10/13/21  USA vs Costa Rica Wed 7 pm ESPN2, US loses to Panama, France Controversial win over Spain in Nations Cup, High School Regionals Wed/Thur/Sat, Indy 11 host Louisville Sat

The Ole Ballcoach is desperately looking for Mexico vs USA tickets next month in Cincy – if you have a line on tickets please let me know.  1, 2, 3, 4 tickets – willing to pay over price

US Loses First Qualifier 1-0 to Panama – Hosts Costa Rica in Columbus Wed 7 pm on ESPN2

Not 100% sure what Coach Berhalter was thinking Sunday night as sent 7 new players out on the field vs a Panama team that stands in 3rd in the Hex.   The massive, wholesale changes from the huge 2-0 win over Jamaica – came back to haunt the American’s as we looked disjointed, confused and downright disinterested at times.  The US tallied O – yes Zero shots on goal as Panama peppered the US defense.  Four corners in the 1st half finally led to a rightful Panama goal off a bad header by Zardes – essentially knocking the ball away from US GK Matt Turner – allowing it to slip in.  The US started

Weah/Zardes/Arriola up top along with Musah, Legette and unbelievably Acosta at the #6 in front of 3 new starters in the back with /Zimmermann/McKensie/Bello

Yes our new #9 the top scorer in CONCACAF goals after only 2 of 4 games Ricardo Pepi – sat on the bench until the 70th minute.  Yes the only guy who can stop the World sensation Pepi from scoring – BERHALTER.   Listen I have defended our foolish young coach many a time – heck he has beaten Mexico twice and lifted Nations League and Gold Cup Trophies with 2 different squads this summer.  But man I have to question the wisdom on his starting 11 for this one??   Now Panama is good – they have not lost at home since we beat them 4 years ago.  At the same time the US has NEVER lost to Panama – EVER – at home or away.  How could Berhalter not take this game seriously?  Did he really think we would march into Panama and tie or win the game with our C team?  Hell we are already missing Pulisic (ankle), Reyna (knee), Robinson (England Quaranteen Issues) and Weston McKinney (knee).  First off – no US Defense should be missing Miles Robinson – EVER AGAIN – unless he is hurt.  He’s proven this summer and fall – he is indispensible.  As good as GK Matt Turner has played – Centerback Miles Robinson has played better – and he’s honestly the reason teams are not scoring on the US.  Without him – well you see what happened.  2nd – when Pulisic and Reyna are not healthy – Aaronson has to start on a wing – PERIOD!  He’s the closest thing we have to Landon Donovan – his relentless energy bounds his runs unrivaled on this team.  Please don’t tell me he was tired after only playing 60 minutes vs Jamaica.  3rd Unless he is hurt Captain Tyler Adams should start every game the US plays in at the #6.  He controls the game and protects the defense as well as anyone in the world right now.  Acosta is a decent substitute at the #6 only if Adams is hurt.  And Finally – until otherwise noted – Ricardo Pepi – MUST START every game for the US until he doesn’t score a goal or 2 per game.  I still can’t believe he didn’t start Pepi  – yes he brought him in – during the 75th minute – but by then it was too late. Who the hell does Berhalter think he is Dean Smith?  You know the only coach to keep Michael Jordan under 20pts per game in college.  Not starting Pepi was a bone-head move by Berhalter and I think signified  either he didn’t have faith his team could win in Panama or he thought his scrum 3rd string boys could win it instead.  Either mark show’s his stupidity on this one. 

Well the loss along with a tie on the road –shows just how shitty the US is playing in other countries right now.  How could Berhalter – a student of the game not take into account the momentus day that Sunday was – Oct 10 – yes the same Oct 10 when the US loss on the road to Trinidad and Tobego to knock us out of the last world cup – USMNT’s darkest day in modern history.  Hell start your starters and win that game in Panama – if for no other reason than to CLENSE the US Soccer fan’s disdain for that day OCT 10TH .  To prove – hey US soccer fans – you don’t have to worry – we are going to qualify for the world cup.  Right now – I am not sure how many of us feel we are.  I still believe this is our Golden Generation – and this team is going to do special things. I hope it is with an American Coach in Berhalter.  But unless he straightens things out vs Costa Rica on Wed night or then vs Mexico in November his job status could become dicey.  

