacle. A type of gamers, Paul Arriola, stated about Thursday’s match: “Fear isn’t sensed within the group.”

That is not the case on the “Night Before Party” hosted by the U.S. supporters group the American Outlaws, although. The nerves are exhibiting — even whereas numerous beers are consumed — particularly because it pertains to the U.S.’s qualifying possibilities.

“I am incredibly nervous,” stated Michael Dovellos, a 29-year-old salesperson from exterior Chicago. “I think that the burden of the last qualifying cycle is heavy. I don’t want to get my hopes up again. But I don’t want to be too down about it. I think that we have a really good shot at qualifying, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”

“I’ll probably not eat or drink after 11 a.m. tomorrow,” added Stephanie Casiano, who works for a well being care supplier in San Antonio. “It’s going to be like, all the nerves. But this is my 48th game, so I’m invested in this team.”

An inaugural win on the Azteca would make for an enormous payoff.

With further reporting by Cesar Hernandez.

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