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Bradley: U.S. Must Enjoy The Challenge Of Azteca

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 Davies.

"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 challenge."

Greg Lalas, Goal.com

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