Now on to Costa Rica

So since I am going to the game with buddies – I have to pick us to win the game – I am thinking 2-0 – or Dos a Cero – just for old time’s sake – sense the Columbus Fortress should be hosting the US vs Mexico match in Nov (not Cincy) – PS – still begging for Mexico tickets if anyone has an extra – I can drive/buy the beers/and pay extra for my ticket – I have not missed a US vs Mexico game since 2004 within driving distance of Indy.  But I degress – I completely disagree with Berhalter’s thought that he needs his rested starters to beat a Costa Rica team at home that is 1-3-1 and stands in 5th in the hex.  Its Panama that is/was more dangerous – not having lost at home vs Mexico or Canada and currently tied for 2nd at 2-2-1 just like the US.  The standings  still find the US in 2nd place but we lost to Panama currently in 3rd and we tied Canada (2nd), so there is literally no room for error at home over the next 2 games vs Costa Rica and Mexico.   Its time to go back to the starters –

Shane’s Roster for Wed night – 

Pepi

Aaronson/Weah

Musah/McKennie

Adams

Robinson/Mark McKenzie/Miles Robinson/Dest

Steffan

Back to a starting line-up in the back 4 + Adams – along with McKennie and Musah in the middle – Pepi along with Aaronson on one side and Weah on the other.  Berhalter has yet to play Weah with Pepi up front – Weah has to be licking his chops to actually play with a real #9 – this starting 3 might give Pulisic/Reyna a run for their money up top.  If we want to score early and take control – this is the line-up.  Not Roldan who’s too old to go more than 30 minutes/not MLSers Leggette or Arriola – though I like them off the bench possibly.  Finally its time for Steffan to get a  start in the net – it sucks it comes after a loss for Turner – who I still think starts vs Mexico in No- but Steffan deserves a run at GK at home – otherwise why bring him all the way over here from England.  I am excited for the game and will be shocked if we lose at home – but heaven knows  I have been shocked before,  Game starts at 7 pm on ESPN 2 – why not ESPN – who knows?  Lets be real – ESPN doesn’t really care about soccer- so no real pre game or postgame shows like Paramount plus does so well.   Still looking for a great game ! Go USA !!

UEFA Nations League – France Wins 2-1

Despite France being illegally awarded the winning goal in the final vs Spain to win it 2-1 overall – I thought the Nations League Finals were fantastic.  The Semi’s were both fantastic games and the finals and the 3rd place game was also good theatre.   Too bad Martinez didn’t play his Belgium stars after Belgium chocked again in the Semi’s of a major tourney. Can we please stop ranking Belgium king of BS wins #1 in the World – they have NEVER WON a major tournament of any kind – EVER.  And even this GOLDEN GENERATION of Belgium stars can’t seem to round the corner.  FIFA please ranked them 9th like they should be. They are not Germany or France or Italy or Germany or even England (who hasn’t brought it home since 1950).  Belgium has never won any tournament – until they do – lets rank them where they below at like 9 or something.  Ok enough of my rant on the Overrated ness of Belgium.   I for one think the Nations League is pretty cool – it beats the heck out of useless friendlies where good players aren’t even playing for 60 minutes.  The good teams seem to have taken this seriously – and any tourney that gives me Spain vs Italy and France vs Belgium sounds good to me – almost as good as our Nations League US vs Mexico.  I for one am not a fan of a World Cup every 2 years – so I hope Nations League and the European Cup and  COPA America all still stay around with a World Cup every 4th year.  Heck I loved the Year before the cup Tourney – it made winning the Gold Cup a necessity.   

