In order to get you primed for the 70th all-time meeting between the US men’s national team and neighboring nemesis Mexico on Friday (8:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision,), we're here to x-ray the bones of the rivalry to chart its growth.
Although El Tri currently hold a large 35-19-15 series edge, it's a rivalry that has become extremely competitive, tense and entertaining over the last four decades. It has drawn crowds of at least 60,000 fans on 27 occasions, including a dozen attendance figures that surpassed 85,000. It has been ranked as one of the very biggest international matchups in the world by the far-flung media likes of AS, ESPN FC, FourFourTwo and The Guardian.
For those more newly initiated to the rivalry, this compendium will count as a handy primer. For most of you, it will be a mere reminder of all the happy, sad and crazy times that have contributed to the lore of this border dogfight. In either case, and regardless of what side you stand on, it will be an emotion churner.
The Origin Story
Though the rivalry officially began with the USMNT's 4-2 victory in Rome during qualifying for the 1934 World Cup, it didn't truly catch fire until the '80s. After that initial meeting, Mexico went 46 years without a defeat, racking up a 21-0-3 streak with a 90-20 goal differential.
The US busted that series slump in 1980 with a World Cup qualifying win in Fort Lauderdale. The results were nearly even for a couple of decades, during which time the bad blood started boiling over in earnest. The rancor only intensified from there, and not only because the US holds a 14-8-6 advantage since the turn of the century.
The rivalry has seen no shortage of animus-inducing scenes during its modern era, dating back to Ramon Ramirez ramming his knee into what Mexicans call the "noble parts" of Alexi Lalas' anatomy back in 1997.
There was Landon Donovan spurring long-lasting and intense hatred by, erm, "walking the dog" on the hallowed ground of Estadio Jalisco back in 2004. A year later, there was Oguchi Onyewu unforgettably burning his warning glare into Jared Borgetti.
Before the decade was up, Mexico assistant coach Francisco Ramirez was caught on camera (but somehow not by Concacaf) slapping Frankie Hejduk in the tunnel following a U.S. victory. Just last year, we had Matt Miazga measuring up El Tri's annoyed, pint-sized hotshot Diego Lainez.
These examples only scratch the hostility surface. Add them all together with the rude chants, the projectile-tossing, the trash-talking – and sure, why not, some thrilling soccer – and you have one of the hottest-boiling cauldron matchups on the planet.
If we delved into every stirring chapter of this soccer border war, we'd all be here protractedly, killing work productivity and any semblance of a family/social life for days. As such, let's stick to a handful of indelible episodes from the rivalry.
2002: Everything had to work out just so in order for the USMNT and Mexico to square off in their first-ever (and thus far only) grudge match at a World Cup. All tumblers clicked into place, creating the combination that set a round-of-16 date to remember in Jeonju, South Korea.
Eight minutes in, Claudio Reyna's scamper down the right and a deft Josh Wolff flick teed up Brian McBride for the opener. Early in the second half, Landon Donovan nodded home a pinpoint Eddie Lewis cross to add insurance.
One late Rafa Marquez red card for head-butting Cobi Jones later, and that was it. The USMNT had a quarterfinal place and their supporters a shatterproof boast that survives to this day.
If you are too young to remember or never saw the game, the full match is available for viewing here.
2007: The USMNT scored their first and so far only Gold Cup final win over Mexico thanks to a thrilling late rally at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Donovan tied both the contest and Eric Wynalda's all-time USMNT scoring record with a spot kick on the hour. That set the stage for late heroics from Benny Feilhaber, who buried a stupendous title-winning volley in the 73rd minute.
2011: Early on, the summer's Gold Cup final looked like it might turn into a USMNT walk. Michael Bradley and Donovan rang the bell to put the hosts up two by the 24th minute. It would be all downhill from there for Bob Bradley's boys.
Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardado had the score level by halftime, and Barrera expertly lashed a second just after the break to put Mexico ahead to stay. After Clint Dempsey went to close to re-knotting the game with a late drive off the bar, Giovani dos Santos scored an artistic capper to crash the USMNT's rally hopes.
2012: Prior to this friendly (the only one on our little stroll down memory lane), the U.S. had a miserable 0-9-1 record at Estadio Azteca, with those games decided by a 22-4 combined tally. The venerable monster of a stadium was the Yanks’ real-life house of horrors.
This game remained scoreless until the 80th minute, when a Brek Shea run into the box and a nifty Terrence Boyd backheel pass allowed Michael Orozco (a dual national with Mexican parents) to slot home the winner. A pair of huge late Tim Howard stops on Javier Hernandez sealed the deal. Though it remains the USMNT's only victory in Mexico in 27 tries, they also haven't lost at Azteca since that day.
2015: When the USMNT slipped up against Jamaica in that summer's Gold Cup semis and Mexico went on to take the title, it forced the adversaries into a one-game autumn playoff for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup. From manager Jurgen Klinsmann to the players to the fans, everyone in America badly wanted that invite.
In the aptly-named Concacaf Cup, the teams traded blows for 120 minutes. The U.S. twice fought back to tie the game, including on Bobby Wood's goal early in the second overtime session, but Mexico right back Paul Aguilar would decide matters with a cracking volley in the 118th minute. It was, of course, not the last time El Tri helped deny the USMNT a competition place in Russia.
2016: Heading into their opening match of the Hexagonal round of 2018 Concacaf World Cup qualifying, the US were perfect in such crunch contests against Mexico played in Columbus, Ohio. They had won all four prior meetings by the 2-0 score line, turning "Dos a Cero" into a national rallying cry/taunt. There would not, however, be a fifth Cowtown triumph in a row.
After being dominated and falling behind in the first half, the USMNT tied the game on a Wood strike shortly after intermission and carried play for much of the second half. Nevertheless, the home side fans were sent home with long faces after longtime rivalry villain Marquez buried an 89th-minute header to give El Tri their first Stateside WCQ victory in 44 years.
The loss marked the beginning of the end for the Klinsmann era. And when all was said and done with the Hex, even a point gained on the day would have made the difference between the USMNT making the World Cup 2018 field and shockingly sitting it out, as they did.
World Cup Qualifying History
Though the USMNT have managed just six wins and seven draws in 29 WCQ showdowns with Mexico, they've battled to an even 5-5-4 split since 1980.
While they've owned this particular home series since the '70s and won that sole neutral site affair back in 1934, the red, white and blue boys have never won a qualifier south of the border. After an 0-11-1 run of futility on Mexican soil to start the annals of this fixture, the U.S. did earn draws on their last two qualifying visits.
Gold Cup History
The teams have to date met seven times in Concacaf's showcase event, and aside from a U.S. victory in the 1991 semifinals, all of those clashes occurred in the title match. Mexico took five of those six finals, cruelly denying their archrivals the crown in 1993, 1998, 2009, 2011 and this past July. As noted above, the US's lone Gold Cup championship game triumph came in 2007.
The Ongoing Tugs-Of-War
And, no, we're not talking about the games. We're referring to the increasingly tricky competition for both players and fans.
The two countries are so tightly linked, and these connections are no longer confined to the corridor between Texas and California. From Chicago to New York to Atlanta, there are new scores of Americans with Mexican roots. Who do they root for? If they're good enough, who do they play for?
This growing phenomenon has inspired a snazzy USMNT nickname: "El equipo de todos" ("Everybody's team"). It has inspired a movie: "Gringos at the Gate" (viewable free and in full here). It has seen several players (such as New England's Edgar Castillo) wear the shirt of both countries at one time or another.
Soon enough, it will compel life-altering decisions out of prized youngsters like Efrain Alvarez, Ulysses Llanez and Richie Ledezma.