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U.S. vs. Mexico – A Little History

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As an avid soccer fan, I have been planning for the (seemingly inevitable) U.S Men’s National Soccer Team’s return to Columbus to face off against Mexican National Soccer (futbol) Team. The game I have been waiting for is just a few short days away. US/Mexico is the biggest game soccer game in America in four years. It is against the USA’s oldest and most familiar adversary. Crew captain and U.S. National Team player Frankie Hejduk explained the importance of the game recently:

“We’re both trying to make the World Cup, that’s all it comes down to. Both teams want to win and both teams want to win for their country and get their country to the World Cup and that’s enough motivation for anyone.”

So expect a raucous atmosphere next Wednesday. I guess the question I first had is how the U.S. v. Mexico game got to Columbus in the middle of February anyway.

The U.S. played their first game against Mexico in 1934 winning 4-2. The United States was enjoying its first run of solid international play, even qualifying for the World Cup that year with the win over Mexico. That however would be the last win against “El Tri” until 1980. The U.S had fallen behind smaller countries like Guatemala. The Americans were a horrible team; not even close to the same class as Mexico. This however would change in the 1990’s as the USA would start to put together a solid soccer program and begin to challenge the Mexicans.

The Americans had a 2W-22L-3T record against Mexico until the 1990s. This was the decade that the balance of power would shift. The US, buoyed by hosting the World Cup in 1994, started grooming better players. This wave of American talent led by John Harkes and Claudio Reyna would allow the US to be competitive with the Mexicans for the first time. Unlike the lopsided record of decades past, the US racked up four wins in the 90s against 5 draws and 5 ties.

Unfortunately, the US still did not have a home base for the increasingly heated matches against Mexico. Matches played in California, Washington, Chicago, and many other major cities had very pro-Mexican crowds. 100,000 would show up in Los Angeles, but the crowd would be 80% Mexican. Enter the first soccer specific stadium; handily in the heart of the Midwest, Columbus Crew Stadium.

Crew Stadium was the only soccer only stadium in the country in February 2001 when it hosted the first US/Mexico World Cup Qualifier. The Americans decided to use the winter cold and rabid pro-American fan base in Columbus to try and build a home field advantage against Mexico for the first time. They succeeded beyond any expectation. A capacity crowd of 24,000 U.S. fans watch an U.S. team down the Mexicans 2-0. The game would be known as the “Guerra Fria” due to the cold winter weather; the Mexicans did not even warm up before the game due to the sub-freezing temperatures. It was a signal that the balance of power was shifting.

Crew Stadium again hosted Mexico in September 2005. The weather was warm, but Mexico again had no answer to a talented U.S. squad and was defeated 2-0. The US/Mexico games in 2001 and 2005 would come to represent the dominance the U.S. has had over Mexico this decade. The Americans have a 9 win, 2 loss, 2 tie record against Mexico so far this decade and look to extend their dominance next Wednesday in the stadium that has symbolized their rise. It looks like the weather will be warm (for February), but it won’t matter with the support of the American fans in such an intimate venue.

I would like to note that the U.S. Soccer Federation’s website and David Wangerin’s wonderful “Soccer in a Football World” were extremely helpful in looking back at the history of the US/Mexico rivalry. I will be checking in with a few more reports heading up to the big game this Wednesday. You can also check out a bit more of my writing at An American Game where I cover the Crew, the U.S. team, and soccer in general.

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