U.S. team facing big odds on road vs. Mexico Home team can salt away World Cup spot with win


In Mexico, tomorrow02 is "el Dia de los Muertos," the Day of the Dead, a national holiday that bundles the best of what Americans call Halloween and All Saints' Day.

At midday, however, much of the country will take a two-hour break from traditional feasting, skull-shaped candy and buns and macabre frivolity to watch an international soccer match in the nation's capital -- Mexico vs. the United States (1 p.m., Univision).

No ordinary game for the "Tri-Colores," a win or tie in this "classico" would add zest to an already spicy day, clinching a place in next summer's World Cup finals in France for Mexico.

All the sweeter, the opponent is a U.S. team that in the context of World Cup qualifying is searching for redemption -- and could hardly be doing it in a more challenging environment.

In short, the U.S. has never won in Mexico City, where the Mexican team has not lost a World Cup qualifier since the stadium being used tomorrow opened in 1960. Very few people expect tomorrow to be different, although the Americans would cherish a tie and one point in the standings.

Earlier this week, midfielder Tab Ramos, one of the U.S. team's veteran leaders who played first-division pro ball in Mexico in 1994-96, was asked about Mexico City.

"My experiences haven't been good," he replied. "I don't think it's just teams from other countries that don't like to go there. Club teams don't like going in there because of the smog. It catches up to you in the second half. It's a difficult place to play."

Everyone complains about Mexico City's smog, which ranks with the world's worst, noting in the same gasp that the city is 7,300 feet above sea level. Pile on noise from 120,000 fans -- double Memorial Stadium's capacity -- in the recently renamed Guillermo Canedo Stadium, and you get the picture.

Losing tomorrow in the first of its final three World Cup qualifiers on consecutive Sundays will not kill the U.S. team's chances of getting to France. But the Yanks would then need a win and a draw in their last two qualifiers to be assured of representing this part of the world with first-place Mexico and, probably, second-place Jamaica.

Losing would continue a pattern in Mexico for the full U.S. national squad, which is 0-17 there since 1937, having been outscored by 63-13. Mexico has whomped two other regional opponents in this qualifying round at home, Jamaica by 5-0 and El Salvador by 6-0.

If that sounds negative, the picture has a couple of bright segments. If this U.S. team gets up for anyone, it's Mexico. The teams fought to a fierce, 2-2 draw in their first qualifier at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium in April, and, since the early 1990s, the rivalry has become one of the world's most competitive.

"There's urgency in the sense that our backs are against the wall, and this team always has performed well in that position," U.S. coach Steve Sampson said this week.

Two American regulars will be missing: increasingly important midfielder Claudio Reyna, because of yellow cards, and goalkeeper Kasey Keller, because of a dislocated thumb.

Reyna's absence will increase the midfield pressures on captain John Harkes and Ramos. Keller will be replaced by Brad Friedel.

Pub Date: 11/01/97

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad