The United States national soccer team travels to Mexico this week for a World Cup qualifying match Wednesday at the fabled Azteca stadium. The Americans will be looking to break a dismal record of failure in their visits to Mexico.
When the U.S. national soccer team takes the field Wednesday at a packed Azteca stadium in Mexico City, they will face several obstacles above and beyond the team in green lined up across from them.
The stadium will be filled to capacity with more than 100,000 screaming Mexico fans, helping remind the visitors that they have never won in 23 trips to Mexico City. The Americans can boast only one tie in "El Azteca" to go with 22 losses. The stadium is famous for its difficult conditions, including the perpetual smog of the capital and the thin air at over 7,400 feet.
But the American team's recent inspiring run to the Confederations Cup final has them brimming with confidence that this time will be different. US Soccer Federation head Sunil Gulati says the poor history in Mexico is not an adequate indication of the Americans' success in recent years.
"We have had a very good run against Mexico in games played in the U.S., and most of the games over the last decade have been played in the U.S. Our record in the home games has been very good," he said. "Our record at Azteca has not been good, so from that perspective when we only talk about the record it is a little bit unbalanced, given the number of home games we have played."
The Tri-color, as the Mexican team is known, can also take confidence from its recent victory over the Americans in the Gold Cup, the regional championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean. The semi-annual tournament culminated late last month with a 5-0 Mexico win over an American team comprised mostly of reserves.
For the United States, that result ended a decade of dominance on home soil over the Mexicans. Mexican Coach Javier Aguirre says victory in the Gold Cup has gone a long way towards relieving the constant pressure placed on his team in Mexico.
Nevertheless, the coach says, he will not permit the team to relax heading into this week's big game.
The United States sits in second place in the final six team qualifying group of CONCACAF, the regional association of North and Central America and the Caribbean. A win would push the team to the brink of qualification for their sixth-straight World Cup.
Mexico has struggled through the first half of the marathon, year-long qualifying tournament, taking only six points from a possible 15, and currently sits in fourth place in the final group. The setbacks for the Tri-color include a 2-0 loss to the U.S. squad in February in Columbus, Ohio.