The U.S. Soccer team takes on Mexico this Wednesday night in Houston (8:00 pm CST, ESPN2), in one of the best and most heated rivalries this country has to offer. It’s got everything: clutch performances, bad sportsmanship, history, heartbreak, trash talk, golazos, bizarro moments, and heavy duty sports melodrama.
The history goes something like this. In 1934 the U.S. beat the Mexico in their first meeting. After that, Mexico beat us soundly for the next 40-odd years (we managed three ties in that span). The Mexicans liked it that way; they were the ‘Giants of the Region’. Then soccer started to catch on a little. We got our leagues here–first the NASL and now MLS, and started qualifying for World Cups. We also started to win a few against El Tri.
Warning: the rest of this entry is youtube-rific…
In the 20-aughts, the U.S. has dominated the series, going 9-1-2 over the last twelve. Those two losses are both in the smog and altitude of Mexico City. And the turning point was a 2001 World Cup Qualifier in Columbus, in front of a (rare) pro-U.S. crowd amidst snow and freezing conditions. I remember this game vividly–our two best attacking players, Reyna and McBride, went down with injuries, and Coach Bruce Arena turned to young and untested Josh Wolff and Clint Mathis. Here’s your recap (with Cypress Hill for mood/ambience). 2-0 to the good guys.
The next pivotal match was in the quarterfinals of the world’s greatest sporting event, the World Cup in Korea, 2002. Now it was teen-age phenom’s Landon Donovan’s turn. 2-0 again. Mexico were crushed by the defeat in more ways the one. (highlights towards the end)
I loved that World Cup, waking up at 4:00 am to watch the games…
Thus began the Era of Excuses. Over the past six years, our southern neighbors have fallen into a pattern of trash-talk before the game, cheap shots during, and excuses afterwards. They haven’t taken well to losing their mantle as the region’s Giants. They don’t shake hands after the match, they complain to their media, their coaches get fired. It’s great. What makes it better: they are a very good and well-respected national team.
The next pivotal game in the rivalry was a WCQ to cement top qualification status for the region. Once again in Columbus, once again 2-0. The match also gave us Onyewu pimp-smacking Borghetti around (towards the end of the clip).
Last year we played twice. Once a friendly (2-0, good guys) and once for the Gold Cup, which is the North/Central America and Caribbean championship. Beemsville was on the ground in Chicago trying to get tickets, but the scalp price was just too high. So we watched the game at a local pub. El Tri had our boys down, finally they were going to beat us. And then this happened…
Awesome, just awesome.
Now we’re in their head big time. And even though the law of averages (and the fact that except for carefully regulated World Cup Qualifiers, we are always the ‘away’ team in places like L.A., Chicago, and Houston) tells us we will start losing again. I hope it’s not tomorrow. This is just too much fun.
Both teams have youthful squads built on young attacking talent as they build towards South Africa 2010. Both teams will make a lot of money off this match. You wonder if the U.S. winning so many games of late hurts the rivalry, if the bank made off playing each other so often diminishes its luster. Maybe. But both teams hate to lose this one.
So even if you’re not a soccer fan, go ahead and skip whatever college bball or reality show you were going to watch and tune in to this real rivalry. It’s worth the look.