The Estadio Azteca is the stadium in all of CONCACAF. It’s hosted two World Cup finals and been the home of the region's dominant team, Mexico.
On top of its place in soccer history, it’s also been a stadium where hardly anyone walks away with a win. It’s seated in excess of 100,000 fans, providing one of the most intimidating atmospheres anywhere in the world, not to mention the heat, humidity, smog and altitude that can choke opposing players.
With Mexico being the United States’ biggest rival, the Azteca has added meaning. It’s not just a difficult place to win – it’s the impenetrable castle that they aim to conquer en route to regional dominance and bragging rights only second to their win over El Tri at the 2002 World Cup.
Mexico doesn’t just know that the Azteca is their fortress – they want opposing teams to know it. That’s why the tunnel that players walk to the field is lined with the results of every team who has played there, and for the U.S. it was always just a list of losses.
That is until the U.S. pulled off their first ever win over Mexico at the Azteca in a 2012 friendly. And Tim Howard doesn’t just remember the win – he remembers the tunnel. A tunnel he will see changed when he revisits the stadium on Sunday for the Americans’ World Cup qualifier against El Tri (live, 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1).
"Azteca is an amazing place to play. It’s daunting, it’s historic, and we had never won there.
They have plaques of all the teams, all the countries who have played there, and what their record was. And we hadn't ever won there in forever so there was a big zero next to our column.
I mentioned to one of the guys that we would change that and then, I think it was 2012, when we ended up winning there 1-0.
I doubt the plaque will have been changed when we go back, but if not we’ll take a Sharpie to it and put a little one there."
Getty ImagesMike Lawrie
You can bet that when the U.S. shows up at the Azteca for training on Saturday, he’s going to make a beeline for that tunnel. He’s going to want to to see that American flag on the wall with Estados Unidos underneath and then, next to it: “2012 1-0 Mexico”.
If not, the Sharpie is coming out.
Azteca is a special place, even for the U.S. And Howard intends to make sure the Americans leave their mark.