Nations League  – Blown Call

I’m interested to hear what my my fellow reffing friends out there think about the blown offsides call not called on Mbappe’s 2nd goal?  The explanation incorrectly rendered by VAR was since a defender accidently deflected it in a desperate attempt to keep the ball from reaching Mbappe – that the French Forward should be deemed onsides.  That’s absolute BS – it has to be an intentional pass back by the defender – not a desperation deflection – to deem the offensive player onsides.  I thought it was ok it was missed on the field – but when VAR missed it too?  Are you kidding me?  In a Nations League Friggin Final Match?  Seriously !!! BAD CALL – OFFSIDES – NO Go Ahead Goal for France in the waning moments.   Fellow Refs – what are your thoughts? 

High School Regionals this week

Both the Carmel High Girls and Boys teams advanced to the Regionals with huge overtime wins on Saturday vs Zionsville. The boys beat Zionsville 2-1 in a PK shootout as the Carmel keeper made 3 PK saves-  they will travel to Avon on Thurs with a birth in Saturday’s Regional Finals to be held at CHS at 4 pm on the line.   The Girls travel to Brownsburg Wed at 6 pm with the winner returning to CHS for Sat’s Regional Championship at Murray Field at 2 pm.  Cathedral girls hosts South Dearborn at 6 pm Wed with the winner facing probably Brebeuf Sat at 4 pm at Bishop Chatard.

BIG GAMES TO WATCH

TUES 10/12   WCQ 

2 pm EPSN2                 Denmark vs Austria

3 pm ESPN+                  England vs Hungary

5 pm FUBO                   Colombia vs Brazil

Weds 10/13    WCQ 

7 pm ESPN2                 USA vs Costa Rica

7 pm Univision, P+      Canada vs Panama

10 pm CBS SN              El Salvador (Eric Zavaleta) vs Mexico

Sat 10/16   

10 am USA                   Leicester City vs Man United

12 Noon NBC               Brentford vs Chelsea (Pulisic)

7 pm ESPN+ TV23        Indy II vs Louisville  

USA

How did Columbus become the USMNT’s spiritual home? heff Carlisle ESPNFC


How will USMNT line up for WCQ vs Costa Rica?

Berhalter takes blame for U.S. lineup gamble

Berhalter’s lineup changes couldn’t overcome another slow start; will the USMNT learn after loss to Panama? 1dJeff Carlisle

Berhalter’s lineup changes couldn’t overcome another slow start; will the USMNT learn after loss to Panama?  ESPNFC Jeff Carlisle


USMNT loses first-ever World Cup qualifier to Panama, dropping behind Mexico in standings

Gregg Berhalter: Players ‘performed below expectations’ in USMNT loss

U.S. men’s national soccer team loses against Panama in Concacaf World Cup qualifier

Panama wins qualifier 1-0 as Berhalter shuffles US lineup

USMNT loss to Panama raises concerns about team’s offensive struggles

USMNT player ratings from naive, confused, and historic loss in Panama

Panama vs USMNT: Yanks suffer first WCQ defeat

USMNT, Chelsea star Christian Pulisic attended Jets game in London

 WORLD

Lionel Messi makes more history, highlights as Argentina rocks Uruguay
Messi’s Argentina thrash Uruguay, Brazil lose 100% qualifying record

Germany qualify for Qatar 2022 but Belgium made to wait

Wales edge out Estonia to keep Belgium waiting

Werner double sees Germany qualify for Qatar World Cup

Ronaldo scores on European record 181st international appearance

Salah helps Egypt to crucial World Cup triumph in Libya

Grealish, Chilwell score first England goals in Andorra rout

McTominay gives Scotland dramatic win, Sweden see off Kosovo

FIFA Looks to Double Down on Its World Cup Profit Machine: Data Viz

Nations League

Deschamps hails ‘improved’ Benzema’s maturity after Nations League triumph
Kylian Mbappe has goal, assist as France wins Nations League (video)

France beat Spain to win Nations League

Kylian Mbappe fires France to Nations League triumph with controversial winner

Italy beat Belgium to finish third in Nations League

USMNT’s Weston McKennie, Antonee Robinson to be assessed ahead of Costa

2:09 PM ET

Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio – United States coach Gregg Berhalter said that both midfielder Weston McKennie and left-back Antonee Robinson will undergo fitness tests later on Tuesday to see if they will be able to play in Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.McKennie didn’t even travel to Panama for Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Canaleros due to a quadricep injury he picked up in the previous match against Jamaica. He instead traveled ahead to Columbus to get further treatment.

