The United States lifted the inaugural Gold Cup in 1991, but they were no match for a rampant Mexico side or the physical and mental crush of Estadio Azteca. With more than 120,000 of their countrymen packing the legendary bowl, El Tri struck the first blow via a swerving Ignacio "Nacho" Ambríz free kick and never looked back, reasserting their traditional dominance over CONCACAF in the process. In a moment that will live on in infamy for the US, defender Desmond Armstrong turned a routine clearance into his own net. One year later, Armstrong watched a World Cup on American soil from home.
Five years after their first final meeting, the regional rivals met on CONCACAF's big stage yet again. This time north of the border in front of 91,255 mostly Mexican fans who packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the occasion. Despite the venue change, the end result remained the same. Unlike 1993, however, the Americans held their own in a tight match that saw both sides’ emotions come close to boiling over. In a role he seemed destined to fill for El Tri, Luis "El Matador" Hernandez played the hero, beating Alexi Lalas to the near post to connect on a header that Kasey Keller could only flap at.
Nearly a decade passed between final meetings, but a series of Dos a Cero victories for the Americans, the most famous at the 2002 World Cup, saw the rivalry reach fever pitch. Andres Guardado gave El Tri a lead just before halftime at Soldier Field in Chicago, but a pair of iconic moments sent the Americans to the podium at the expense of their southern neighbors for the first time in Gold Cup history. First, Landon Donovan tied Eric Wynalda's US goal record from the spot, evening the score before wiping his brow in mock relief. Then Benny Feilhaber wrote his name in history, stroking a picturesque volley into the top corner that became part of Gold Cup lore.
Bob Bradley and the US got the best of El Tri in 2007. Two year later, the Mexicans exacted their revenge at Giants Stadium in front of 79,156 witnesses. The Americans, fielding a so-called "B" team following a run to the Confederations Cup final a month prior, made it to halftime without conceding. Then the deluge began. Led by captain Gerardo Torrado and a new generation of attacking talent in Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela, all of whom scored, Mexico ripped off five second-half goals to humble the US in what remains the most lopsided Gold Cup final ever.
Still smarting from the 2009 rout, the US wasted no time running out to a 2-0 lead via goals from Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan against a shell-shocked Mexico side at the Rose Bowl. But then El Tri woke up, and they started throwing haymakers. Pablo Barerra and Andres Guardado made it 2-2 before halftime, then Mexico turned on the class in the second half. Barrera delivered the first blow, wrapping his right foot around the ball to curl in the eventual winner. Then, with the Americans pressing for an equalizer, Giovani Dos Santos slammed the door, waltzing through and around the US defense before threading the needle with an inch-perfect chip over the head of a leaping Eric Lichaj.