By Mitch Stacy
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — The U.S. is back in Columbus this week, where it enjoys a distinct home-field advantage.
MAPFRE Stadium, the 20,000-seat home of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, hosts the Americans’ fifth straight home World Cup qualifier against Mexico.
The game has become known as “Dos a cero” following four straight U.S. wins by 2-0 scores.
“There’s just history here,” American defender Matt Besler said ahead of Friday’s match. “The fans have always been supportive of us, and I think it’s changing now that it’s not just people from this area. There are people from all over the country who are flying in to be a part of this game.”
The Americans are 8-0-3 at the venue, a few miles west of sprawling Ohio State and its 105,000-seat football stadium. The MLS stadium’s size allows the U.S. Soccer Federation to ensure a pro-American crowd.
“The majority of U.S. fans fill up that stadium. It’s incredible,” said U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, a Mexican-American who plays for Pachuca. “You don’t really get that anywhere else you go, so it’s definitely an advantage for us to play here in Columbus. It’s not the biggest stadium, it’s intimate but it’s loud, people are close to the pitch so it’s going to be great.”
Players began arriving Monday for training. When the U.S. plays Mexico at larger venues such as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., a large percentage of the crowd has been El Tri supporters.
“Here in Columbus, we know that one way or another, the majority are going to be our people,” said backup goalkeeper William Yarbrough, a Mexican-American who plays for Leon. “We know of the great fans that Mexico has in the United States. So it’s also important to look for those venues where we know that the support is going to be 100 percent for us, this is one of them.”
The match is the opener of the 10-game final round of qualifying in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. The top three nations qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and the no. 4 team advances to a playoff against the fifth-place Asian team for another berth.
Mexico has gone 12-1-2 since former Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio took over in October 2015 — the loss was a 7-0 quarterfinal defeat to Chile in Copa America in June.
“We know the crowd is going to be on our side,” said 20-year-old midfielder Lynden Gooch, who plays for Sunderland in the English Premier League. “They’re going to be our 12th man, as they say, and it’s going to be rocking. It’s going to a fierce rivalry. There’s a big three points at stake.”