“He pushed it a little bit yesterday, and the signs are he’s making progress,” said Berhalter about McKennie. “But we’ll have to see today in training.”Robinson joined McKennie in traveling early to Columbus as well. Initially Robinson’s absence was explained as a desire to minimize the effects of quarantine rules in the U.K., where Panama remains a red-list country.But during Tuesday’s call, Robinson mentioned that he has also been dealing with “a little issue with my knee” and that he’s been receiving treatment for it since the Jamaica game. He sounded optimistic about his recovery.”I’ve had the chance to recover and get myself back in shape for the next game,” he said.The U.S. will face a Costa Rica side that heavy in experience, with goalkeeper Keylor Navas, midfielder Celso Borges and midfielder Bryan Ruiz all on the roster. And yesterday it was announced that 39-year-old striker Alvaro Saborio and 37-year-old midfielder Christian Bolaños would be added to the roster. Forward Joel Campbell will miss due to a sprained right ankle. Costa Rica has earned six points from their first five games, putting them in fifth place, but just two points behind the U.S.”This is a group that’s been together for a long time, and there’s certainly strengthen in that, and there’s certainly an advantage to that,” said Berhalter about Costa Rica. “For us, it’s just the opposite. We’re a young, up-and-coming team, and we have to use that to our advantage.”The U.S. will attempt to bounce back from the woeful performance against Panama, one in which the U.S. failed to register a single shot on goal.”We missed an opportunity to get, at minimum, a point in that game. And that’s something that we regret and we’re disappointed with,” he said. “For us, it’s about getting back to what we do well, and that’s movement off the ball. Everything we talked about pre-Jamaica game is exactly what’s back on the stage now.”That said, Berhalter made clear he didn’t regret his choice of lineup, one that featured seven changes from the Jamaica game, and overall failed to offer much threat going forward.”We believe in every single player in this squad, and I don’t regret in any moment playing that lineup,” he said. “I regret more our performance, and some of the attacking adjustments we could have made in that game to be more mobile, to be moving more, but not personnel.”

USMNT’s loss to Panama is a tough, necessary reminder for World Cup qualifying

Andy DeossaSun, October 10, 2021, 8:25 PMIn this article:

Waiting for the United States to announce its starting lineup has become a tumultuous experience. Your projected eleven might be spot on or completely wrong, then it’s released and dissected in the moments leading up to the match.

Sunday was no different. In fact, the lineup head coach Gregg Berhalter went with was more shocking than predictable. It featured seven changes from Thursday’s squad against Jamaica. It was as close to a “B team” as you can get on this stage for World Cup qualifiers, and it showed as the USMNT suffered a 1-0 loss in Panama.

The lone score was credited to Anibal Godoy but might’ve been an own goal by Gyasi Zardes, who got the start over Ricardo Pepi, who is in incredible form right now. Besides the fact they gave up seven corner kicks and defended terribly on the set piece leading to the goal, the loss goes far beyond just dropping points on the road.

“You don’t want to make an excuse, but I think the [weather] was a factor,” said Berhalter after the loss “The other team had to play in it also, that can’t be the starting point for why we didn’t play well in this game.”

Use all the excuses you want about having to travel on short notice to play in tough road environments. One thing is — and always has been — clear: There are no easy games in World Cup qualifying, regardless of conditions or location. The USMNT know that very well. Exactly four years ago today was an infamous night they’d like to forget in Couva, Trinidad & Tobago, where they lost 2-1 and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

That day and result launched the hysteria surrounding the USMNT to the moon. A lot of those players have since been replaced with younger, more promising kids. Some still remain. In between there have been bad moments (none to that extent) along with great ones, too. For example, entering Sunday’s contest the USMNT was on a 13-match unbeaten streak, the third-longest in the country’s history. They hadn’t lost a game since May 30 in Switzerland. In between they snagged a few trophies over bitter rival Mexico.

