Looking for soccer support, US picks Ohio to host vs Mexico

Nov 11, 2021, 2:09 AM | Updated: 7:39 pm
FILE - Fans cheer during a FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match between Jamaica and the United St...

FILE - Fans cheer during a FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match between Jamaica and the United States on Oct. 7, 2021, in Austin, Texas. In choosing new TQL Stadium in Cincinnati for Friday night's World Cup qualifier against Mexico, the U.S. Soccer Federation picked a city with just 3% Hispanic population in a state that ranks 42nd among the 50 in that demographic. “When you’re talking about a World Cup qualifier, it’s really important to have a pro-U.S. crowd, and whether that’s Latinos in the stands or not, we want a pro-U.S. crowd," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. "And it's not always easy to ensure it. I think we learned from mistakes in the past.” (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

CINCINNATI (AP) — In choosing new TQL Stadium for Friday night’s World Cup qualifier against Mexico, the U.S. Soccer Federation selected a city with a 3% Hispanic population in a state that ranks 42nd among the 50 in that demographic.

“When you’re talking about a World Cup qualifier, it’s really important to have a pro-U.S. crowd, and whether that’s Latinos in the stands or not, we want a pro-U.S. crowd,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “And it’s not always easy to ensure it. I think we learned from mistakes in the past.”

Berhalter, a U.S. defender from 1994-2006, recalled playing against Honduras and Guatemala at Washington’s RFK Stadium when the visitors had majority support. In 2017, partisans were mixed for the U.S. and Costa Rica at a World Cup qualifier at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, won by the Ticos 2-0 and contributing to the Americans’ failure to reach the World Cup.

Ninth-ranked Mexico leads North and Central America and the Caribbean with 14 points and the No. 13 U.S. is second with 11 points heading into Friday’s game, which marks the halfway point of qualifying.

With Berhalter as coach, the U.S. has drawn three overwhelmingly pro-American crowds. It opened in an NFL venue in September, Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, and drew 43,028 for a 1-1 draw against Canada.

The next three home matches were set for new Major League Soccer homes, where smaller ticket allotments facilitate targeted distribution to season-ticket holders and supporters. A 2-0 win over Jamaica drew 20,500 last month to Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, and a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica was seen by 20,165 at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio. The match against Mexico is in 26,000-capacity venue that opened in May.

“We want the stadium to be loud, and we want the atmosphere to be hectic,” Berhalter said.

Used to frenetic fans at their club matches in Europe and the U.S., America players appreciate fervid backing.

“The fan bases help us so much. They give us sometimes that extra motivation, that extra push that we need in the toughest part of the game,” said midfielder Tyler Adams, among the American leaders. “Relying on the crowd for energy sometimes is something that you need.”

The U.S. Soccer Federation said president Cindy Parlow Cone and chief executive officer Will Wilson were in meetings Thursday and were not available for comment on site selection.

Columbus’ old Crew Stadium was the site of the previous five U.S.-Mexico qualifiers from 2001-17. The first four were the string of “Dos a Cero” U.S. wins followed by a 2-1 defeat in November 2016 that began the American downfall.

“For us, it’s just about understanding what competition we’re in and trying to get a crowd that’s going to push us and get behind us and really helps this team be successful,” Berhalter said. “It’s not about what nationality you are or what demographic you’re in.”

The U.S. has played Mexico twice this year, winning 3-2 in the CONCACAF Nations League final at Denver in June on Christian Pulisic’s 114th-minute penalty kick. With a roster of mostly backups, the Americans defeated El Tri 1-0 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup at Las Vegas on Aug. 1 behind Miles Robinson’s 117th minute goal.

“I don’t take losses as something personal,” Mexico coach Tata Martino said. “When you start handling this as something personal, you start making bad decisions. It’s a huge game, I know its importance and it happens to be in the qualifiers.”

Berhalter recalled games against Mexico in which U.S. supporters were far outnumbered.

