'Osama, Osama, Osama’ was the chant, referring to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, that rang out from the crowd of 60,000 at Estadio Jalisco before a U.S. soccer match against Mexico in 2004. And this was a match between the two countries Under-23 teams!
Mexico went on to win that match 4-0 and eliminate the U.S. from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens but the high passion of the fans, albeit shown in somewhat of a tasteless manner, was just another indicator of how intense the soccer border rivalry between the U.S and Mexico has become over the last decade.
The willingness of the fans to arguably take the level of ‘gamesmanship’ to a new low is the result of the Red, White and Blue slowly establishing themselves as the dominant team in the region, an honor that El Tri Colores held for decades.
A new chapter in the history of the rivalry will be written when the two countries face off on February 11 at Columbus Crew Stadium.
“Every time you play Mexico there is a level of excitement and anytime I spoke with any of the players after the (hexagonal) draw that was all they talked about,” U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley said before the match. “The understanding of how important the game is, the feeling of representing the United States against Mexico, for the guys who have been there, is something that they treasure. Really, we’re just excited to be here and looking forward to the game.”
The level of intensity between these two countries has increased over the last decade in direct relation to the improving level of play from the U.S. team. For years, Mexico was the dominant team in the CONCACAF and a win over their northern rivals was expected by Mexicans and the rest of the world.
Mexico as the premier soccer nation in North America was also acknowledged by the FIFA and the rest of the world when Mexico was awarded the 1970 World Cup and became the first country outside of South America and Europe to host the quadrennial event.
Mexico was selected again in 1986 to host the World Cup as the only soccer nation in the region with the soccer infrastructure to host a world event of such importance.
The tides began to change in 1989 with the ‘shot heard around the world.’ On a patchy field in Port o' Spain, Trinidad, Paul Caligiuri knocked his 30 yard shot over the T&T goalkeeper and led the U.S. to a 1-0 win. The result qualified the U.S. for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, their first appearance in 40 years, and indirectly lead to the U.S. being selected as the host of the 1994 World Cup thus beginning a resurgence of the sport in the U.S.
During the 19990’s Mexico continued to hold an edge over the U.S. but The U.S. has dominated the series of late, collecting an 8-0-2 home record against Mexico since 2000. During that span, the U.S. has netted 17 goals, while the Mexicans have countered with three goals on American soil in this decade.
Despite all the recent success the U.S. has had on home soil over Mexico, our southern neighbors still have one strangle hold over the U.S.; Playing at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico!
The high altitude and notoriously bad smog in the city has resulted in the U.S. posting an all time record of 0-22-1 in Mexico.
The biggest win to date for either side came on June 17, 2002 at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in the World Cup, the lone time the sides have met in a World Cup finals. The U.S. won that match 2-0 and for the first time was truly considered the top team from CONCACAF.
The gamesmanship over the years has been as much of the rivalry as the action on the field.
Landon Donovan, who scored the second goal against Mexico in the 2002 World Cup match in which the U.S. team advanced to the quarterfinals, said the Mexican fans ‘hate us’ while another player said it would be nice not to know Spanish in light of the racial jeers yelled at players.
The racial jeers are the least of the players problems as it is not unheard of for bags of urine, beer bottles, batteries and other projectiles to be showered down on un-expecting players too close to the sideline.
The U.S. has done its part to make a trip north of the border as inhospitable as possible for the Mexican team moving matches away from cities with large Mexican American populations, such as Los Angeles, to smaller cities and more intimate venues such as Columbus Ohio and Crew Stadium to insure a majority of fans cheering for the Red, White and Blue that under ideal circumstances are played in temperatures in the 30’s.
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