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Estadio Azteca will be friendlier for the Texans vs. Raiders than it’s ever been to U.S. soccer

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One of the most hostile soccer environments in the world will host Monday Night Football.

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

The NFL isn't just returning to Mexico on Monday. It's returning to one of the rowdiest, loudest stadiums in the world. The U.S. men's soccer team can attest to that.

There are few sporting environments in the world as hostile as Estadio Azteca, where fans in the lower bowl are separated from the pitch by barbed wire and, most impressively, a moat. Over the past two decades, much of that anger has been directed at U.S. Soccer. American players tell stories of being pelted from the stands with everything from limes to batteries to bags of urine. After 2004 and 2013 losses, the under-23 U.S. team walked to its bus to a chorus of “Osama” chants, a reference to the Al Qaeda leader.

Here's the reception American fans got while leaving the stadium in 2009. After a game Mexico won.

Since 1972, the U.S. is 1-9-2 in Estadio Azteca. When playing in America, that record improves to 15-9-9. The home-field advantage in a stadium that frequently drowns out “The Star-Spangled Banner” with boos is very real.

But will it affect two teams on a neutral site with few ties to the area, playing a sport with a fraction of the support soccer has in Mexico?

If the NFL’s prior trip to Mexico City is any indication, the Raiders and Texans will be playing in front of a packed house more similar to a key Ohio State game than a professional stadium. More than 100,000 fans crammed into Estadio Azteca when the 49ers and Cardinals met in Mexico City back in 2005. The swell of fans set an official league attendance record that stood until 2009.

That game between NFC West rivals featured a rowdy crowd, but some of the biggest pops of the night weren’t for football but for nationalism. According to the Arizona Republic, the Mexican national anthem, an Aztec tribute halftime show, and Robert Griffith’s spirited sprint from the locker room with the nation’s tri-colored flag provided some of the stadium’s loudest moments. While fans flooded the stands in NFL jerseys, the Dallas Cowboys were better represented than either of the two teams playing.

Regardless of whether fans are cheering for Oakland, Houston, or a franchise that isn’t there, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio is preparing his team for a noisy environment.

“It’s going to be loud,” Del Rio said. “There’s a lot of people and it’s going to be very exciting. They’re looking forward to us playing a good game down there.”

While a capacity crowd will be on hand to watch this game, it will lack the anxiety and urgency of the soccer matches for which Estadio Azteca has come to be known. Instead, issues like the stadium’s altitude and the city’s pollution could play bigger roles in affecting the Raiders and Texans. At 7,280 feet, Monday’s game will take place at the highest venue in league history. It’s also an area that’s struggled to provide clean air for its citizens.

Former U.S. Soccer star Eric Wynalda told USA Today just how damaging the environment can be.

“Azteca Stadium is the worst place to ever play a sporting event,” said Wynalda.

“You can’t breathe. The pollution is so bad that if you don’t have some form of rain that’s brought all that down you are going to be sucking wind ... They (will) break a record for how many oxygen masks they have on the sidelines. The combination of being that high up with pollution is just devastating to the body.”

But unlike the hostile screams of 100,000 people, the issues that will affect this Monday Night Football matchup apply equally to both sides. The stadium will be loud, but without a strong rooting interest on either side, it’s unlikely to create any kind of home-field advantage. The air will be thin and potentially smoggy, but every player will have to breathe it.

With recent election results favoring a candidate with plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, “The Star-Spangled Banner” could once again hear its fair share of boos at Estadio Azteca. The Raiders and Texans, however, probably won’t. Mexico City will change the way this game is played — just not like it does when U.S. Soccer comes to town.