Team USA, Mexico set for World Cup qualifying match in Cincinnati

United States' Sergiño Dest (2) celebrates with Weston McKennie (8) after the team scored against Jamaica during a FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Caption
United States' Sergiño Dest (2) celebrates with Weston McKennie (8) after the team scored against Jamaica during a FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Credit: Eric Gay

Credit: Eric Gay

CINCINNATI -- Brendan Aaronson remembers the feeling of winning two tournament finals against Mexico earlier this year with the U.S. men’s national team, but said there is nothing like a chance to beat them in a World Cup qualifying match at home.

Team USA faces Mexico on Friday at FC Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium, the first meeting of the teams in the Octagonal stage of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The top three teams from CONCACAF advance to the World Cup next summer, and Mexico currently leads the group with 14 points, while the U.S. follows in second with 11 points, one ahead of Canada.

The U.S. beat Mexico 3-2 in the Nations League final in June and 1-0 in the Gold Cup final in August, both home games that went to extra time.

“There’s Mexico and us,” Aaronson said this week in a Zoom session with local and national media after camp began Monday at FC Cincinnati’s Mercy Health Training Center. “I mean, you know, the rivalry, everybody knows it, and it’s big for players. We got the best of them in the two tournaments before, but this is something totally different, World Cup qualifying, and it’s a different kind of beast. So, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and yeah, I mean, I have a ton of respect for Mexico, but we just need to go out there and just do our thing like we’ve been doing.”

The most anticipated game in the region every four years, this is the sixthconsecutive time the state of Ohio has hosted the USA-Mexico qualifier, and these meetings have produced some of the most significant moments in U.S. Soccer history in a rivalry that dates back to 1934.

While Mexico had historically dominated the series, competition between the teams has grown into a proper rivalry since 2000 during which time the U.S. has held the edge, amassing a record of 15-9-6 against its neighbors to the south, including an even 4-4-2 in World Cup Qualifying contests.

This is the first time a U.S. city other than Columbus will host a U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup qualifier against Mexico since 1997 when it was played in Foxborough, Mass. The rivalry when played in Columbus often ended in a 2-0 win for the U.S., hence the ‘Dos a Cero’ nickname it took on for American soccer fans after four straight meetings with that score at Columbus Crew’s former stadium in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013. Mexico won the last matchup in a World Cup qualifier in 2016, 2-1 in Columbus. The U.S. did not qualify for the last World Cup in 2018.

“I think the main thing when it comes to the US-Mexico games, especially, is the fact that it’s just a dogfight,” said defender DeAndre Yedlin, who is the most capped player on the 25-man roster ahead of his 69th international appearance. “Obviously, they’re our main rivals. So, there’s always going to be that bit of motivation and whatever you want to call it around that, but it’s also the fact that you know, we’re both very good teams so it’s always a fight. It’s never the prettiest game, I would say. But it is usually quite an entertaining game. So we’re looking forward to it. I think we have a good team to be able to match up with them, and hopefully we can get three points on Friday.”

Coach Gregg Berhalter said forward Christian Pulisic, who recently came back into Chelsea’s squad following an ankle injury, will not start Friday, as he’s still building back match fitness, but he hopes to get Pulisic some time off the bench. Zack Steffen will start in goal, a tough decision in the competition with New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner.

The young roster put together by Berhalter has a number of players who have never played Mexico in this type of environment with so much on the line as the team seeks a return to the World Cup after a disappointing absence last time around, but the team is looking forward to having a supportive crowd behind it.

Friday’s game was announced as a sellout two weeks ago, and fans are encouraged to get to the 26,000-seat stadium early because of the large crowds expected in the area Friday and with extra security protocols in place upon entry.

“It’s huge,” Yedlin said. “I mean, I’d love to sit here and tell you that the crowd doesn’t matter at all and as a professional athlete, you just go out there and can focus directly on just playing the game, but the crowd does matter. And that’s why it’s called a home-field advantage is because normally you’re going to have a home crowd and they’re going to be loud against your opponents and talking to your opponents and they’re going to be for you so the support matters massively, and we’re excited that it will hopefully be a very pro-U.S. crowd in Cincinnati, and we’re looking forward to it. And, you know, like I said, hopefully they can, they can make it difficult on Mexico.”

The U.S. ended the October window of qualifying with a win over Costa Rica after bouncing back from a surprising first Octagonal loss at Panama. Mexico hasn’t lost yet but has two draws and four wins.

After Friday, the Americans will have played half the Octagonal games with some big road matches coming up early next year. Berhalter said while there is much significance placed on winning this game, especially at home, he’s not looking at the magnitude of it.

“I know that all these games have the same value,” Berhalter said. “You can get three points in each of these games, and at the end of 14 games, you want to be in the top three in the standings. So, our intention is to win the game. That’s what we’re gonna be playing for. We want to win all our home games. We know we’re gonna have a fantastic crowd tomorrow. We know the stadium is going to be erupting, and we want to win the game. You know, I think I would give you the same message, no matter who we’re playing, that we’re focused on winning. So, I’m not looking down the road. I’m looking at tomorrow’s game only. And it’s a game that we want to win.”

FRIDAY”S GAME

United States vs. Mexico, 9 p.m., ESPN2, ESPN+

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