Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
So, as you’re all aware, the Olympics just ended. From a soccer-lover’s perspective, both the men’s and women’s tournaments were wonderful, but there was one thing the competition lacked—the U.S. Men’s National Team. Luckily, we get our fix on Wednesday, when the USMNT faces its fiercest regional rival, Mexico, in Estadio Azteca (7:30pm, ESPN2, ESPN3).
Jurgen Klinsmann released the roster for the friendly on Sunday night, and tomorrow we’ll preview the game and take a closer look at just who might start. Today, let’s take a look back at the history of this rivalry.
The first official clash between the U.S. and Mexico happened in 1934, during qualification for the 1934 World Cup, and was played in Rome, Italy. It was an auspicious beginning, as the U.S. ran out 4–2 winners. Alas, it was not a harbinger of things to come, as Mexico, beginning with the next meeting, a 1937 friendly, would begin a period of absolute dominance of the U.S. Between September 12, 1937, and November 9, 1980, the U.S. and Mexico played 24 times. Mexico’s record in that span: 21–0–3, with a goal difference of +70. The Mexicans averaged 3.75 goals per game, and basically owned the United States in every way possible. To call it a rivalry would be generous in the extreme.
However, one important aspect of that Mexican dominance, which should not be understated, was geography. Of the 24 matches played between September 1934 and November 1980, 13 were played in Mexico City; 2 in Puebla, Mexico; and 2 in Monterrey, Mexico. One “neutral site” game was played in Havana, Cuba, in 1947. Even our home games likely had more Mexican than U.S. support in the stands, with 4 games played in Los Angeles, and 1 each in Long Beach, CA, and Dallas, TX. In short, not only were Mexico’s teams superior, but they had the added benefit of major home field advantage.
The scales even
The second U.S. win in the series came just a few short weeks after the November 9, 1980 game (a 5–1 pasting in Mexico City), and a change in venue might have had something to do with it: On November 23, 1980, the U.S. hosted Mexico in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and won 2–1. That game ushered in a much more competitive era for the U.S., marked by a wider variety of playing locations, including Washington, D.C. (site of the U.S.’s largest-ever victory over Mexico: 4–0 on June 18, 1995), and Foxboro, MA, and very few games in Mexico City. Between that second game in November of 1980 and August 1, 1999 (the third of a string of three straight 1-goal losses), the U.S.’s record versus Mexico was 4–6–6, with a goal difference of -2. This was respectability. The U.S., while not exactly imperious, was no longer a pushover, and it bode well for the future.
Less than a year after the August 1, 1999, loss, the rivalry was renewed, this time in East Rutherford, NJ, on June 11, 2000. The U.S. won 3–0, and that sparked a run of games that overturned the rivalry completely, including a very memorable 2–0 win in the 2002 World Cup, and the 2007 Gold Cup final, which the U.S. won 2–1. The U.S.’s record from August 1999 through February 11, 2009, was a very healthy 10–2–2, with a goal difference of +15. Suddenly, the U.S. was clearly the better team, and began thinking about being more than just the best team in CONCACAF. With Mexico in its rear-view, the U.S. focused instead on things like getting to the later rounds of the World Cup, beating Spain, that sort of thing.
Unfortunately, while we weren’t looking, Mexico might just have caught up. Since February 2009, the U.S. and Mexico have played three times, with Mexico winning twice, and the third game ending in a draw.
While the U.S. has every right to feel confident going into Wednesday’s game, there are several factors that predict a win for Mexico. For one, the U.S. has still never won, or even tied, in Mexico. Estadio Azteca is one of the most difficult places in the world to play, due to its high altitude, poor air quality, and thunderous home support. Secondly, Mexico’s current FIFA ranking (18) is half that of the United States’ (36), and while FIFA rankings are certainly not the be all and end all when comparing teams, it cannot be denied that Mexico has more “quality wins” of late than the U.S. does, including winning the Gold Cup in 2009 and 2011, where they defeated the U.S. 4–2 at the Rose Bowl.
What’s more, there’s reason to believe that Mexico is only getting better. Leaving aside the very recent Olympic gold, Mexican youth teams have been doing very well of late, winning the U-17 World Cup in 2005 and 2011, and coming third in the U-20 World Cup in 2011. Perhaps we should feel lucky their Olympic squad isn’t suiting up for this one.
No matter what, Wednesday night’s game is a must-watch. Tomorrow, we’ll have a more in-depth preview, looking at the respective rosters, and giving a score prediction. What do you think will happen? Let us know in the comments.