Friday Newsletter: Go To Mexico-USMNT in the Azteca Next Month. You Won't Regret It.
It's a Bucket List Game, and It May Never Be the Same Again
VENICE, Italy — A friend of mine posted something on IG this week that stuck with me: Your bucket list belongs on your to-do list. That applies in soccer terms, too, which is why I love being incentivized by this writing site to visit some of the places I’ve always wanted to go to and write soccer stories from there.
I’ll give you more info later on why I’m in Italy, but the point of this column is to encourage all of you to do something next month that should be on any USMNT fan’s bucket list: If you can, go to Mexico City and attend the World Cup qualifier on March 24 between the USMNT and El Tri in the Estadio Azteca. I just made my travel plans this week to be there, and I’m already fired up for it.
Why should you go? Here are the reasons:
• The Mexico-USA World Cup qualifier in the Azteca is unlike any sporting event you’ve ever attended. A friend of mine—O.K., Meadowlark co-founder John Skipper, the former ESPN president—went in 2009 and got hit in the back by a flying burrito thrown at him. He loved it and still tells the story with a smile. The point is, Mexico-USA is one of the very best rivalries in global sports, and there’s even more of an edge to the once-every-four-years Azteca World Cup qualifier. I’ve never heard of a U.S. fan being injured there, but there’s a tense feeling inside that stadium that just doesn’t happen in many places.
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• This particular Mexico-USA qualifier has a lot of special qualities. For starters, neither team has qualified for Qatar yet, so both sides have plenty to play for with just three qualifiers left. What’s more, Mexico is dying to beat the U.S. after losing the last three times to its archrival. And lastly, this may be the last World Cup qualifier between the two teams that’s this important. It’s not expected that either country will have to go through qualifying for World Cup 2026, which they’re co-hosting. And with the men’s World Cup expanding from 32 to 48 teams, the U.S. and Mexico should qualify easily for future World Cups, taking most of the tension out of the qualifiers.
• It’s not as expensive to go as you might think. Traveling to Mexico City isn’t free, obviously, but round-trip flights from New York City for the game are available for less than $400. The American Outlaws, the biggest U.S. supporters group, has travel packages for sale (including game tickets), but you can also have access separately to tickets through U.S. Soccer (which gets an allocation from the Mexican federation) or buy tickets on your own. The experience inside the stadium is better, though, if you’re in the U.S. supporters section, which typically has lots of security around it. The feeling of walking into the Azteca with the U.S. fan contingent is an amazing sensation, I’ve been told, and a huge part of the draw for going to the game.
• It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Mexico City is one of my favorite cities in the world to visit. There are great restaurants and fun open-air nightlife spots, and everyone there has always been extremely welcoming to any U.S. fans coming in for the Big Game. (The only place where there’s a real edge is inside the stadium itself.) The American Outlaws Night Before Party is an absolute blast, and AO exec Donald Wine II tells me this time they’re hoping to have more than the 900 U.S. fans who came to the party in 2017.
• There’s a chance to see history. The USMNT has never won a World Cup qualifier in the Azteca, but it could happen this year. Mexico isn’t playing well, especially at home, and the U.S. would like nothing more than to beat El Tri for the fourth straight time. If that happens, there’s even an outside chance that the U.S. could clinch a World Cup berth in the Mexico City, which would be absolutely historic and something no fan would ever want to miss.
So there you have it. You still have time to make your travel plans and get yourself to the Azteca next month. Do it. You won’t regret it.
OPENING THE MAILBAG
Any word on how many fans will be allowed in Azteca on 3/24 and will U.S. Soccer be allocated any tickets?
The latest word is that the Azteca could be at half-capacity, but that could change. And yes, U.S. Soccer will be allocated tickets by the FMF, but they aren’t sure how many yet.
UEFA has a league ranking coefficient system, which tells us that the best leagues are, in order, England Spain Germany Italy France Portugal. Like the FIFA national team rankings, it may not be right, but at least it's a consistent system (except where Covid screwed it up). But there's no way to use coefficients to rank leagues worldwide. Where would you slot the top other leagues into that list? Where would you put Brazil, Argentina, and who might you also consider? Mexico?
The other top European leagues would include the Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, Scotland and Russia. In the Americas, Brazil would be at the top, followed by Argentina and Mexico, and probably then MLS.
I’d like to know if there is any thought to Pulisic at the 9. That allows two of the three of Weah, Aaronson and Reyna on the pitch at the same time. With Musah, Weston and Adams.
On the one hand Pulisic might well be the best No. 9 in a U.S. uniform. It’s not like he has lit it up as false nine in Chelsea’s scheme, but he’s a good finisher. (Just see his goal vs Liverpool.) That said, it always pains me to see Pulisic be played out of position, and I would prefer not to see that for the USMNT.
Is Shaqiri the kind of personality needed to turn the Chicago Fire around or is he the kind of personality that makes it into the worst DPs of all time discussions?
The fact that such extremes are possible with this move makes it a fascinating one to watch. We know what Shaqiri is capable of when he’s at his best, but he certainly wasn’t at his best with Lyon, which is why he was viewed as expendable there. I’m not totally sold that Shaqiri will be a huge hit with Chicago, but I’m still glad the Fire made the move. That team needed to create some buzz, and Shaqiri has already done that.
Thanks for reading and submitting questions, and have a great weekend!
Fantastic idea!! I'm in. See you there
When you started talking about overseas leagues, I was hoping you’d drop in where you think MLS ranks now. The quality has improved a lot, but with guys like Insigne & Shaquiri coming over here, plus guys like Matt Turner headed over there, where does the league stand in relation to, say, England’s lower leagues?