COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was pure coincidence that the World Cup qualifying showdown between the United States and Mexico was scheduled the same week as the presidential election. And as the American soccer squad gathered here ahead of Friday’s match at Mapfre Stadium, kicking off the final round of regional qualifiers for the 2018 tournament in Russia, the confluence of events was not lost on players who represent their country on the international stage more frequently than any other U.S. sports program.
“Given the way everything has gone [in the political arena] the last few months, there is an added layer to this game,” captain Michael Bradley said before Wednesday’s training session. “But my general feeling is that we, as Americans, trust our system, we respect our democracy and, regardless of your beliefs, regardless of how you voted, we have an obligation to come together, get behind our new president and to have faith and trust that he will do what’s best for the entire country.
“That’s what we’ve always done and, in moments like this, it’s easy to question things, but again, this is what makes our country great — the fact that we have our system where every American can go and vote. The results may not be what every person wanted — some people are happy, others aren’t — but the way forward is to come together and give our new president support and rally behind him.”
Bradley said he remained awake late into the night at the team’s downtown hotel and watched TV coverage of Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.
“The whole thing has been incredibly captivating. I followed it closely,” said Bradley, a New Jersey native who joined MLS’s Toronto FC last year after a long European career.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric about Mexico and immigration issues should not spill into the crowd Friday, Bradley said.
“I would hope our fans do what they always do, which is support our team in the best, most passionate way possible. I would hope they give every person in that stadium the respect they deserve, whether they are American, Mexican, neutral, men, women, children. I hope every person that comes to the stadium comes ready to enjoy what we all want to be a beautiful game between two sporting rivals that have a lot of respect for each other, and hope that it’s a special night in every way.”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard said he went to bed before the election results were clear.
“They count the votes and they tell me who’s president in the morning,” he said. “I wouldn’t have voted for Trump if I voted, but there it is.”
Howard, a native of New Jersey who plays for the MLS’s Colorado Rapids, reiterated that he didn’t vote: “Some guys [on the team] are more into politics than others. I’m not.”
Asked whether Trump’s comments about Mexico will raise the fervor at the sold-out stadium, Howard said: “They are going to be excited hopefully for a U.S. win. It’s politics and this is football. Mexico is going to try to kick our asses and we’re going to try to kick theirs. It’s got nothing to do with politics.”
Christian Pulisic, who turned 18 in September, said he could’ve registered in time and voted, but “I thought, ‘Why? I’m not voting for either of these candidates,’ so I didn’t get to it.”
In Germany, Pulisic said he was often asked about the election.
“Europeans are interested, and they are thinking, ‘What’s going on with this whole election thing?’ They ask me about it, yeah, simple stuff like, ‘Is this a joke?’ And I am like, ‘No, I think Donald Trump is really running for president. He has a real chance.’ ”