Photo by ISIphotos.com
It is the U.S. men's national team's house of horrors, one of the more daunting places to play around the world. And it looms Wednesday night.
The U.S. men's national team has never won at the storied Estadio Azteca, and despite bringing a less-than-full-strength squad to Mexico City for Wednesday night's friendly against El Tri, the challenge remains the same: Finally put a "1" in the "W" part of the W-L-T column that current reads 0-8-1 all-time at Azteca, 0-19-1 all-time in Mexico City and 0-23-1 all-time on Mexican soil.
“We’re all aware of that. It’s something we get excited for," Maurice Edu told USSoccer.com. "It’s going to be a crazy environment. It’s one of the biggest games for us, and we use that as our own personal motivation. If we get a win here, it’s a big deal for us, and that’s what we’re all looking to do on Wednesday night.”
Edu, who could be given his first run out at centerback since an October, 2010, friendly against Poland, is one of the many Americans on the roster who has yet to experience playing at the 105,000-seat venue, where the home supporters are as ferocious as the opposition. In fact, the only players from the last meeting at Azteca, a World Cup qualifier in 2009, to be included on the current roster are Landon Donovan and Tim Howard.
“Any time that we play in Azteca, it’s pretty raucous, but I think that it will be a pretty exciting night," said Donovan, who has scored five goals in 14 career games against El Tri but none on Mexican soil.
The overall unfamiliarity with the venue is just another factor that is necessary for the U.S. men to take into account, especially across the back line. Geoff Cameron has had a whirlwind month after his transfer saga to join Stoke City finally got completed, and he'll add this to his plate as one of the expected starters.
“The feel and the pressure of the crowd on top of you. It’s loud and it’s hard to hear each other on the field and that’s one thing we’re going to have to deal with," Cameron said. "We’ve got a bunch of new guys, so there’s going to be a lot of communication that we’re going to have to deal with.”
The U.S. men have yet to face Mexico since left back Fabian Johnson, who is tasked with trying to shut down the likes of Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardado, was integrated into the national team, and all he has to use as a reference point are stories from teammates.
“In Germany there are just a few stadiums that are close to this big," Johnson said. "In Dortmund, there is a stadium that holds 80,000. I think Jurgen said this one holds about 110,000. That’s crazy. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that. I’m happy to be here and not a lot of players get to play in front of this big of a crowd.”
If there is another voice of experience that can lend a hand on how to attempt to combat the sea of green in the crowd, it is U.S. assistant coach Martin Vasquez, who entered as a late substitute in the 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw at Azteca in November, 1997, the only game the U.S. men have not lost at the arena.
Another player who can speak from experience is DaMarcus Beasley, who is closing in on the hallowed 100-cap mark for his career. The 30-year-old Beasley played for the U.S. national team at Azteca in 2005, a 2-1 loss and one of just four games there that the U.S. managed to score a goal.
"The guys are ready, and they know what’s at stake," Beasley said. "They know it’s Mexico; they know it’s Azteca. That’s all the motivation they need to put on a good performance on Wednesday.”