Can the U.S. Win at Azteca? It's Not Out of the Question
June 10, 2017
MEXICO CITY—A beehive. Charlie Davies called it that. So did Mike Sorber. I heard it myself in 2009 when I covered the United States game against Mexico at the famed Azteca Stadium. For two hours before kickoff, the 100,000-plus fans didn't stop making noise. It didn't get louder or quieter—it just buzzed.
The noise is part of the legend, part of the intimidation. The buzz, along with the sheer number of fans and the altitude—7,000 feet or so—are keys to Mexico registering a remarkable 40-2-7 home record in World Cup qualifying since 1966.
When the Americans arrive Sunday night, they'll be massive underdogs in the venue where they've won a single match in 11 tries. Paddy Power lists them as five-to-one underdogs. Pick Mexico to win and your payout is a mere four dollars for every seven wagered.
The U.S. should be underdogs. Mexico is a strong team, playing in a place where it's comfortable, a few days removed from an easy victory over Honduras. But if there was ever a time for the Americans to pull out a victory, this is the game. Christian Pulisic, who played there in a youth tournament, drew headlines for saying, "There's no reason why we can't do it" after Thursday night's 2-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago, and he's not entirely wrong.
While the Red, White, and Blue have historically failed time and time again at Azteca, recent results skew in their favor. In the last two times they've played—a friendly in August 2012 and a meaningless World Cup qualifier a year later—the Yanks managed a win and a draw. The team that will play on Sunday has secured positive results in Azteca, something few previous squads can say. Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson, and Geoff Cameron started in the 1-0 victory while Cameron, along with Omar Gonzalez, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore figured in the scoreless draw. Knowing how to win can be half the battle.
Then, there's Azteca itself. It's been modernized and updated, with trappings of current stadiums like luxury boxes and press areas. The combination of NFL games being played in the stadium and Club America's 100th anniversary prompted the improvements, which are good for fans but diminish the intimidation. There's a difference between 110,000 screaming supporters and 86,000 fans where the richest among them are the closest to the field.
Mexico is feeling it, too. In the last World Cup cycle, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras found success in Azteca in addition to the U.S. Juan Carlos Osorio came in and righted the ship, but everyone in the world knows this isn't the imposing venue it has been in the past.
Finally, after the win against T&T, there's no pressure on the Americans to get a result. A point or three would be great, sure, but there's no need. The U.S. is perfectly set up to reach Russia regardless of what happens on Sunday evening. If they can go out and play, you never know.
Back in November, Mexico finally broke the Curse of Columbus and handed the U.S. a resounding defeat in their previously impenetrable fortress. Is it crazy to think the Americans might return the favor?
Noah Davis is a New York City-based writer and the Deputy Editor of American Soccer Now. Follow him on Twitter.