Game On

It's a funny thing about the best laid plans. Sometimes, rather than getting laid, they just end up screwing you.

Take, for example, the venues for the home-and-home World Cup qualifiers between Mexico and the US.

Late last year, Sunil Gulati offered the FMF a deal: he'd move our home leg to someplace that made some sense (and where, coincidentally, he could sell 70,000 tickets) if Mexico would agree to move their home leg to someplace other than Mexico City.

Not surprisingly, FMF President Justin Compean would have none of it and so the games were set in the now-customary spots.

The USSF figured that they'd get normal February weather for Central Ohio, like the sub-Arctic conditions in 2001 when it was so cold the Mexicans refused to even come out for pregame warmups.

What they got instead was almost balmy temperatures and a near tornado:

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYwOekToEOw&feature=related"]YouTube - USA vs. Mexico Storm/Tornado Watch[/ame]

So if you managed to avoid being beaten to death by hail the size of pumpkins, you weren't going to mind the conditions much at all. Of course all the other circumstances still applied - the remoteness of the location, the minimal local Mexican population, the restricted sales which keep the non-USSF support to a reasonable level - but the hole card (bone chilling, will-sapping cold) never happened.

So they just ended up playing soccer and the better team won, Rafa Marquez got his customary sendoff and a Mexican coach took a swing at Surfer Dude. Just the usual stuff.

Which brings us, of course, to today's match in "The Frightening, Intimidating, Super-Scary Azteca Where No One But Mexico Can Ever Win©".

As Eric Wynalda said the other night on Fox Football Fone-in (and much as I've never cared for Waldo I was actually able to sit through the entire show for the first time ever; not being hollered at by an arrogant ignoramus makes even Eric palatable) the problem with Mexico City is simply that "you can't breathe". You get dizzy. You can't think. It's ridiculously hot and humid. Half the guys throw up.

His contention was that it's just not possible for us to win there. The crowd isn't the point. Oxygen is. And anyone who's seen the clips of US players at halftime, looking as out of it as sailors on the third day of a Singapore shore leave, with trainers hovering over them as they frantically suck on 100% re breather masks knows that he isn't kidding.

Nick Webster - looking surprisingly relaxed, apparently as relieved about not being screamed at for two hours as the rest of us - pointed out that Eric himself was on the field for the only non-negative Azteca result the US ever had, the draw back in 1997.

Interestingly, instead of seeing that as a sign of hope Waldo dismissed it as a complete fluke. It rained for two days before the game, the humidity was down, the temperature was quite mild and there was a breeze, making it possible to just play the game instead of wondering if you were going to die of oxygen deprivation.

Without those locally bizarre conditions, says Eric, they would have lost that one too.

So it Wynalda is right, if our only hope is the weather, then maybe we're about to catch a break. Thunderstorms are forecast, winds predicted to be in the 10-15 mph range and the high is expected to be in the mid 70's.

It would be ironic if neither team got the conditions they hoped for when these two games were scheduled and, of all things, the teams just had to get after it on the pitch and the team that brought the best game with them won the thing.

Some people are saying that this is the best shot the US has ever had to take a result out of Mexico City. Maybe so, but if there's one thing we can all do to help, my advice would be: pray for rain.

The other odd thing this year is that all the pressure is on Mexico.

If the US loses the only suffering that will result will come from having to listen to all the Mexico fans crowing about it. Fair enough I suppose. I've done my share of " dos a cero" schtick and you shouldn't dish it out if you can't take it although their clinging to the result in the Gold Cup final (they've said "5-0" more often than Jack Lord) has an air of desperation, as if they believe that one result against a non-representative US side can somehow wash away the bitterness of all those losses.

The US is going to South Africa. Ten points has us sitting pretty comfortably. Disasters do happen, but beyond that we're good to go.

Mexico is in trouble. If they should lose today, or even if they draw, third place in the group looks highly problematic and even fourth place - and the subsequent playoff with a CONMEBOL team - would be in doubt.

They are particularly nervous about the Costa Rica-Honduras match tonight. Should Los Catrachos, playing at home, get the win they'll be at ten points, with the Ticos at 12.

If the US takes three points this afternoon they'd then lead the group with 13, leaving Mexico, on 6, to fight it out for fourth place with a feisty El Salvador side.

(Jack Warner's Soca Warriors looked to be stocking up with newly minted Trinidadians but one of them, Fulham's Bobby Zamora, received his T&T passport and an injury the same day and has been ruled out while, inexplicably, Sunderland's Jlloyd Samuel failed to appear and pick up his shiny new paperwork in time to make the roster.)

The funny thing is that, with all that's happened between these two teams, with all the lessons and the perspective that getting beaten soundly by the US when it matters ought to provide, the Mexicans seem - as usual - supremely confident. It seems that they simply don't believe they are capable of losing in the Azteca.

Well maybe they're right. We all know that history is on their side, certainly.

But this is a US squad that is very much aware of the fact that, all things being equal, they're bringing the better team into the match today. It's a fact that if this game was being played anywhere else on Earth the bookmakers would have the US as the favorite.

And it's a funny thing about being the better team: sometimes you win, no matter where the game is being played.

The prediction here: well, at the risk of getting my face rubbed in it starting early this evening, I'm calling it 2-1 US.

We all know that dominance tends to swing back and forth. Mexico was the better team for years. Now the US is. Someday, in all likelihood, it will swing back the other way.

So if you accept that sooner or later we're going to win down there - a proposition which, statistically at least, seems undeniable - then the odds are that we'll win during the period when we have the better side.

Like, for example, now.

Now if you'll all bow your heads for a moment as we beseech the Almighty for a torrential downpour....