John Haydon: USA attempts to reverse history. Americans would view a tie as a victory.
(Saturday, November 1, 1997) -- The United States national team will attempt to defy history Sunday as it seeks to earn a precious point against Mexico in its World Cup qualifier at the giant Guillermo Canedo (formerly Azteca) Stadium in Mexico City. The U.S. team is 0-17 at the Mexican capital going back to 1937.
A victory seems unrealistic for the Americans, but stranger things have happened in soccer. So U.S. coach Steve Sampson says he would settle for a tie or a light loss.
"A tie, or a loss where we don't concede a lot of goals, will be a respectful result in Mexico," said Sampson. "What counts here is goal differential."
The U.S. must avoid giving up too many goals against the Mexicans in order to keep its favorable goal differential over El Salvador and Costa Rica, in case the teams are tied at the end of qualifying when goal-difference is the first tiebreaker. The U.S. has a plus-3 goal difference, while El Salvador is minus-3 and Costa Rica minus-1. Jamaica is minus-5.
Mexico has never lost a World Cup qualifier in the Canedo. Visiting teams not only have to deal with the choking smog and the 7,300 feet altitude, but also a highly-partisan crowd of over 120,000 fans. Mexicans will be in an exceptionally festive mood Sunday as the nation celebrates its Day of the Dead festival.
"To get a point in Mexico would be a tremendous result for us. We haven't written ourselves off," said veteran midfielder Tab Ramos. "The longer we can keep that 0 - 0 tie going, the longer we get a chance to get a (favorable) result."
The U.S. will have to play without its talented playmaker Claudio Reyna, who is suspended for collecting two yellow cards.
"Not having Claudio Reyna is a big loss," said Ramos. "He holds the ball well for this team. I think it's a chance for Steve (Sampson) to give Joe-Max Moore an opportunity."
Reyna completed 22 of 48 passes in the game against Jamaica, getting more touches on the ball than any other U.S. player. Captain John Harkes is likely to take over the role Reyna usually plays in the center of the midfield, setting up the offensive plays.
To prepare for the game Sampson has been putting his team through a rigorous training program since Oct. 16, at Big Bear Lake, a ski resort 6,800 feet above sea level northeast of Los Angeles.
"This is the first time we have prepared in altitude for Mexico, we hope it pays dividends," said Sampson. "From a physical standpoint, it will be the best prepared U.S. team going to Mexico City. We'll just have to deal with the smog factor as it arises."
Mexico needs only a tie in its final three qualifiers to qualify for next summerís World Cup in France.
"The last thing Mexico) wants is a loss to the U.S. before 120,000 in Mexico City," said Sampson. "Coaches have lost their jobs because of losing to the U.S."
John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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