Given the magnitude of Saturday's soccer match between the United States and Mexico, organizers could have easily filled the Rose Bowl or any major stadium on the East Coast.

Which would have been great -- for the Mexican team and its zealous supporters in this country.

So the Americans have once again turned to a cozy location in the Midwest, 22,555-seat Columbus Crew Stadium, where ticket sales were carefully managed in order to facilitate a pro-U.S. rally.

"For once," U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk said, "we'll be the home team playing against Mexico."

Asked what he liked about playing here, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said, "It's in the United States."

Reminded that such a setting hasn't historically benefited his team, especially against Latin American opponents, Arena added: "It's in a good part of the United States. It's a good location for us, it's always been good for us. We like the surface, we like the environment here. There's a lot of things going well for it, and it certainly allows us to have a home-field advantage."

With a victory the United States would clinch a berth in next summer's World Cup in Germany, and as an added bonus, do it at the expense of its most bitter rival. A tie could also accomplish it, but only if the results in the other group matches unfold in the Americans' favor.

A loss would probably extend their mission for at least four days, when they are scheduled to play at Guatemala in Game 8 on their 10-match schedule.

"Everything balled up into one: Beat Mexico and qualify," forward Landon Donovan said. "There's no better scenario."

It isn't the first time the U.S. Soccer Federation has turned to Columbus to undermine the Mexicans' strong support in this country. In February 2001, in bitterly cold conditions, the Americans earned a 2-0 victory that helped launch them to the World Cup in South Korea and Japan a year later.

While most of the soccer world will spend this weekend watching defending champion Brazil attempt to lock up a berth and European teams battle for position, the United States and Mexico will meet again in what is fast becoming an international spectacle.

Mexico (5-0-1) is slightly ahead of the United States (5-1-0) in the six-nation qualifying standings, boosted by a 2-1 victory over the Americans at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City early this year, and needs only a tie Saturday to seal a berth.

Regardless of what happens here, however, both are essentially assured of being among the region's three representatives in Germany. The fourth-place team will advance to a two-game playoff against an Asian squad.

"To do it against Mexico would be tremendous," midfielder Pablo Mastroeni said. "We seem to step up when we play Mexico, especially in the U.S."

Until Mexico's home triumph in the spring, the United States had exerted its control of the rivalry the last five years. The most notable meeting was in the 2002 World Cup's round of 16, when the Americans earned a 2-0 win -- a result that propelled them to their best finish in the tournament in 72 years and caused some major soul-searching in soccer-mad Mexico.

Although the crowd will be heavily behind the U.S. squad, a passionate group of Mexican fans has followed the team here. A few dozen infiltrated the stadium Friday to watch their team's training session. As security guards escorted them back out, one fan yelled, "We will leave now, but we will win the game!"

To which a U.S. soccer official asked rhetorically: "What was the score in Korea?"

Mexico hasn't forgotten the 2002 result and would love to wrap up an '06 berth on U.S. soil.

"It's a big moment for Mexican football," said defender Rafael Marquez, who plays for FC Barcelona. "The World Cup is very close."

The Mexicans have spoken openly about keying on the inventive Donovan, who orchestrates the U.S. attack. Such attention doesn't seem to bother the 23-year-old forward, who scored against Mexico in the last World Cup and possesses the open-field skills to create scoring opportunities.

"I want tomorrow night to be a miserable night for them," Donovan said. "I want it to be as miserable as possible."

Soccer Notes: Midfielders Bobby Convey (U.S.) and Pavel Pardo (Mexico) are serving one-game suspensions. Both will return for the Wednesday qualifiers.