Cold-Blooded Old Timers

The players squaring off in this weekend's US/Mexico Legends Challenge are retired. The rivalry is still active.
Share |
Like you wouldn't do the same thing to Alexi Lalas.

Image via MLSSoccer.com.

On Saturday evening, Alexi Lalas will line up across from Mexican star Luis Hernandez. Claudio Suarez, the man who donned El Tri's uniform an astonishing 178 times, will once again mark American forward Eric Wynalda. A handful of the aging group's ex-teammates will fill out the field at Carson, California's Home Depot Center. This time, however, the battle isn't for regional soccer supremacy, or not solely or ostensibly so. It's a benefit supporting the Hispanic Scholarship Foundation. But it’s also more than that.

The men who built the soccer rivalry between the United States and Mexico into one of the world's best are participating in a charity exhibition called The Legends Challenge. Marcelo Balboa, Cobi Jones, John O'Brien, Clint Mathis and others will suit up for the Stars and Stripes, while Suarez and Hernandez find themselves with Jorge Campos, Jared Borgetti, and their old compadres. It has, in soccer years and chronologically, been a long time since this last happened. "The Ben Gay and the post-game beers will be aplenty," Lalas, who does studio work for ABC and ESPN after his nine-year stint with the national team, says.

It's not like the old days, for a variety of reasons. Back then, it was the scrappy, athletic Americans against a skilled, dominant Mexican side, in a rivalry that didn’t bring out the best in either. "That was the era when both teams hated each other," Balboa says. "There was a bitter rivalry. It wasn't a very pretty game back in that era. There was a lot of hard hitting. It was a very, very intense rivalry."

It wasn't, however, much of a match. Between May 25, 1934 and July 4, 1991, the USA won exactly once against 23 losses. This wasn't pre-2004 Yankees–Red Sox; it was Yankees–Portland Sea Dogs. Or perhaps Mexico–Baltimore Bohemians. The two sides were rivals, but definitively not equals.

Lalas, Balboa, and their teammates halted Mexico's cruel dominance of the American team. There was a 2-0 victory in the final of the 1993 Gold Cup and an undefeated run over five games between October of that year and the end of 1996. But the most shocking result came late in 1997 when the Americans traveled to Mexican fortress Estadio Azteca for a crucial 1998 World Cup qualifying game. Before the match, USA coach Steve Sampson simply wanted to minimize the damage. "A tie, or a loss where we don't concede a lot of goals, will be a respectful result in Mexico," he said, knowing the USA had lost all 17 previous matches, frequently by lopsided scorelines. "What counts here is goal differential."

And minimize the goal differential they did. With Balboa and Lalas anchoring the backline, the U.S. managed a 0-0 draw despite being down a man for the final 58 minutes. 110,000 Mexican fans applauded the visitors' effort. It was one of the most memorable games in American soccer history. "That 0-0 tie that we had down there with 10 men certainly sticks out because of the result, the venue, and the opponent," Lalas says. "When you walk into Azteca, it's a surreal experience not just because of the aura of it. The altitude. The smog. The size. And the buzzing literally vibrates. It's very hard to see the sky because it's so steep and so high that you're almost in this silo."

The 1990s finished with six wins for Mexico, four for the Americans, and four draws. In other words, it became a legitimate rivalry. "At the first matches, I thought they weren’t that good," Suarez, who played between 1992 and 2006, says. "But then I started to respect them because they were hard to beat. They were improving more and more."

The next decade started even better for the United States as a new generation of American stars including Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and fearless Mexico-killer Michael Bradley combined with players like Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, and John O'Brian to help the U.S. prevail in 10 of the first 14 games between the two countries. Six of those 10 victories came with a 2-0 scoreline, which is why USA supporters still chant dos a cero ad nauseum when the squads play. Mexico won just twice—both in Azteca—with two draws. The pair met in the 2002 World Cup, and Americans advanced to the quarterfinals on tallies by McBride and Donovan.

Recently, however, the balance of power has swung back in Mexico’s favor, with El Tri going 3-0-1 over in the last four matches including a 4-2 victory in the final of the 2011 Gold Cup. The Americans went up two goals, but collapsed under an unrelenting Mexican attack spurred by Giovanni Dos Santos and Manchester United's Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, who were both 22 years old at the time. That loss kept the Red, White, and Blue out of the 2013 Confederations Cup and prompted the U.S. Soccer Federation to can Bob Bradley in favor of Jurgen Klinsmann and initiate an understated reboot of the American soccer system.

