By Ronald Blum Assoicated Press - A trip to Mexico for the U.S. soccer team usually means a big fiesta for the home club.
Going into Sunday's World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium the United States is 0-21-1 when playing Mexico in Mexico.
But three years ago at the World Cup the United States upset its regional rival 2-0 in South Korea. An American win Sunday would confirm that they've overtaken Mexico for No. 1 in soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region.
"I think our team has the confidence they can win every time they step on the field and that includes on Sunday in Mexico City U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Tuesday.
"And I think we will step on that field Sunday trying to win. I'm not certain that there have been many U.S. teams in the past that really believed that. I don't think I have to convince any of our players that we can win that game. And that's the swagger we do carry into the game."
The United States ranked #10 in the world heads into the game with a team-record 16-game unbeaten streak that dates to a 1-0 loss at the Netherlands on Feb. 18 last year. The Americans are undefeated in 31 games against CONCACAF rivals since a 2-0 defeat at Costa Rica on Sept. 5 2001.
Mexico ranked sixth in the world has a long run success too. The Tricolores haven't lost in Azteca Stadium since a 2-1 defeat to the Costa Ricans in a World Cup qualifier on June 16 2001.
"I personally am not intimidated by Azteca Arena said. "It's a great venue to play in. Obviously 110000 fans can be intimidating the altitude can be intimidating. However I think we're in a point in our program where we have a lot of confidence in our ability."
While the Americans are 6-1-1 in the last eight games against Mexico they've yet to win at Azteca one of soccer's great stadiums. To prepare for the game played at an altitude of 7200 feet American players in Major League Soccer have been training in Colorado Springs Colo. and faced Honduras in an exhibition game last weekend at Albuquerque N.M. winning 1-0.
European-based players joined up with the others this week and the entire team travels to Mexico City on Friday.
"I don't think any of our players will be fully acclimated to this altitude because there's not enough time Arena said. "And I think that's also the case with the Mexican players. Let's not kid ourselves. They don't have players that are necessarily acclimated fully to playing at 7000 feet."
Arena said he'll have to see how everyone adjusts by the end of the week before deciding on his lineup.
"We certainly don't want to put 11 players on the field that can't deal with the altitude and that's been the case basically every time we've played in Mexico City he said. "So hopefully this time around we'll be in better position to perform the way we want to play over 90 minutes."
Only once have the Americans failed to lose in Mexico playing a 0-0 World Cup qualifier at Azteca on Nov. 2 1997 a game then-coach Steve Sampson called "a golden point." Before that the Americans were 0-17 in Mexico City since 1937 being outscored 69-13.
Then again the Mexicans needed only a tie in that game to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.
Arena who replaced Sampson after the Americans finished last among the 32 nations at the 1998 tournament credits MLS for deepening the player pool. That has enabled him to plan for switches when the U.S. team plays with short rest as it will next week.
After the game in Mexico the Americans face Guatemala in another World Cup qualifier on March 30 at Birmingham Ala.
"I giggle sometimes when I look back and I see lineups we played in 1999 and 2000 Arena said. "I look at those lineups and I say those players would never step on the field today for U.S. soccer. So that means the coach has either gotten better or the players are getting better. Or maybe both."