USA-Mexico: Why the Weather is No Longer a Factor for El Tri

From Last Word on Soccer, by John Bava

For the fifth straight time, USA-Mexico in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying will take place at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, OH. The venue has certainly attained a mythical aura for the USMNT given the final score of the previous four meetings. “Dos a Cero” has become a mantra of magnanimity for the US in the recent history of this series.

For Mexico, however, that scoreline has served as a continuing source of frustration for a decade and a half now. It’s a reminder that El Tri is no longer the dominant force in CONCACAF they once were before central Ohio became a spiritual home of sorts for US soccer. In fact, between February 28, 2001 (the date of that first 2-0 win) and the present, the argument could be made that the US has overtaken Mexico at times as the kings of soccer in the region.

USA-Mexico: Why the Weather is No Longer a Factor for El Tri

Part of what has given the Yanks a home-field advantage in this game is the weather. More often than not, it’s had players on both sides breaking out the long-sleeve strips. That inaugural “Dos A Cero” game played nearly 16 years ago was dubbed by the Mexican media as “La Guerra Fría” (“The Cold War”) due to the frigid conditions.

If the current forecast for Friday’s game is any indication, we’re in store for another cold one. Per Weather.com, the low temperature in Columbus that night is expected to be 29 degrees Fahrenheit with winds out of the north at 15 miles per hour. That has the potential to push the wind chill into the teens.

Initially, fans of the Stars and Stripes might be quick to infer that such a scenario weather-wise gives the home side the edge towards winning 2-0 five times on the trot. After all, rarely if ever have Mexico’s players had to deal with conditions such as these in their home country. And there’s little doubt they played a part in previous successes for the USMNT.

But this is a different El Tri squad from previous ones when it comes experience in chilly climes. Nowhere is this more evident than if we compare the players Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio brought in for this game to the team that played the US way back in 2001. Both will be listed below.

Of particular interest is the clubs those players from 2001 were with compared to those that the squad for Friday’s game currently plays for.

Mexico Team From 2/28/2001 WCQ vs USMNT

(only the 14 players who appeared in the game will be listed)

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Mexico Team for 11/11/2016 WCQ vs USMNT

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It should be ostensibly apparent that there are significantly more European-based players this time around than there was for “Dos A Cero” part I. Ironically enough, the only player from 2001 who played in Europe at the time, Rafa Marquez, is available for selection on Friday as well. Marquez is the only player from either team to have played in that first game at MAPFRE.

That aside, nearly half of the current squad plays in Europe compared to just a single player in 2001. Now it must be said that Pavel Pardo would later move from Mexico to Germany, playing for Stuttgart from 2006-09. But other than that, practically the entire team from that earliest of USA-Mexico World Cup qualifiers played in Ohio was pretty much unaccustomed to playing in wintry conditions.

It’s much different now.

A multitude of Mexican players have not only recently made the move to Europe, but have been there for quite a while. Defender Hector Moreno went to Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in 2008 and currently plays for PSV Eindhoven. The dos Santos brothers, Jonathan and Giovani, are both Barcelona youth products and have played almost their entire soccer careers on that side of the pond (Gio’s stint in LA being the only exception). And, of course, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez‘s career has experienced a renaissance of sorts since he moved to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.

What Does it All Mean?

People can get lazy with narratives. There’s a seemingly perpetual one out there about cold weather being a proverbial Kryptonite to the Mexican national team. It had legitimacy when El Tri took on Columbus for the first time nearly 15 years and eight months ago. But with so many Mexican players plying their trade in places where the nighttime temperatures can be body-piercing in terms of the coldness, it may be time to rethink things.

Think about it. Those morning training sessions in the Netherlands and Germany once autumn hits aren’t much different from a chill standpoint than what the weather in Columbus will offer Friday. Whereas previous generations of footballers from south of the border may have considered it a disadvantage, that may no longer be the case.

Does it mean that Mexico is on the verge of exorcising nearly two decades of demons in a few days time? Will the mystique of “Dos A Cero” dissipate into the brisk Columbus night, taking with it a storied era in the history between these two regional foes? Or will the US continue their dominance of El Tri for the fifth straight time via a two-goal shutout?

Ultimately, the conditions aren’t much of a factor anymore. These two titans of North American soccer, both of whom boast a plethora of talent, will indelibly settle things on the pitch, all things being equal. And considering this rivalry’s status as one of the best in modern international soccer, that’s a good thing.