MEXICO CITY -- T-minus 24 hours. The United States' World Cup qualifier against Mexico is a renewal of CONCACAF’s most vicious border war. The U.S. side arrived in Mexico City on Tuesday afternoon, and U.S. head coach Bob Bradley seemed as calm and relaxed--at least as much as Bradley ever seems calm and relaxed in a press conference--ahead of one of the biggest games of his coaching career.
"It’s a game we’ve all been thinking about a long time," he told the
U.S. media gathered at the team’s hotel near Azteca Stadium. "Certainly
it’s a date that’s been circled on our calendar. There’s the history,
which presents an exciting opportunity for us to be the first U.S. team
to win a match in Azteca. There’s the rivalry, which means a lot to all
of us because of the passion of the fans on both sides. Then there’s
the World Cup qualifying. Mainly, from our end, there’s a real
excitement about being here and going for it."
Many observers believe the U.S. has a real chance of winning the match,
despite the side’s winless all-time record at the Mexicans’ legendary
home stadium. Mexico’s struggles in qualifying and the U.S.’s recent
success at the Confederations Cup fuel the optimism. But El Tri thumped
the Americans last month in the Gold Cup final, and they are a
different side playing at Azteca. They will undoubtedly come out flying
in the opening minutes, applying unrelenting pressure on the Americans,
who are unaccustomed to the altitude and smog of Mexico City, as well
as the noise at the stadium and even the massive playing surface.
"One thing that we’ve talked about over and over is how you manage
early parts of the game," Bradley said. "You need to be smart,
disciplined. It’s a period of the game when you’re not going to win the
game, but you can in a way lose it."
Bradley refused to discuss his lineup decisions, but he suggested that
there will be changes from the starting XI that beat Spain in the
semifinals of the Confederations Cup. Most likely, he hinted, Houston
Dynamo striker Brian Ching will replace Sochaux youngster Charlie
"It’s always a nice thought that you have a lineup that works one day
and all you have to do is run it out it it will work again," he said, "but I think if you take a broader perspective . . . We’ve had a lot of good
games in the last six months, games that have given us a real sense of
our depth and talent. The only thing that now get factored in
differently is what have guys been doing lately. We take different
things into account and find our best lineup."
There is always a lot of pressure playing a World Cup qualifier at
Azteca, both for the home side and the visitors. But, Bradley said, it
is also a great moment for a player, an experience any player should
savor and see as an opportunity.
"You hope that most of all that playing in a stadium like this brings
everybody to the highest level," Bradley said, perhaps directing his
remarks toward his players as much as to the press. "The one thing we
have mentioned to our guys is that for a soccer player, Azteca is one
of the great stadiums in the world. The atmosphere, the field itself,
everything is something that you dream of, so let’s enjoy the
Greg Lalas, Goal.com
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