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The Fascinating History You Didn’t Know About the U.S. – Mexico Soccer Rivalry

Ever since the two teams first met way back in 1934 — at the Rome World Cup — there has been an intense rivalry between United States and Mexico national soccer teams, which has played out at more than 50 official matches.

The modern-day rivalry has been criticized for lacking the same bite and passion of memorable encounters from the 1990s and early 2000s, yet more recent games have included heated arguments, gutsy challenges and dramatic goals, with very excited fans. In fact, the recent Concacaf Nations League final encapsulated the good, the bad and the ugly of a feud some believed had lost its bite.

But over the nearly 90-year long rivalry, a number of stark differences and interesting facts have developed.

Like many of us regular first-generation people, many players struggle with a dual identity.

It’s a sentiment that is rampant in the Latinx-American community: “Am I too white or too Latino for the space I’m in?” Well, even the world’s greatest soccer players aren’t immune from these pervasive thoughts. In a recent feature penned by David Ochoa and published by “The Players’ Tribune,” Ochoa explains his struggles with identity — he even called it depression.

“In the U.S. I was ‘the Mexican,’ ” he wrote in his “Players’ Tribune” piece, regarding his internal identity struggle. “In Mexico, I was ‘the Gringo.’”

Today’s players are even more at-risk for these sentiments since a growing number of players are dual nationals and eligible to play for both the Mexican or U.S. national teams.

The U.S. went a shocking 46 years without a win!

At their very first match, the U.S. defeated Mexico in a 4-2 win. But that luck was short-lived. It took the U.S. 46 years over 24 official matches to claw back a win against El Tri. But the U.S. finally had its chance — twice in preparation for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, once in Mexico City, and once in Fort Lauderdale.

Mexico thrashed the U.S. at home with a 5-1 win but the U.S. won back in Florida, ending the longest drought in the history of the rivalry between wins. During this span, America had eight presidents, emerged victorious from a World War, landed on the moon, and, with Watergate, started the trend of adding the suffix “-gate” to every major (and minor) crisis since.

There’s a particular U.S. stadium where Mexico has failed to ever score a goal.

Crew Stadium, located in Columbus, OH, has been a safe space of sorts for the U.S. national team since their home-field advantage is so strong that the Mexican team has never once scored a goal within its walls. In three meetings — all World Cup qualifiers — the United States have a trio of victories, never once allowing a goal to the Mexican squad.

When matches are played there, the Mexican team often calls it ‘The Cold War’ due to the fact that all three matches have been celebrated on nights where the temperatures have dipped below 50ºF.

Only one player has played for both teams.

Few players have ever made the switch from one country’s team to another — in fact, only one has. Martín Vasquez is the only player in the history of international football to don both the Mexican and U.S. team shirts.

A citizen of both nations, Vasquez played in three matches for Mexico between 1990 and 1992. After his short window of play with Mexico closed, Vasquez was granted permission to play for the United States in seven more games between 1996 and 1998.

The two teams are quite different in a number of ways.

The U.S. and Mexico teams are also made up of very different players. On average, the U.S. team for the Concacaf Nations League Finals is aged 23 years/336 days and 18 caps, while Mexico’s team averages 28 years/89 days and 40 caps.

During one heated match, the two teams scored a surprising number of goals.

Soccer matches are known for their low scores — after all, it’s not supposed to be easy to get a goal past the goalkeeper. But during a friendly match in Mexico City way back in 1937, the two teams went on to score a combined 10 goals — which is a lot. Mexico won the match 7-3.

A Serbian-born coach had the honor of coaching both the U.S. and Mexican teams.

Just one man has ever managed both teams, of course, at different times. Serbian-born Velibor “Bora” Milutinovic was introduced to North American football when he enrolled in Mexican club UNAM Pumas as a player, later managing it. His highly successful spell propelled him to the Mexican national team job, which he held on two separate occasions.

After guiding Mexico to the quarterfinals in the 1986 World Cup, Milutinovic took Costa Rica to the 1990 World Cup. Four years later, Milutinovic guided the United States to the knockout stages of the tournament. He’s also managed Nigeria and China to appearances in football’s most important competition.

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