The USA’s 15-year unbeaten home record in World Cup qualifying ended last night as the Yanks fell 2-1 to Mexico at Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium. The match also brought an end to the string of four consecutive dos y cero or 2-0 wins over Mexico the U.S. had carved out in Columbus.
Miguel Layun put El Tri ahead in a first half that saw the U.S. limited on chances. But Jurgen Klinsmann’s side came roaring back after halftime, with Bobby Wood firing in a dramatic equalizer just five minutes after the break. For a good spell in the second half it looked like the U.S. would kick on to win before a later header from Rafa Marquez on a set-piece sank their hopes.
But while the match was fiercely contested – three yellow cards for the U.S., four for Mexico and a 93rd minute red card for Carlos Salcedo – a sense of comradely between the two sides prevailed in spite of the tension in the air following Donald Trump’s victory in a U.S. election shadowed with divisiveness.
Before the game began the two teams posed together for a group photo, an unusual act before a World Cup qualifier, particularly one between two of the bitterest rivals in international soccer. While there were a number of on-pitch confrontations between players, both sets of players managed to mostly keep a lid on things. Even Salcedo’s red card, for time wasting after already being shown a yellow earlier, was about gamesmanship rather than acrimony.
Meanwhile up in the stands, which were filled predominately with U.S. supporters, fans also largely managed to maintain an air of respect. The U.S. Soccer Federation likes staging matches against Mexico because of the overwhelmingly pro-American atmosphere. And while there were pockets of El Tri fans visible around the stadium, the U.S. fans were passionate but inclusive.
There were reports about scattered fans attempting to start a “build the wall” chant following Wood’s equalizers. However the minority of fans who did start such chants was quickly silenced by the majority of fans who remained intent on maintaining respect.
Even the American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group with a reputation for skirting the edge of political correctness, kept itself in check; issuing a code of conduct to members and removing a panel from a tifo – one of the choreographed displays soccer fans create to support their teams – because it was deemed possibly offensive to Mexican fans.
Before the game began there were reports of U.S. and Mexico fans mixing peacefully at tailgate parties around the stadium, something that doesn’t commonly occur at matches between these two.
While it was good news that U.S. fans and Mexico fans succeeded minimizing the sense of acrimony the election brought about, the result was not a good reflection on the USMNT. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was injured in the first half and will miss next week’s qualifier against Costa Rica.
Klinsmann’s team began the Hexagonal round of qualifying with a loss, meaning the pressure will be on them heading into the final phase of qualifying. And more than anything else, the dos y cero mystique, which had presided over USA vs. Mexico games in Columbus for 15 years, is now broken.
Moving forward, Klinsmann must get his team selection and lineup right before Tuesday’s less politically charged fixture against Costa Rica.
Written by Alex Baker. Photos by David Leah.