They say it's the most dangerous lead in soccer – just enough of a cushion for focus to slacken, but not enough to escape the enemy's striking distance.
But for US national team fans, it's music to the ears, a sequence of digits rendered nearly supernatural by hard-fought history.
You'll hear a great deal about “Dos a Cero” this week as the two titans clash again in Friday's World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio (7:45 pm ET, FS1, Univision). Here are the games that brought us to this point.
July 5, 1991: David bloodies Goliath's nose
After winning their first meeting with Mexico in a play-in game for the 1934 World Cup, the US would suffer a 46-year winless drought that finally ended in 1980. But a new chapter in US soccer opened at the dawn of the 1990s, and a rising USMNT marked their progress with an upset defeat of El Tri in the semifinals of the inaugural CONCACAF Gold Cup in '91. Goals from future MLS standouts John Doyle and Peter Vermes stunned a pro-Mexico crowd at the Los Angeles Coliseum; the Yanks went on to win the tournament.
Oct. 25, 2000: Ya viene Landon
After the United States made a hard-earned climb to respectability in the '90s, a brash teenager arose to power the Yanks into the ascendancy at the dawn of the new century.
Yes, an 18-year-old Landon Donovan made his senior US debut in a friendly vs. Mexico. Coming off the bench in place of the injured Chris Henderson, LD bagged the winning goal and the game-clinching assist. He would bag a career total of six goals and seven assists vs. El Tri, earning the grudging respect of their fans.
Feb. 28, 2001: La Guerra Fria
When Mexico was drawn as the first opponent of CONCACAF's final stage of qualifying for Japan/Korea 2002, US Soccer sought to carve out the sort of daunting home-field advantage El Tri so often enjoyed against the Yanks.
The Columbus Crew's recent construction of the country's first soccer-specific stadium, combined with the midwinter schedule date, led to a bit of gamesmanship: host Mexico in central Ohio. Greeted in the US heartland by hooting home support and temperatures well below freezing, El Tri didn't even take the field for pregame warmups and were well beaten by goals from Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart.
June 17, 2002: Bragging rights forever
The details of this epic World Cup round-of-16 clash in Jeonju, South Korea have been related in entertaining detail elsewhere. Dos a Cero was replicated on the planet's biggest stage, handing the Yanks an achievement that their rivals may not get a chance to match for decades, if ever.
Sept. 3, 2005: "The Stare Down"
Both nations were well on course for Germany 2006 when they met again in Columbus, but the hosts booked their spot first as the Ohio mojo continued. DaMarcus Beasley and New England Revolution legend Steve Ralston found the net, both on set-piece situations. But the tone – and the lasting image – was set just nine minutes in, when Mexican striker Jared Borgetti's angry confrontation of Oguchi Onyewu was met with a stony glare.
“I knocked him down, he got up and he looked like he was going to do something to me and I was really hoping he would,” recalled Onyewu this year.
Feb. 7, 2007: Driven to distraction in the desert
El Tri's frustrations hit boiling point in this winter friendly in Arizona. Jimmy Conrad opened the scoring as an MLS-heavy US squad cruised to victory. And when Donovan taunted the chasing Mexican defenders with a wave of his hand before beating Oswaldo Sanchez for the capper, the veteran goalkeeper petulantly tried to leg-whip Eddie Johnson as he ran to celebrate with his teammate. Mexico refused the usual postgame handshakes as their 21st-century record against the US slipped to 2-8-1.
Feb. 11, 2009: Bradley brace, Rafa red
Back to Columbus for a crucial Hex opener in midwinter, though this one was more wet than cold. Michael Bradley spearheaded a confident victory at the tender age of 21, scoring late in each half. Meanwhile Mexican star – and USMNT public enemy No. 1 – Rafa Marquez earned a straight red card for planting his studs in Tim Howard's knee on an aerial challenge as the Dos a Cero legend grew further still.
Sept. 10, 2013: “We are going to Brazil”
In US Soccer's centennial anniversary year, the Yanks again got to clinch World Cup qualification with a win over Mexico in Columbus. This time El Tri were languishing at the wrong end of the Hex standings and were put to the sword by Johnson and Donovan, capping a triumphant return from his sabbatical. When Clint Dempsey fired a penalty kick wide of goal in the dying minutes, it only amplified the 2-0 mystique.
April 15, 2015: J-Mo lights up Alamo City
The USMNT suffered a lengthy hangover after Brazil 2014, limping to a 2-4-3 mark between the World Cup and this friendly meeting with Mexico in San Antonio. El Tri proved a Texas slump breaker, however, as NCAA phenom and eventual Seattle Sounders Homegrown Jordan Morris introduced himself to a wider audience with the game-winner (followed by a Juan Agudelo golazo) on the rutted temporary grass surface in a sold-out Alamodome.