But that run came to a screeching halt and those trophies don’t mean anything when trying to qualify for a World Cup.

Gregg Berhalter got too cute in tinkering with his lineup against Panama, and it cost the USMNT in World Cup qualifying. (REUTERS/Erick Marciscano)

Berhalter trying to rest certain players is respectable considering there’s a game in a few days against Costa Rica in Columbus, but he might’ve been a little too naive with the group he chose to start. The halftime subs of Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson for Yunus Musah and Paul Arriola spoke volumes. Whatever idea he had planned didn’t work. By the time Pepi, DeAndre Yedlin and Cristian Roldan entered in the 68th minute to chase the match, it was too late.

“It wasn’t through a lack of trying,” Berhalter said. “We just didn’t have that 100% today. We were really poor with our passing and some of our movement.

“Overall we performed below the expectations that we have for ourselves,” he added.

Sometimes, especially in these type of games, all it takes is a goal. The United States were frankly never close to that.

Nobody qualified or failed to on Sunday, but the loss needs to serve as a major lesson for Berhalter and company. Don’t get too cute when tinkering with the lineup because it could end up costing you. Instead of going into Wednesday’s game against Costa Rica with confidence, they will now enter it under more added pressure.

How they deal with it will tell us a lot about this team, despite being without crucial pieces like Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna. 

Regardless, the four-year anniversary of one of the worst days in U.S. Soccer sent perhaps the most important and necessary message for this young group: don’t let history repeat itself.

U.S. shocked by Panama: Berhalter takes blame for selection gamble

United States men’s national team goach Gregg Berhalter took full responsibility for his lineup choices following a 1-0 defeat to Panama in World Cup qualifying.

Berhalter changed seven starters from Thursday’s 2-0 home win over Jamaica, leaving a lineup already missing injured Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie having to go without Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams during the first half. In addition, Antonee Robinson remained in the U.S. due to British COVID restrictions that would have impacted him upon his return to the UK.

Berhalter took into account which players he wanted to be fresh for Wednesday night’s qualifier against Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio, the third match in a seven-game span under a schedule revamped due to the pandemic.

And after Anibal Godoy scored in the 54th minute to settle the match, Berhalter was asked about his lineup.

“Now it obviously doesn’t look like the best choice,” he said. “We know we’re playing in extreme heat, extreme humidity, we’re know traveling for 4 1/2 hours, and we know that we have another game on Wednesday and we wanted to rotate players. And if it didn’t work, then it’s on me, and it’s my responsibility, or our responsility as a staff.”During the final hectic minutes, the game was interrupted twice when fans ran onto the field. Ball boys at times threw multiple balls onto the field after one went out of bounds.”I had like two or three,” Matt Turner said. “I was just trying to get them off the field as quickly as I could. I didn’t want the game to stop anymore. People running on the field – the ball boys were throwing, kicking the balls onto the field as high as they could. And I was just trying to keep the chaos off the field as much as I could and keep our momentum going.”The match was played on the fourth anniversary of a 2-1 loss at Trinidad that ended a streak of seven World Cup appearances for the U.S., a defeat that enabled Panama to reach the World Cup for the first time. On Sunday, Panama outshot the U.S. 8-5, including a 4-0 advantage in shots on target, and ended a 13-game unbeaten streak for the Americans that included 11 wins. Quite a turnaround for a nation that had one win and 16 defeats in 23 previous games against the U.S., including no wins and six defeats in eight qualifiers.Through five of 14 matches, Mexico leads with 11 points following a 3-0 win over visiting Honduras, and the U.S. is second with eight, ahead of Panama on goal difference. Canada has seven after a 0-0 draw at Jamaica, and Costa Rica has six following a 2-1 victory at El Salvador, which has five. Honduras trails with three and Jamaica two.The top three nations qualify, and the No. 4 team advances to a playoff.”The good thing,” Berhalter said, “is we’re still in second place.”

How did Columbus become the USMNT’s spiritual home, and will it continue to be?

