Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Any lingering ideas of moving the U.S. Men’s National Team’s quadrennial home World Cup qualifier against Mexico away from Crew Stadium seemingly came to an abrupt end on Tuesday night.
A pro-U.S. crowd of 24,584 put on a performance as equally as impressive as the U.S. team did in the Americans’ 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over arch-rival Mexico on Tuesday, providing an electric atmosphere that truly made for home-field advantage for the United States in its fourth straight 2-0 qualifying victory against El Tri in Columbus.
“The players when they know they’re playing (in) Columbus that they have 100 percent support behind them,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “It carries them, it gives them energy, it gives them confidence.”
The U.S. fans chanted loudly well before kickoff and filled up the majority of the seats at Crew Stadium, where Mexican fans were somewhat surprisingly few in numbers and essentially unheard from during the entirety of the match that helped assure the U.S.’s World Cup qualifying berth. But it was more than just the support from the U.S. faithful that added to the big-game atmosphere that was clearly present well before kickoff.
A pre-recorded pre-game message from president Barack Obama to U.S. Soccer supporters, fireworks during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, and a giant tifo all helped make Tuesday’s game feel like a soccer Super Bowl. There were also two blimps in the air as well as a plane carrying a banner, which added to the memorable spectacle in Columbus.
Still, the showing from the fans was among the biggest talking points for the U.S. players after the match.
“Yes, for sure, 100 percent,” said DaMarcus Beasley when asked if Tuesday’s support was the best he had ever experienced in qualifier in Columbus. “The crowds in the past have been great but they added some more stands, we had our whole (American) Outlaw family here and from the moment we stepped on the field in warm-ups, they were loud, they were behind us. They were our 12th man and we needed them.”
“Aw, great. Oh my God,” added a clearly impressed Mix Diskerud. “This is one of the best crowds that I ever played for. Just giving back the three points, I think they appreciated it. We came out after the game when we qualified to the World Cup and great atmosphere, so I’d like to come back here again.”
The fans were buzzing during the game and sang a slew of chants throughout the 90 minutes (‘Dos a Cero’ and ‘We are going to Brazil’ chief among them), even during stretches in the first half where El Tri were looking the more dangerous side. But the crowd went into absolute hysteria when Eddie Johnson netted the winner four minutes after halftime, heading home a Landon Donovan cross to deliver a crushing blow to a Mexican team with an already-frail psyche.
“I think you could feel it in the body language of the Mexican players when they didn’t get a goal that they tried really hard for (in) the first 20-25 minutes,” said Klinsmann. “They got heavier and heavier and you could see that psychological load in their minds, that they start to doubt themselves, their first touch was off from players that usually have a fantastic first touch.
“Absolutely, there is a psychological element in place here in Columbus and it’s definitely on our side.”
If Tuesday did anything aside from secure the Americans’ place in Brazil next summer, it was reinforce the idea that all U.S. home qualifiers against Mexico should be played at Crew Stadium. After all, El Tri continue to find it tough there amidst the American fans’ unwavering support for their team.
“This is a great crowd,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “It’s become it’s own monster. People want to come to Columbus to see U.S.-Mexico, and so it’s almost like the Mecca really for us, because of the way results have gone the last four times, you almost feel like it’s our destiny to win here.”
“The crowd was amazing,” said Johnson, who sent Crew Stadium into hysteria with his opening goal. “You couldn’t ask for a better place to have this game against a good team like Mexico, where we can actually feel like we’re the home team.”