Tenth anniversary of remarkable U.S.-Mexico qualifier in Columbus

Being a young soccer nation, relatively speaking, we don’t have many “Where were you when…?” moments.

But we do have a few. For instance, where were you during the original La Guerra Fria?

The well informed among you know exactly what I mean. That was “the Cold War,” the United States’ historic World Cup qualifier win over Mexico.

Crew Stadium was the frigid site on Feb. 28, 2001, as the bitter border brothers clashed in Ohio. We just passed the 10th anniversary of that big date.  It came and went a bit quietly; I wouldn’t have known but for a call from one of the U.S. Soccer press peeps late last week.

So … where were you?

The Mexican media dubbed matters as "La Guerra Fria" for rather obvious reasons. It was Ohio. In February.

The strategic venue selection by U.S. Soccer officials worked perfectly. About half of the American regulars played at the time or had previously played in Europe, so the home siders were far more comfortable with the temperatures in the 20s.

Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart scored for the United States, thrilling the boisterous, sold-out stadium. Cold weather or no, the crowd of 24,624 absolutely rocked that night.

Wolff played a huge role in the big win, scoring the first goal on a break as Jorge Campos wandered imprudently far from goal. Wolff created the insurance strike with some crafty and determined dribbling along the end line. Ironically, Wolff was on the field only because Brian McBride had been subbed off due to a badly swollen eye, the result of an early and intentional head knock with a Mexican defender.

So it was a remarkable night for a player who barely made the bench.  Bruce Arena had a choice that night, to dress Wolff or Ante Razov for the backup striker role. The Bruce apparently got that one right.

Clint Mathis, who delivered the terrific pass for Wolff’s first goal, was also sub in the match. He came on for the hobbled Claudio Reyna just before halftime.

I was there that evening, sitting as close as I could to a badly overmatched heater in a makeshift press tent behind the north goal. Brrrrrr!  You try typing a game story with frozen fingers.

Not that I’m complaining. I remember everything about the historic evening. The drive in.  The relative abundance Mexican fans. (Like everyone, I kept asking, “Where DID they get those tickets?”) The great U.S. fans, who arrived later than their Mexican counterparts but atoned with such impassioned support.

It was such a critical victory. That was the opener in final round qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, where the United States’ stunning quarterfinal run elevated the game’s status domestically and the team’s stature globally. But the whole thing could have gone another way if matters had gone sideways on that cold night in Columbus. It also helped turn the rivalry in the U.S. favor – and what a delicious turn it has been on this side of the Rio Grande.

The video highlights are here, courtesy of U.S. Soccer.

There’s more from Josh Wolff here, part of the federations’ Studio 90 series.

And if you just cannot get enough, here’s a little more still.

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