The positive results for Mexico extend beyond the senior national team. While the American youth programs are struggling to qualify for big tournaments, El Tri's are dominating. The Under-17 side won 2011 World Cup, while the U-20 finished third in 2011. Jorge Enriquez won the bronze ball as the tournament's third-best player. Led by the brilliant Alan Pulido, the U-23 team qualified for the 2012 Olympics with ease and could contend for a medal in London. Even the women are getting into the act. The Mexican team shocked the USA in the semifinals of the 2010 CONCACAF Championship, winning 2-1 to reach their second World Cup. The American women are still a significantly better team and reached the final, but they needed to defeat Italy in a home-and-home playoff to make the World Cup.

The future of the Mexican national team is bright on all levels, but the USA has talent coming through the pipeline as well. Geography ensures that the rivalry will endure, of course, but as it has matured, things have become simultaneously more and less intense. In Balboa's opinion, the rivalry is not what it once was because the quality of play is higher; there’s no need for American bruisers to turn games into no-hands-allowed bar-fights, after all, when they could win simply by playing better soccer. "I think there's a huge mutual respect for each other now. [The Americans] are playing a little more soccer than we what we played back in those days. You saw us banging around. I think [the rivalry has] calmed down," he says.

In Suarez's eyes, however, the growing talent of his former foes is exactly what raises the stakes. "I think rivalry is stronger now because USA has been getting better," Suarez says. "The losses against the USA has made the Mexicans realize the level that the US National Team is competing on right now. Soccer has been growing here in America and that makes the Americans have more passion for their team."

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Rivalries are, by and large, fan constructions. Balboa and Suarez—or any two other players from the USA and Mexican national teams, really—have a great deal more in common than they don’t, and all function within the same global soccer economy. Dempsey and Carlos Salcido, for instance, were teammates on Fulham for two years. There is a level of understanding and underlying comity between the players that was less in evidence when the deficit between the two teams was more glaring.

"I've come across [all the guys on the Mexican team] either playing against them or going out and having beer and having a good time," Lalas says. "Once we're off the field, there is a mutual respect and an appreciation for things that we all did collectively to build what has become, in my mind, one of the great rivalries in soccer in the world. Ultimately, we're all very proud of what we did on and off the field to bolster that and to make it what it is right now."

The rivalry is important—people loving seeing USA versus Mexico, and the players love playing in the games—but there is a bigger battle as well: raising the profile of both teams on the international stage. In that regard, Mexico's success against teams from around the world is good for the USA, if only because the two squads are so closely matched.

"CONCACAF needs to do well in general when we're playing big countries or big tournaments like Copa America or the World Cup. I always cheer for whoever is in CONCACAF," Balboa says. "We want them to do well. It's important for our region that they do well. People still kind of look down at CONCACAF a little bit. So I still cheer for the USA, but if Mexico is in or Costa Rica or Honduras goes to the Olympics, then I hope for CONCACAF teams to do well."

It's a diplomatic statement from a diplomatic ambassador for the sport, but not a dishonest one. Many of the older generation of American players continue to do what they can to build soccer in the USA. They work as coaches, commentators, and advocates. The men who turned USA–Mexico into a true rivalry are no longer in the spotlight on the field, but they remain invested nonetheless. Which is to say that, years after their last important games against their arch-opponent, they still want to beat El Tri. "Any chance I get to beat Mexico in anything, whether it's going on in a Legends game on a weekend or playing a game of backgammon, I want to beat that team and I want to beat them even more if they're wearing the Mexican jersey," Lalas says.

The feeling is surely mutual. And so we can expect, on Saturday, a victory over a rival, followed by beers between friends and respected adversaries. The way it should be.


Share |

Comments

I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work! samsung galaxy s6 edge manual

After reading your article I was amazed. I know that you explain it very well. And I hope that other readers will also experience how I feel after reading your article. I feel very grateful that I read this. It is very helpful and very informative and I really learned a lot from it. Penis Enlargement Bible Download

Really nice and interesting post. I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one. Keep posting. Thanks for sharing. custom signs

It has fully emerged to crown Singapore's southern shores and undoubtedly placed her on the global map of residential landmarks. I still scored the more points than I ever have in a season for GS. I think you would be hard pressed to find somebody with the same consistency I have had over the years so I am happy with that.cbse result 2015

Three are usually cheap Ralph Lauren available for sale each and every time you wish to buy. They're produced by the very best degree developers who will be distinguished for your polo dress creating. You'll find polo Ron Lauren inside exclusive array which include particular classes for men, women.cambogia garcinia

