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United States

Home field advantage? Friday's U.S.A. vs Mexico clash is being played on Trump turf.

Team Mexico doesn't like playing in Ohio where Mexican fans are hard to come by. A scoreline jinx that has seen USA grab a 2-0 win in the past four meetings dating back 15 years. Then there's the shadow of Donald Trump's election sweep of the rust belt.
10 Nov 2016 – 01:49 PM EST
USA vs Mexico, Friday night. The history between the two teams is marked by a 2-0 jinx. Crédito: US Soccer

COLUMBUS, Ohio - American soccer doesn’t have a famous home for its national team.

There is no American 'Maracana,' the home of Brazilian soccer. There is nothing like England's 'Wembley' stadium.

Team USA has no stadium for the national team to play all their big games in front of a passionate home crowd.

But once every four years, when the United States face Mexico in World Cup qualifying, American soccer does return to a place which feels, for that game at least, like home.

That place is Columbus, Ohio - and Mexico doesn’t like playing there.

The Columbus Crew stadium, now under the sponsored name of Mapfre Stadium, is not much to look at. Rudimentary metal bleachers and plastic yellow seats, and with a regular capacity for Major League Soccer games of less than 20,000, the venue is perfectly fine and functional but is hardly iconic.

But there is something in the air when North America’s two biggest teams face each other in Columbus.

In the four meetings in World Cup qualifiers in Columbus - in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013, the scoreline has been the same: USA 2 Mexico 0.

Or as U.S fans like to call it ‘Dos a Cero’.

This year's clash has an extra dose of drama after Tuesday's election victory by Mexican-basher, Donald Trump, who's 'Make America Great Again' campaign ended up with a sweep of the rust belt states like Ohio.

In the last encounter, the Americans led 2-0 when in the final stages they were awarded a penalty. The normally reliable Clint Dempsey missed the spot-kick and the statistical oddity continued.

It started in 2001 when a sell-out crowd of 24,624 gathered in a temperature at kickoff of 29 degrees Fahrenheit. Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart got the goals but many believe the game was won before it even kicked off.

“I was on the bench in 2001,” says former U.S. and Columbus Crew defender Frankie Hejduk. “It was the coldest game I have ever been to in my life. It was so cold that the Mexican team didn’t come out for warm-ups. It felt like minus 100,” he said.

“We were warming-up and looking around thinking ‘where is Mexico?’ I went whoah, there is our first advantage - they are cold. We were out there getting ready and they stayed in the locker-room and we didn’t know what they were doing. We felt they might be a little flat, a little cold and they did come out like that. They couldn’t wait to get out of Columbus,” he said.

Hejduk says the choice of Columbus was designed as an attempt to create something the Americans had never had before - a real home field edge.

“There was a feeling I think with the 2001 game of let’s put it somewhere where we can have an advantage. What kind of advantage, let’s see, but let’s put it somewhere where it is cold and windy and wet and snowy.

“It is similar to what they do to us by playing at Azteca with its high altitude in one of the smoggiest cities in the world. You play there sometimes in the afternoon when it is 100 degrees. I call that a home field advantage. You see it with Bolivia playing at altitude (in La Paz) and really every team (in this region) tries to do that. So they experimented with that for the 2001 game and it took off rom there,” he said.

When the U.S. meet Mexico in CONCACAF Gold Cup games or for money-spinning friendlies, stadiums in Chicago, Arizona or Pasadena, California, are filled with fans decked out in green and white. It is not quite as intimidating as facing Mexico at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, but it certainly feels like a road game for the Americans.

But in Columbus, the smaller capacity and the lower Mexican population, ensures that the U.S have a stadium full of fans cheering them on.

“The first year it was maybe 60-40 Mexico fans, then it started to switch gradually until the last game when it was 95% U.S. fans. For the first time in the history of the U.S we have a home advantage and it happens to be here,” says Hejduk.

“Its having a place that other teams find difficult to win at. It was born here in 2001 and now we are riding a wave and want to keep it going. We don’t need there to be 90,000 people here, it needs to be rocking but small, intimate, 100 percent behind our team,” he said.

Mexico captain Rafa Marquez played in the first three Columbus games but says they need to be put out of mind.

"This is a new stage with almost half our team playing in Europe now, and that’s important. They are different eras, and I’m not remembering the old one,” he said.

"I’m living in another time with different players with enormous potential in the team, and we’re trying to leave all that in the past.”

But Hejduk believes the jinx of Columbus is bound to be playing on the minds of El Tri as they get ready for Friday’s game, the first of the six-team qualifying series for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

“Without doubt. For whatever reason they don’t like playing here and we do. We play our game better than ever - and they haven’t figured out a way to beat it. That’s unusual because Mexico are a very good team and let’s face they go to other places and outplay teams, out-possess teams and they are tough to beat anywhere in the world, in any tournament. But they struggle here. It definitely plays on their mind,” he says.

Hejduk expects a noisy crowd once again and believes the elements may once more be about to play their part.

“It has been beautiful and sunny here for the past week but we are getting a little Arctic blast coming in. I don’t know, its a little weird."

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