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OH-It’s Good to be Home

Crew Stadium will once again play the patriotic host to a pivotal World Cup qualifying match. This evening, under a Midwestern blanket of stars, the United States of America will battle “That Team Down South.”

The stands will be painted with jerseys and shirts that will proudly showcase the brightest and boldest color combinations of red, white and blue. The chanting and support will be relentless because, honestly, it’s the USMNT’s homecoming.

The fans, players and coaches all know what’s waiting for them. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. on ESPN, but the excitement has been building since the last match four years ago.

The stage is set for another defining 90 minutes of American soccer.

For the United States, tonight’s game can (should) provide this squad with a unique window into the future. Can the Americans regroup after suffering an embarrassing loss in Costa Rica 3-1 in a matter of just a few days with a depleted starting lineup (injury and yellow card accumulations)? Like today, and potentially during the summer of 2014 in Brazil, can the red-white and blue prove to have a short memory. When maximum points and victories are necessary and when the team is forced to travel between games, will Jürgen Klinsmann’s team rise to the occasion?

When an individual is under pressure, there are only two reactions: get crushed or push back.

The United States vs. Mexico is an incredible soccer rivalry. Luckily for the American players and fans, they will feel right at home in Columbus, Ohio. In the three World Cup Qualifying games played between these two nations at Crew Stadium (2001, 2005 and 2009), the United States has won all three games with a final tally of 2-nil.

Or, in better words: Dos a Cero.

There have been great goals, hard tackles, beautiful passes, yellow cards and McBride’s “eye wide shut.”

With three games left in World Cup qualifying and a point differential of 1 between the United States and first-place Costa Rica, 5 between the U.S. and Mexico and 6 between Costa Rica and Mexico, tonight’s match is critical for both teams.

The stakes are undeniably high. The rivalry is real. This is the game and Crew Stadium is the venue!

To build the suspense even more, there will be several intriguing story lines playing out tonight in the heat inside (but really outside) the house Lamar built.

  • Without the maestro in the middle, can the U.S. be guided without the quiet, steady leadership of Michael Bradley?
  • How will Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey play together in such a vitally important game? Will they be the catalysts or finishers on goals?
  • Will Mexico, having fired its head coach last Saturday morning, be dejected or inspired by pride?
  • How many yellow and red cards will the ref show or not show?
  • Will Chicharito (Javier Hernández Balcázar) play like a Manchester United star?
  • Besides Tim Howard, which American player will take the strategic and emotional leadership role tonight? FYI-This responsibility is not limited to the man wearing the captain’s armband…
  • Does the American side have a reliable and dependent back line?
  • Will the United States of America pull off another paramount victory in front of its best crowd?

Now, the most critical question: will it be miraculously cold tonight like back in 2001? The forecast says mid-80s, so probably not. But remember: this is Columbus, where the hopes and dreams of American soccer fans, players and coaches come true…

Plus, it all depends on how you define “cold.”

Another 2-nil win for the U.S. could seriously start to freeze the hopes of a berth to the 2014 World Cup in sunny Brazil for “That Team Down South.”

I’m getting chills just thinking about it!

A Magical Finish For Sure

A tale of two halves in the most explicitly literal sense.

Bosnia-Herzegovina owned the first half and darted two goals past the frustrated American pipe-master Tim Howard for a 2-nil lead (the worst lead in soccer…).

The United States of America owned the second half where competent and creative ball movements by Michael Bradley led to great finishes, three of which from the man who has been on a hot streak of goal scoring this summer: Jozy Altidore. A hat trick is always a nice souvenir. The U.S. won the game in surprising fashion 4-3.

Who saw that coming after halftime? Actually, perhaps Bosnia-Herzegovina should have been more perceptive to this possibility after they substituted half of their team (six players) with slightly slower and slightly weaker replacements. Regardless, a valiant effort on the part of the USMNT.

For the game’s analysis, a short list has been created that details the highlights and lessons from last night’s comeback victory in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina:

-There needs to be “A Bradley Touch Tracker” as a graphic on the television screen (when he touches the ball, good things tend to happen).

-On a similar note, there should be “A Donovan GPS Tracker” (Just so the coaches and viewers can confirm he’s still on the field for those big games when he disappears for 15 minutes or so. “Oh, there he is! Yes, he’s still out there somewhere over there…”)
Important Note: Landon Donovan was not there last night and I’m a fan, but this would still be very useful

-The USMNT did not (and has yet to) start a back-line that can successfully play a staggered defense where the two outside defenders can frequently go forward, mostly due to the lackluster performance of Cameron and Brooks together in the middle.

-Brad Evans: once again, good job.

-More time and more touches for Aron Johannsson, please!

-Jozy Altidore: keep shooting and flexing your muscles for 90 minutes.

-Spread the field from sideline to sideline with outside midfielders who will attack with vigor!

-As Taylor Twellman said, the real ticket to buy is the one for Jürgen Klinsmann’s halftime speeches: wow! Plus, Klinsmann continues to be a master of substitutions. Gut gemacht!

One constant that is becoming increasingly apparent is that the USMNT will be a second half, come from behind squad. The challenge is that most of the top teams in the world are well-versed in the “two halves of soccer” strategy. And most will not take off their best players after 45 minutes…

Just as I wrote about “Fool’s Gold” regarding the Gold Cup, there are still some smoke and mirror effects going on with these recent results. The head coach has yet to put the 11-men onto the pitch who will amaze an audience for 90+ minutes without those very same spectators being skeptical and wondering what the catch was afterwards.

Klinsmann can no doubt work his magic towards something potentially historic, but the fans are still stuck watching the mistake-prone rehearsals with the “big show” less than a year away…