I am a new user of this site so here i saw multiple articles and posts posted by this site,I curious more interest in some of them hope you will give more information on this topics in your next articles. Glad to chat your blog, I seem to be forward to more reliable articles and I think we all wish to thank so many good articles, blog to share with us.optifine 1.8.4

You actually make it look so easy with your performance but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never comprehend. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!IRCTC

I have express a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorite’s blog site list and will be checking back soon…Rating your doctor

The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought you have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.hcg diet

I have bookmarked your website because this site contains valuable information in it. I am really happy with articles quality and presentation. Thanks a lot for keeping great stuff. I am very much thankful for this site.Office cleaning Sydney

Your article has piqued a lot of positive interest. I can see why since you have done such a good job of making it interesting. st. anthony recycling

I’m happy I located this blog! From time to time, students want to cognitive the keys of productive literary essays composing. Your first-class knowledge about this good post can become a proper basis for such people. nice one http://www.bestnerfguns.net

If your looking for Online Illinois license plate sticker renewals then you have need to come to the right place.We offer the fastest Illinois license plate sticker renewals in the state. We are tied directly into the sate’s renewal database which allows us to process your request almost instantly.choelslo

I recently came across your article and have been reading along. I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make readers read from the beginning to the end. I would like to read newer posts and to share my thoughts with you.smoothies for diabetics

The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought you have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.Make money station

Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and new initiatives in the same niche. Blog gave us useful information to work. You have done an amazing job!Crowdfunding Website

What a really awesome post this is. Truly, one of the best posts I've ever witnessed to see in my whole life. Wow, just keep it up.Witch Hazel For Acne

they will find a way to be successful,” he says. “If you start with bad people, they'll find a way to ruin your program. loft conversions

Ixperia IT Schulung und Beratung An 18 Standorten in Deutschland bieten wir anspruchsvollen Führungskräften und Mitarbeitern erfolgreich Seminare zu den Themen IT Service Management, ITIL, Projektmanagement und Prince2 in exzellenter Atmosphäre. Sowohl fachlich als auch für die Durchführung erhalten wir von unseren Teilnehmern dafür die besten Beurteilungen mit 100% Erfolgsgarantie. ITIL Zertifizierung

Fotograf Reinhard Simon und Waltraud Pioch begrüßen Sie herzlich in ihrem Fotostudio “das portrait” in Frankfurt. Fotoatelier für anspruchsvolle Fotografie. Die erste Adresse in Frankfurt für Bewerbungsfotos, Businessfotos und Portraitfotos. Businessfotos

Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more.Zolpidem online

I’m happy I located this blog! From time to time, students want to cognitive the keys of productive literary essays composing. Your first-class knowledge about this good post can become a proper basis for such people. ZonderGedoeOnline

This is cool post and i enjoy to read this post. your blog is fantastic and you have good staff in your blog. nice sharing keep it up. https://www.rebelmouse.com/makewomenwantyoureview

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck. rebel mouse

Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you are a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and may come back very soon. Wans TV

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck. freie Wohnung München

Your good knowledge and kindness in playing with all the pieces was very useful. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not encountered such a step like this Low Price Sectional Sofa

what to do in vero beach I totally love this. You have laid out the perfect font in this article! Everything in this article is simply great and I couldn't have asked for a better article than this

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck. Dubai desert safari rates

free Stargate ebooks It is just what I was looking for and quite thorough as well. Thanks for posting this, I saw a couple other similar posts but yours was the best so far. The ideas are strongly pointed out and clearly emphasized.

Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post. mans wedding suits

The matter you've highlighted above is surely valueable for anyone to workout. the concept of your article is very true and It will result in a positive way.mobile app android washington

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work! mercedes dealership houston

With so many books and articles coming up to give gateway to make-money-online field and confusing reader even more on the actual way of earning money, Hubwit is a refreshing change. I stumbled upon this site while searching for work-form-home options. I found Hubwit as a transparent s ite, a social hub which is a conglomerate of Buyers and Sellers who are ready to offer online digital consultancy at decent cost.cheap cars for sale in houston

You might comment on the order system of the blog. You should chat it's splendid. Your blog audit would swell up your visitors. I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.car sales houston tx

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not every day that I have the possibility to see something like this.. used luxury cars for sale

کابینت آشپزخانه This short article is perfect! If just one had been to purchase an argument on the authentication of this post, I believe that you would have to throw of your energy because this article is ideal in addition to every individual understands this kind of.

I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have Webdesign Landshut

beard oil melbourne Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more