“When you play in front of filled-up stadiums at your home and it’s 95% Mexican fans, you learn really quickly what this rivalry is about. When you see the passion on the field, how both teams compete against each other, you know what the rivalry is about,” Berhalter said.

“When you hear things coming out from their camp that we want to be them, we’re looking at some mirror that’s Mexico and we want to see ourselves or something like that, it shows that we have a long way to go to get the respect of Mexico. And the two victories in the summer I guess didn’t do a lot to get that and we’re going to have to do it tomorrow with our play on the field,” he said.

Pulisic, returning from a sprained left ankle that has limited him to two late-game appearances in the past two months, won’t start Friday but likely will come off the bench, Berhalter said.

Zack Steffen, who rarely plays for Manchester City, will start his second straight qualifier in goal over Matt Turner, the regular for the New England Revolution.

Ricardo Pepi, an 18-year-old striker who chose the U.S. over Mexico, is expected to start.

“We hope in the future guys like Ricardo Pepi will help us get more Latino fans,” Berhalter said.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Mexico has played 14 of its 26 games in the U.S., including a friendly series in which it partners with Soccer United Marketing, a commercial affiliate of MLS.

When the rivals met at Denver’s Empower Field and drew 37,648, the match was stopped for about three minutes in second-half stoppage time because of discriminatory fan chants. American attacker Gio Reyna was hit on the face by a thrown object following Pulisic’s goal.

Berhalter thought back to what he felt was a “hostile” environment for the U.S.’s opening qualifier in September at San Salvador’s Estadio Cuscatlán.

“That brings their team to life,” he said. “And we’re hoping for the same type of response from the crowd and then the reaction from the team, because we know how a good crowd can push the team.”

___

AP Sports Writer Eric Nunez contributed to this report.

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

United States' Yunus Musah, right, Aaron Long, center, and United States' goalkeeper Sean Johnson c...
Associated Press

World Cup win increases prize money for American men, women

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The U.S. women’s team will make at least three times more from the men’s World Cup than they received for winning the 2019 women’s tournament, thanks to a new deal to split World Cup earnings. A 1-0 win by the men over Iran on Tuesday night increased their World Cup prize […]
1 day ago
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen scrambles during the second half of an NFL football game again...
Associated Press

Bills-Patriots kick off week filled with playoff-type games

Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills head to New England looking for their first division win of the season. Week 13 is loaded with several playoff-type matchups, starting with the Bills (8-3) visiting the Patriots (6-5) on Thursday night. Five other games on Sunday also feature winning teams playing against each other. The Bills already […]
1 day ago
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe holds a press conference at the conclusion of the World Ath...
Associated Press

Kenya avoids track doping ban; Russia gets mixed news

Russia and Kenya, two of the most troubled counties on the international doping front, received encouraging news from track and field’s ruling body on Wednesday, though any possible reprieve for Russia was tempered by the sport’s intent to keep the country’s athletes out of international meets until the war in Ukraine is over. Kenya came […]
1 day ago
Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller skates with the puck before scoring an empty-net goal aga...
Associated Press

Tempe council approves Arizona Coyotes’ new arena proposal

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year. The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 late Tuesday night after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. The […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Ex-UConn player wins appeal over middle finger incident

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court Wednesday reinstated the appeal of a former University of Connecticut women’s soccer player who lost her scholarship after she gave the middle finger to a television camera as the Huskies celebrated winning a 2014 conference championship. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals […]
1 day ago
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his side's opening goal during the World Cup group H soccer...
Associated Press

Ronaldo linked with Saudi club as future still uncertain

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The noise surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo shows no sign of quietening amid widespread speculation that Saudi club Al Nassr is trying to sign the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. But Portugal, which has managed to secure its place in the knockout stages of the World Cup with a game to spare, doesn’t look […]
1 day ago
Looking for soccer support, US picks Ohio to host vs Mexico