The USMNT took on Mexico Tuesday night for the first time since their World Cup match in 1994, and it was a painful experience. Will this change things or will we still be bitter rivals?
The “American soccer” is a sport that has been growing in popularity. The USMNT vs. Mexico rivalry will change forever after this World Cup. Read more in detail here: american soccer.
It was the first time Yunus Musah had heard of it. The blaze. The ferocity. Bags of urine hurled from the stands like obnoxious golden grenades. You know, tall stories. Lore. Musah had heard tales, but it wasn’t until this summer that he witnessed a slice of it for himself.
It wasn’t his fault, though, that he was ignorant. Musah was born in Italy and spent his childhood playing soccer in England. He was born in New York and is every bit as American as any other player on the United States men’s national team, but until June, when he was named to the U.S. roster for the Nations Cup final, he’d never really grasped the singular truth that his teammates with American roots seemed to grasp from the first kick of a ball…
The games versus Mexico aren’t the same.
“I just noticed it then,” Musah said last month, his eyes widening as he described the national anthems, pyrotechnics, and the way the people yelled and sang at each other in that tremendous heat that seemed more like a rolling boil. He burst out laughing. “At that point, I understood, ‘OK, this is crazy.’”
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It is, and it has been for decades, with each generation of American players, coaches, and fans bringing their own tale to the rivalry, only to wind up in the same spot. There is no discussion or alternative viewpoint on this topic. Which match did you search for first when the schedule for World Cup qualifying matches was released? Which date did you immediately mark on your calendar?
Now, at long last, it’s back. Cincinnati on Friday. Mexico vs. the United States (watch on ESPN2 or stream LIVE on ESPN, starting at 9 p.m. ET). Another one of these games that erupts from the printed page. That is a crackling sound. That seems like the start of a new chapter in the tale we’ve all been waiting for.
This time, though, it also seems like something is coming to an end.
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Ricardo Pepi, who is expected to spearhead the US assault on Friday, grew up along the border in El Paso, Texas, and is open about his family’s allegiance when he was younger.
“I’ll be honest with you: I used to always root for Mexico because, you know, my folks cheered for Mexico,” he said. “They’re Mexican, and I grew up watching Mexican soccer and the national team of Mexico. And those were the periods when, in general, we were pulling for the Mexican national team. It’s all Mexican culture in my home. Then I went out of my home, and everything was American culture.”
He shrugged his shoulders. Whatever the stakes, a game between the United States and Mexico will always be important for his family.
He remarked, “I began supporting the United States and U.S. national teams, and I started feeling something for the crest, and I declared I was going to represent the United States with all my heart.”
Sebastian Salazar and Herculez Gomez talk about the recent fines imposed by Mexico in response to anti-gay chants by their followers.
The game on Friday seems like a classic powder keg. The United States has a young, largely inexperienced team that has displayed the expected inconsistency of such a group: disappointments like the home draw with Canada or the sluggish performance in the loss to Panama, contrasted with the vibrancy of the second half in Honduras or the fightback from an early hole to take all three points against Costa Rica. Unpredictability has been a constant, for both good and negative reasons.
Mexico, like the United States, has not been as automatic as it would want. To overcome Jamaica (often regarded as the poorest team in the group), they needed a last-minute goal, and draws against Panama and Canada (surprisingly, at the Azteca) have shown their own flaws. For both clubs, the significance of this game is undeniable.
Is it most probable that they’ll both end up in Qatar? Certainly. However, there is still enough scar tissue from 2018 for American supporters, as well as enough uncertainty and games remaining to play in this cycle, that the match’s importance has risen. Brenden Aaronson, one of several Americans expected to play in his first qualifier against Mexico, believes it will be “a fight.” Tim Weah, who came in as a substitute in the Nations League final, told me it was his favorite moment of his career “It’s the first time I’ve had a taste of it. And it was an incredible sensation that I can’t wait to repeat.”
This is what everyone wants, and he isn’t alone. Mexico and the United States of America. In Ohio, a sold-out stadium. Those who can establish themselves might earn a berth in the World Cup.
It’s the greatest type of night in American soccer, the kind that players, coaches, and spectators can see with their eyes closed.
Accept it. It’s fantastic. Take pleasure in it. It’s possible that things will never be the same.