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Plenty is at stake in U.S.-Mexico soccer matchup

A victory Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio, would virtually qualify the U.S. for next summer's World Cup. Mexico needs to win to stay in contention.

September 09, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Landon Donovan and Mikkel Diskerud celebrate after a victory over Panama in the Gold Cup.
Landon Donovan and Mikkel Diskerud celebrate after a victory over Panama… (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA )

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Juergen Klinsmann has been in the middle of some of Europe's most storied soccer wars. But it took 15 years of living in the U.S., the last two as coach of the American national team, for him to fully appreciate the intensity of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry.

"Playing Mexico is always special," he said Monday, the eve of the latest clash between the region's traditional soccer powers.

"The passion," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said, "is incredible."

That fervor will be turned up a few notches Tuesday given what's at stake when the teams meet in a World Cup qualifier at cozy Columbus Crew Stadium.

A victory by the U.S., combined with a victory or a tie by Honduras against Panama, would make the U.S. the sixth nation to qualify for next summer's World Cup in Brazil. Mexico, on the other hand, is in dire straits, which is why it fired coach Jose Manuel de la Torre on Saturday, hours after a qualifying loss to Honduras.

Another loss for Mexico, combined with a Honduras victory, would virtually eliminate Mexico from contention for one of CONCACAF's three automatic slots in Brazil. That would leave Mexico needing to finish fourth in the six-team qualifying tournament, then win a two-leg November playoff with New Zealand to avoid not playing in the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

"The players know the situation," said new Coach Luis Fernando Tena, who won an Olympic gold medal with Mexico last summer in London but could lose his job after four days without a victory Tuesday. "They're responsible people. They know what they have to do.

"After that we'll see. We're focused only on the game with the United States."

Adding to Mexico's problems is the venue. Mexico hasn't won a qualifier on U.S. soil since 1972 and has never won in Columbus, where the U.S. is unbeaten.

"When I first started out with the national team you'd go to [U.S.] stadiums and it felt like you were playing in another country because there were more fans for the other team than for you. Columbus is one of those venues that have that 12th man," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. "The crowd is all behind you. It gives you a little bit more wind in your sails. Also, it puts pressure on the other team.

"They feel the excitement. They're not as confident. They're a little tentative. And I think it plays to our advantage."

Added Howard: "It's one of probably three or four venues in America that we have such an incredible advantage. The place gets rocking. It's hard to hear."

That could help make up for the absence of four key players. Midfielder Michael Bradley is out because of an ankle sprain and forward Jozy Altidore, midfielder Geoff Cameron and defender Matt Besler are suspended for the game after picking up yellow cards in Friday's 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, the U.S. team's first loss in 13 games.

"We know about their situation. They know about our situation," Klinsmann said. "A lot's at stake."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

Tuesday's matches

Mexico vs. U.S., Columbus, Ohio, 5 p.m. PDT, ESPN, Unimas

Jamaica vs. Costa Rica 8 p.m. ET

Honduras vs. Panama 9 p.m. ET

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