Uncle Sam Wants You


This is recruitment pitch for Sam’s Army. No, I’m not talking about induction into a branch of the military.

Rather, it’s a call to arms to become a member of the squad that follows the U.S. men’s national soccer team, which tonight is taking on Mexico in the first of 10 CONCACF final-round qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup.

The action, taking place in what the U.S. hopes will be a cold, windswept Crew Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio, will be televised live by ESPN2 and Univision at 7 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 11.

Although the sides are favored to become two of the three teams from CONCACAF to automatically make it to South Africa next year — the group also includes Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador — the stakes will certainly be high for the U.S. (The group’s fourth-place finisher would have final shot for one of the 32 berths in South Africa in a November square-off against the fifth-place finisher from South America.)

The Americans have not lost to El Tricolor on U.S. soil since 1999, carrying an 8-0-1 mark, including a pair of 2-0 triumphs over the Mexicans in Columbus during WC qualifying in 2001 and 2005, onto the pitch in Ohio.

On the down side, the U.S. has never won in Azteca Stadium, the site of the sixth CONCACAF qualifier on Aug. 12. By that time, with the matches against the other four nations in the books, the U.S. likely will be well on its way to locking up a spot in the FIFA tourney.

Still, the Americans and their crew want to avoid getting off on the wrong boot.

There’s where U.S. soccer fans have to show their red, white and blues.

It’s totally unrealistic to expect that ESPN2 is going to draw more viewers than Univision’s presentation. Hey, their Feb. 6, 2008 draw averaged 5.09 million watchers on the Spanish-language broadcaster, versus 749,000 on The Deuce. And we all know how avid Hispanics are about futbol.

Nevertheless, is it too much to ask for ESPN2 to match or surpass the 950,856 viewers that tuned in the nations’ CONCACAF match in 2005? This ain’t Thursday night on MLS, which after averaging just 253,000 last season, has been moved off that primetime perch for the domestic league’s upcoming campaign.

Mexico-U.S. will go head-to-head with Syracuse-Connecticut on ESPN, part of college basketball’s rivalry week. But in the minds of most outside of upstate New York and Storrs, that confrontation is not nearly at the level of UNC invading Cameroon Indoor and the Dukies at 9 p.m.

The U.S. and Mexico should have completed their battle by the time that contest tips off.