1:14 PM ET  Jeff Carlisle  U.S. soccer correspondent

In the U.S. soccer ecosystem, there are no shortage of cities claiming to be the “home” of the sport in this country. Portland dubs itself “Soccer City, U.S.A.,” for starters. Washington, D.C., has held its share of memorable matches at the soon-to-be-demolished RFK Stadium, while fans in Seattle; Kansas City, Missouri; and elsewhere have done their bit to evolve the sport’s fan culture.Yet when one thinks of the spiritual home for the U.S. men’s national team, it’s hard to argue against Columbus, Ohio. The USMNT has played a total of 12 matches in Ohio’s capital city. Ten of those have been World Cup qualifiers — no city has been home to more qualifying wins that the seven in Columbus — with five of them against bitter rivals Mexico. And yes, from those matches against El Tri came the birth of “Dos a Cero,” the fixture’s uncanny ability — for a time, anyway — to crank out 2-0 score lines in favor of the U.S. Along the way, some of the most iconic moments in U.S. soccer history took place.On Wednesday, Columbus will once again host a World Cup qualifier, this time against Costa Rica at newly minted Lower.com Field (coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN2). For adopted son Frankie Hejduk, the city’s love for the sport started out as a slow burn but is now in full flame.

“When I moved to Columbus, it was my dream to make this city a soccer town,” the former Columbus Crew and U.S. international defender said. “I knew it was a [college] football town. I thought, ‘Let’s make this a soccer town.’ Now with the players getting what they have, the stadium that we have, downtown, right in the buzz of things, I’m in a happy place. Hopefully we get another victory here in Columbus.”

“The catalyst was to win the game”

Just how World Cup qualifiers ended up in Columbus was down to a seemingly intractable problem: How to create a home-field advantage in a country where expats tended to outnumber — or at least shout down — U.S. fans. Fan culture in the sport during the late 1990s was still in its infancy, with Sam’s Army, a precursor to the American Outlaws, just 6 years old. MLS had been around for only five years.That reality was reinforced in 1997, when the World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Mexico was played at Foxboro Stadium, just outside of Boston. The attendance of 57,407 amounted to a hefty payday for the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), though opinions vary as to the breakdown of crowd support. USSF director of events Paul Marstellar estimated it at 75-25 in favor of the U.S, though then USSF vice-president Sunil Gulati put it closer to 50-50. The match ended 2-2, but there’s little doubt as to which team had the more passionate support.”It was a different atmosphere. It was a little more laid back,” said Monty Rodrigues, 46, a financial analyst from Nashua, New Hampshire, who attended both the match in Foxborough and later in Columbus. “The Sam’s Army section was obviously loud and proud. [Around] the rest of the stadium, you had some people that cared, but mostly it was, ‘Hey, cool, it’s a World Cup qualifier.'”When it came time for the USSF to pick a venue for the 2001 qualifier, a different focus had set in for then-U.S. manager Bruce Arena.

“The catalyst was to try to win the game,” Arena noted dryly. “U.S. Soccer wanted to play the game in the L.A. Coliseum, because they’d get 90,000 people at the game, and they get a big bump, obviously financially. I convinced them that the priority had to be trying to beat Mexico.”Arena added that “it took a little while” to persuade the powers that be to look for alternatives. Gulati recalls that he’d long tempted his counterparts at the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) with an offer of playing in Los Angeles if Mexico would play its home game in either L.A. or Monterrey — at sea level, away from the lung-searing altitude and smog of the famed Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. As he suspected, the FMF never took him up on the offer and the USSF soon narrowed its focus to Crew Stadium.

At the time, it was the lone soccer-specific venue in the country and had already hosted a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in the previous round. Not only would the capacity (24,624 at the time) allow the USSF to have tighter control of ticket sales, but the location in America’s heartland made it more difficult for Mexico fans to attend. The fact that the game would be played in February didn’t hurt either.

“With a large stadium and resale and everything else, a home-field advantage was impossible,” said Gulati. “We learned that lesson in Boston. So that became Columbus, where we could go to the Crew season ticket-holders first, and so on and so forth and try to get a pro-U.S. crowd. I guess you could say having a temperature being cold was a bonus.”

