Much has been written and said about the irrelevance of the mid-August FIFA date. Admittedly, it's far from ideal, with teams partaking in only one game that takes place just prior to the kickoff of most European club seasons.
For the U.S. national team however, this particular FIFA date presents an opportunity that every American player will particularly relish: a meeting with Mexico at the famed Azteca Stadium.
“Coming down to Azteca is a special feeling for us,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We want to play as good as we can, but it's a difficult environment.”
Mexican fans have famously made the environment especially difficult on American players, as insults have been the least of things hurled from the stands, which have also included batteries, coins and even bags of various human waste products.
The USA has an all-time record of 0-19-1 at the famous stadium, with the one draw coming via a 0-0 result in a 1998 World Cup qualifier. Most recently, the team fell 2-1 in a 2010 World Cup qualifier after taking an early 1-0 lead through a Charlie Davies goal.
“There's a lot of history at Azteca, worldwide history," Howard said. "For us, with Mexico being our neighbor and our rival it's special because that's their home and they honor that and it's very tough to win there."
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has called a mostly inexperienced roster for the match, with many players yet to experience a game against Mexico at the 105,000 seat stadium.
One of those players is left back Fabian Johnson, who will be looking for his seventh U.S. cap in Wednesday's game.
“I've never played here in Mexico, so I don't know what it's like,” Johnson said. “Everybody just told me it's going to be crazy and I'm looking forward to it.”
The Hoffenheim defender said he's used to playing in cavernous stadiums in Germany – he mentioned Borussia Dortmund's 80,000-seat Signal Iduna Park – but when told that the Azteca has held upwards of 120,000 before, he could only react by laughing and saying, “that's crazy- unbelievable.”
DaMarcus Beasley is the second-most capped player on the current roster with 96, and the 30-year-old has played in his share of USA-Mexico rivalry games during his career.
“You don't get a chance every day to play Mexico at Azteca,” Beasley said. “Hopefully the boys that will play get a great experience."
It hasn't always been great, but for the USA, Wednesday will be nothing if not an experience.
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