A large contingency of Salvadoran fans is expected to greet the United States in its Gold Cup quarterfinal Sunday in Baltimore.BALTIMORE -- It's a rite of passage that every U.S. national team player has to go through at some point.
Inevitably, there will be a big game in the United States where the USA has to play the role of away team in its own country. On Sunday, that is exactly what Jurgen Klinsmann's men will face.
The USA will face El Salvador in the Gold Cup quarterfinal at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, where a sold-out crowd of more than 70,000 fans will take in the match. Most of them won't be rooting for the United States.
Washington D.C., which is about 35 miles south of Baltimore, contains approximately 135,000 Salvadoran-born immigrants, and even more second-generation citizens. With a surge in ticket sales taking place since El Salvador was confirmed for Baltimore on Tuesday, the U.S. will almost certainly be the away team Sunday.
"I don't think it's going to be a factor at all, if anything it's going to motivate us," U.S. forward Eddie Johnson told reporters before training on Friday. "Any time as a professional soccer player you get to play in front of 50,000 plus fans [the number will actually be closer to 70,000], what more motivation do you need?"
While the U.S. federation strategically tries to schedule World Cup qualifiers in locations with small populations of the opposing team, there is no such luxury at the Gold Cup. This point was emphasized in the 2011 final in front of a heavily pro-Mexico crowd at the Rose Bowl, and will also likely be the case if the U.S. faces Mexico in Chicago in the final on July 28.
Despite the crowd, the U.S. is still heavily favored to win its record ninth-straight game, and advance to the semifinal in Dallas.
"At the end of the day, it's about us," Johnson said. "I think right now we just need to focus on ourselves and if we focus on ourselves, we'll put ourselves in with a chance of getting a good result."
Besides, the away-team-in-its-own-country dynamic is hardly a new phenomenon for the U.S., specifically for a veteran like DaMarcus Beasley.
When asked if any games stuck out where the U.S. had to overcome visiting fans in the United States, he responded: "Every game." He then added the only exceptions were facing Mexico in Columbus and the team's recent game against Panama in Seattle.
"We're used to it," Beasley said.
For those that aren't, Sunday will be their rite of passage.