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Howard on US vs. Mexico: "I don’t think there’s this gap"

MEXICO CITY — Behold: the Gap. The supposed chasm stretching between US and Mexican soccer.

It’s impossible to measure. It’s ripe for jokes and slogans (“Bridge the Gap”). It seems like it could mess with a player’s head.

But most of all, it’s ripe for debate.

On the web, on Twitter, in pubs in Brooklyn and in cantinas in Condesa, “the Gap” has become the prevailing meme in the run-up to Wednesday’s Mexico-USA friendly (8 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

There’s good reason. Mexico’s two consecutive Gold Cup titles, their U-17 World Cup title and last week’s Olympic gold medal victory have many fans and journalists — including this one — discussing whether the Mexicans are really as far ahead of the Americans as the results make it seem.

USA vs. Mexico - Inside The Rivalry

For US goalkeeper Tim Howard, though, that’s all it is: talk.

“I think when you have the two top dogs — when you have the two best swimmers in the world or the two best track athletes — I think ‘the Gap’ is based on opinion,” he said on Tuesday evening before the US squad’s final preparation training.

“Look, they’ve had a couple good results, but last World Cup qualifying, we finished first in the group. So we’ve still got that belt. So I don’t think there’s this gap.”

Not that the Gap didn’t exist at one point. But Howard is careful to remind everyone that the Gap is fickle: It has stretched in both directions are varying times.

“Fifteen years ago, there was a massive gap,” Howard admitted. “But we closed it and overtook them. Though even that’s open for debate.”

The debate often defers to stats and results, such as Mexico’s 27-5-9 domination during the 20th century and the Americans’ 10-2-2 run in the 2000s. Today, the argument for Mexico’s superiority is their recent haul of trophies.

But in the end — on Wednesday night, too — stats, results, and trophies are irrelevant.

“You can talk about the gap and dissect it,” Howard said. “But depending on who you talk to, you’re going to get a different answer. I think that’s just what happens when you’re talking about who’s the best.”

PREVIEW: USA vs. Mexico