The relative scarcity of tickets seemed to have the desired effect as well. Gulati recalled how FMF executive Hugo Kiese complained that he couldn’t get a ticket to the match. “I told him, ‘There’s no problem. I can get you a ticket, but you’re going to feel very alone in the stands.'”

“It was insane”

Prior to the game, there was a sense among some fans that something memorable was brewing. The team had been revamped under Arena and was beginning to put together some results. The night before, Sam Pierron, a 46-year-old IT consultant from Kansas City, was putting up banners in Crew Stadium for Sam’s Army. He’d been to his share of qualifiers, but the vibe ahead of this match was different.”There was some serious anticipation,” he recalled. “It was unlike anything we’ve ever really felt.”Rodrigues added, “There was almost a cockiness among the U.S. fans. It was just one of those games where you just felt something special was going on, even before the game started. That team was young and talented, and it was just an excitement that was building through the supporters’ section. And we just kind of went with that.”What followed was one of the more memorable matches in U.S. men’s history. With temperatures hovering around freezing, Mexico didn’t even bother coming out for pregame warm-ups, handing the U.S. a huge psychological advantage.”That was the coldest I’ve ever been at a soccer game,” said Hejduk, an unused substitute that day. “But because they didn’t come out for warm-ups, we already knew — I knew — we’re going to win. They were already, psychologically, a little bit distracted.”Yet the match didn’t go entirely the U.S. team’s way. Brian McBride was forced off in the 15th minute after a collision with Mexico defender Rafa Marquez left the U.S. forward with an eye that was swollen shut. Claudio Reyna departed just before halftime with a groin injury, leaving the U.S. without arguably its two most important attackers. But despite those setbacks, the crowd was spurring the U.S. on, providing precisely the kind of home-field advantage that Arena & Co. had envisioned.Columbus native Kristina Balevska, now 37, was a junior in high school at the time and had attended the 1994 World Cup with her family seven years earlier. Yet the crowd that night — perhaps due in part to the cold — was like nothing she had ever experienced.”I turned to my dad and said, ‘This is insane,'” she recalled. “No one was sitting down in their seats. Nobody. Everybody was on their feet. I mean, elbow to elbow, basically. And every time we would get possession, the crowd was just cheering and screaming.”It was shortly after halftime that McBride’s and Reyna’s replacements, Josh Wolff and Clint Mathis, teamed up to score the first U.S. goal as Wolff raced onto Mathis’ through-ball, beat the well-off-his-line challenge of Mexico keeper Jorge Campos, and scored into an empty net.Balevska was soon after the recipient of her first beer shower, though there were other tangible signs of an emerging U.S. fandom as well.”I looked down on the row where we were, and I saw this grown man crying because we had just scored,” she said. With three minutes left, Earnie Stewart cemented the win after stellar work on the wing by Wolff. “Dos a Cero” was born, and Columbus was at the heart of it.”All of a sudden, you’re hearing that crowd, man, like more than ever, more than I’ve ever heard any stadium that we played Mexico in,” Hejduk said. “And it feels good as a player, that energy you feed off of, and now you’re feeding off the crowd. That was the first time we really felt that aura and energy of Crew Stadium.”It made an impression on the denizens of Columbus, too, creating new soccer converts. “It actually opened up the eyes of our city like, ‘Hey, we are a legit little soccer town here,'” said Balevska. “We might be hidden in the Midwest, but it put us on a map.”

“It’s not a pipe dream”

The 2-0 result meant a critical three points in the Hexagonal standings and got the U.S. off to a perfect start in qualifying. But for those who were there or even watched it on television, it was an inspirational moment, one that echoed down the years. Columbus Crew defender Josh Williams made the trek that night from his hometown of Copley Township, near Akron, and the game opened his eyes to what the sport meant and could be.”That match was what made me kind of fall in love with American soccer, truly fall in love with it,” he said. “I’d always supported it, but until you experienced that, I feel like that’s when the romantic side of things started to come out, and I was hooked from there on.”

