Pat Brennan / Sports editor
The United States men’s national soccer team is returning to its Columbus fortress at just the right time.
Crew Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, is a ground that has seen the U.S. national team go undefeated in eight previous games. The Stars and Stripes have returned to Central Ohio for a vital 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Jamaica on Tuesday.
The American squad boasts a lifetime 5-0-3 record at Crew Stadium, as well as a 12-1 overall score line in those games. Tuesday’s contest isn’t just a chance for the Americans to remain undefeated – it’s a shot to climb back into a safe position in the race to qualify for Brazil.
Some American players on the team believe the team’s World Cup qualifying chances are hanging in the balance, while one veteran of the Crew and the U.S. national team says the match is important, but not an end-all, be-all.
Either way, most agree that Crew Stadium is home, and it’s good to be back.
Former U.S. star Brian McBride called Crew Stadium home for eight years as a member of Columbus’ MLS franchise before playing for English Premier League team Fulham. Even after McBride left the States for England, the stadium still served as a kind of home during games with America’s national team.
In a Monday phone interview with The Lantern, McBride said that Crew Stadium is indeed the national team’s home.
“The results have been great there,” McBride said. “For me, personally, being able to be a part of the Crew for eight years and then when we started playing qualifiers there, it was a double bonus. Especially when I went to England, I got to go back and see old friends and fans and fan base that Columbus has.”
Current members of the U.S. player pool agree with McBride, who scored 30 goals in 96 appearances for the national team.
Following the team’s training session at Crew Stadium on Sunday, American midfielder Clint Dempsey, now a member of English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, said the trip to Columbus is much needed.
“The venue (in Columbus) has always been good to us in years past,” Dempsey said. “It’s one of the first soccer-specific stadiums that was built. There’s always been good support out here and, you know, for some reason we always seem to do well, so I think it’s a good match.”
The U.S. needs exactly that on Tuesday – a good match.
America is locked in a second-place tie with Guatemala in its four-team World Cup qualifying group from which only the top two teams can advance. Jamaica, nicknamed the “Reggae Boyz,” is sitting atop the group with seven points to America’s four points.
Jamaica took the lead in the group after its 2-1 win against the Americans Friday in Kingston, Jamaica, but now the stage has switched to Columbus.
U.S. midfielder Jozy Altidore, a member of Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, said his team knows it has to win on Tuesday and Columbus is just the place to get the job done.
“I think everybody feels that a little bit. If we don’t win on Tuesday, it gets pretty scary,” Altidore said. “I think everybody understands what’s at stake.”
Fortunately for U.S. fans, Altidore is no stranger to national-team success in Ohio’s capital city.
The memory of Altidore’s first national team game at Crew Stadium is still strong today, he said.
It was on Feb. 11, 2009, that 23,776 fans packed the stadium for a 2-0 American victory against Mexico. Altidore came on as a substitute in the 83rd minute of the game and was on the field for a goal by U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley that put the Americans up, 2-0, in stoppage time.
With memories of that victory in tow, Altidore echoed the sentiments of Dempsey and McBride, saying, “Columbus is great.”
“It’s good to come home,” he said, “so hopefully we can put in a good effort.”
U.S. defender and captain Carlos Bocanegra, a member of Spanish club Racing Santander, captained the American team and helped defend the team’s Columbus fortress during the February 2009 game.
Bocanegra said he hopes the team is able to succeed again on the pitch that has been so good to U.S. Soccer.
“Here, we’ve had great performances and it seems to be kind of a home field advantage for us,” Bocanegra said. “We enjoy playing here and we’re confident playing here.”
Tuesday’s match is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m.