It all started early that day at 4th Street Bar. Well, that’s not completely accurate. It really started as I drove into Columbus. There was a discernible change in the atmosphere as cars drove past me sporting “United States is going to Brazil” and “USA vs Mexico” on their windows. The city was charged. It wasn’t getting warmed up. I was joining something that had been going on for days.
The American Outlaws had bunkered down at 4th Street and they had come in numbers. The infantry reported from all over and wore their platoon names proudly on their jerseys. Omaha, Lexington, Seattle. All hands were on deck. The 88-degree bar was bloated and overflowing except for those who were crowding around the freezers posted outside to find relief from the heat under the blazing sun. The heat, the sweat, none of it mattered. War was at hand. Strategy was discussed, battle hymns were sung, and hope was spreading like wildfire.
We marched at 6pm, two hours before kickoff. The streets were indiscernible. Small streams of supporters flowed into one giant, meandering, red sea that flooded the city on the way to the grounds. Columbus belonged to the Yanks.
I spent a good portion of my life living outside of Columbus. I attended the inaugural match at Crew Stadium and have been to countless matches since. To say I was familiar with the coliseum is an understatement. But as our army turned to approach the battlefield, I caught a glimpse of the stadium, and I couldn’t recognize it. Gone was the gold and black home of the Columbus Crew. In its stead was what Mexican newspapers referred to as “La Casa del Terror.” A red and white fortress that had never been overtaken by Mexican forces. The three previous matches at this monolith all ended 2-0 to the United States. This was the home of Dos A Cero.
The first warning shot of the night was fired during the national anthem. US fans, who encompassed the overwhelming majority of supporters in attendance, in one motion, raised their scarves that proudly read “Land of the Free,” and sang at a deafening volume. It was a statement. This was the home of the United States and it would not be taken easily.
The second warning shot came at halftime with the score still 0-0. Mexico entered the match with their qualifying campaign on the ropes, knowing they needed a result to kick-start their final push for Brazil. The first 20 minutes were furious. Mexico had no low gear. Every ball, every player went straight for Tim Howard’s goal. Through this time, the Americans concentrated on holding the line. A few shots from 20 yards peppered the goal, but Howard wasn’t bothered. The Yanks attacked mainly on counters and almost broke Mexico’s defenses, most notably chances from Dempsey and Johnson. But with no points on the board after 45 minutes, both teams returned to their war rooms, Mexico worse for the wear following their all-out attack.