For fans like Pierron, who had been beating the soccer drum for years, the game went even deeper. Soccer had perpetually been touted as the sport of the future only to fall drastically short of such prognostications. Now those hopes came into clearer focus. They were within reach. “That game was a reminder that everything you always dreamed of can happen, it can come true. That’s what that night felt like in a lot of ways,” Pierron said. “Everything you’ve always thought of, or hoped U.S. soccer culture could be … it’s not a pipe dream.”It was by no means the only seed planted in terms of supporters’ culture. Those have been sprinkled across the country, and at different times, but the Columbus offshoot has proved more fertile than most, continuing to germinate year after year.Following that chilly night, there was considerable momentum to keep drinking from the Crew Stadium well. The reality is that even in subsequent years, there weren’t many other venue options for the USSF. What is now Dignity Health Sports Park came online in 2003, while Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, was built a couple of years later. But in terms of creating a home-field advantage, Columbus simply had too much going for it to play a World Cup qualifier involving the U.S. and Mexico anywhere else.

“Then it’s easy,” Gulati said. “I remember saying, ‘I’m sure at some point, we will lose in Columbus or we won’t play in Columbus, but I’m not going to be the idiot that makes that decision.'”

It certainly helped that as the World Cup cycles rolled by, the legend of Columbus and Crew Stadium kept growing for the USMNT. There was the epic Oguchi Onyewu stare-down of Mexico striker Jared Borgetti in 2005. There was the wind storm in 2009 that created wild conditions, but not enough to stop Michael Bradley from scoring both goals. After that second Bradley goal, Hejduk let out a “F— yeah!” right in front of the Mexico bench, which afterward earned him a slap by Mexico assistant Paco Ramirez in the tunnel to the locker rooms. It didn’t come close to killing Hejduk’s buzz.

“I laughed at it. We were happy. They were sad and mad, and we got the best of them, and now of course they’re going to be pissed,” Hejduk said. “But it was more of a laughable situation because I went out and had a bunch of beers that night, enjoyed myself.”In 2013, the U.S. got word after the match that it had qualified for the 2014 World Cup, leading to a champagne celebration on the field. Granted, the Crew Stadium mojo could last only so long and in 2016, the run finally ended. Mexico claimed a 2-1 win, with old villain Marquez netting the game-winner.By then, the USSF had additional venue options as more and more MLS stadiums were built; next month’s match against Mexico will even be held down the road at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium. Its capacity of 26,000 is roughly 6,000 more than what Lower.com Field possesses, so in a sense, the USSF is getting the best of both worlds: a slightly bigger stadium, but one still small enough to control most of the ticketing.Of course, none of that dampens the legend that is Columbus and the games that have been played there. The state of Ohio continues to make contributions to the U.S. men’s national team as well, with seven Ohio natives, including Brad Friedel, the goalkeeper for that game in 2001, playing for the U.S. The Save The Crew movement also crystallized the love of the game in the city, though it’s the national team games that remain seared into the memory.”Columbus is an incredible market that has played host to many memorable USSF matches over the years,” said David Wright, USSF chief commercial officer. “With a world-class stadium and passionate fans, we couldn’t be more excited to return.”Will the city remain in the USSF’s World Cup qualification rotation? History counts obviously, but with more options, there is a sense that the city will have to prove itself again. Wednesday’s match against Costa Rica certainly counts as a test run.

“I still think Columbus gets a little bit of the short end of the stick with just how passionate some of these people are, and how much they care about soccer,” Williams said. “Now there’s clothing lines around the city that have those ‘Dos a Cero‘ t-shirts. Everybody around Columbus knows that scoreline because of these games.”

Crew Stadium is still standing, mind you; the site has become the Crew’s training facility. But for game days, it has been replaced by shiny, new Lower.com Field, which has drawn rave reviews from players, coaches and fans alike. The hope, especially in the wake of Sunday’s shocking 1-0 road defeat to Panama, is that some new memories will be etched into USMNT history.

“It was a good ride and now we just start over again, dude,” Hejduk said. “You’ve got these qualifiers coming up here and in Cincy. Ohio loves soccer here, and it’s really a cool thing to see.”

The USMNT has loved it back, too.

 
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