>By Russell Jordan
The first time I ever watched the United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) take the field was in 2002. It wasn’t live, the game was on at something like midnight California time; I watched it on this thing they used to call a VHS tape. I played soccer growing up and was pretty excited to see the USMNT play on the biggest soccer stage in the world. I had no idea at the time just how big the World Cup was, and how much impact this game would have on US soccer as a whole. I don’t remember all the specifics of the game, I remember the goals, and not having enough fingers to count how many times Mexican players went studs up, or sometimes just deliberately kicked US players. To this day, I’m surprised Cobi Jones wasn’t seriously injured in that game. The US won 2-0 and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930, also farther than Mexico had ever advanced (in a World Cup that didn’t take place in Mexico). That game forever changed the face of US soccer, and also the biggest rivalry in North America.
Looking way back to the origins of the rivalry, the first game between the two was won by the US in a World Cup qualifier in 1934. After that however, Mexico dominated the rivalry. From 1937 to late 1980 Mexico didn’t lose a game to the US, with a record of (21-0-3). Domination may be a bit of an understatement actually; the state of US soccer was poor, with the sport being drowned out by more popular American sports like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, soccer was a sub-culture, and something most thought was a game for children.
However in the 80’s soccer started gaining some popularity, the sub-culture of fans was growing. The US won their first game against Mexico in 43 years, and since then has improved their record from 1980-Present to (13-11-7). With the small uprising of soccer in the 80’s the US started its own professional soccer league in 1993, MLS. With a pro league making soccer more public among the youth, the US was now competitive with Mexico for dominance in CONCACAF.
You may be asking yourself why I titled this article “Good vs. Evil” and if you are asking yourself that, you probably haven’t watched too many US vs. Mexico games. The players make this rivalry what it is. The USMNT plays like you would expect an American team to play, hard, physical, never say die attitude, and they don’t do a lot of that flopping thing you see in a lot of soccer today. They are the protagonists if you will, the hero of the story. The Mexicans however, are the antagonists, known for a different style of play, a style of play most would call “dirty”. With cheap shots, studs up tackles, flops, and sometimes even throwing punches, Mexican players have always brought the dirty side of soccer to this rivalry, but to be honest, that’s what makes the rivalry so intense. That’s what gives it that “good vs. evil” feel, that’s why Americans love this rivalry, because we’re the good guys, and we have to take down the enemy.
But what does it mean to be a fan in this rivalry? What does it mean to bleed Red, White, and Blue? It means wake up at 4am to make sure you’re the first one at the bar so you can sit there for eight hours waiting to watch your boys represent your country thousands of miles away. It means you watch every foreign game that has a US player in it, just to see how they play. It means you sing the songs, and march to the stadium with your flags held high at every game you attend. It means when you see that ugly green color and hear that chant, that awful, awful chant “Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!” you get sick to your stomach. It means your disgusted when Mexico boo’s the US National Anthem at Azteca, but you sit quietly whenever Mexico plays their National Anthem. It means you take nothing but pride in your country beating the Mexicans in the game they call “theirs”.
I said that soccer in the US is a sub-culture, and it still is, but that sub-culture is expanding faster than ever. With supporters groups like Sam’s Army, and the American Outlaws (three TSL writers are members) fandom is becoming what it needs to be, a brotherhood. There is almost an unspoken bond between US soccer fans, for instance at this last World Cup. When TSL writers Evan, Dylan and myself were outside the local sports bar waiting for the doors to open before the England game, we were approached by a man in town for his sister’s graduation, wearing a USMNT jersey. He was from Chicago, and we found out later was a personal friend of Jonathan Bornstein, right after Evan stated he “really hopes Bornstein doesn’t start” right in front of the guy. But there was an instant friendship made, I even hugged him after Dempsey cleverly tricked Robert Green into letting in that goal, because that’s what US soccer fans are, family.
When the US plays Mexico however, well that’s a whole different beast. Its like the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Championship, and every other championship in the US rolled together into one game. The intensity is unique, and almost indescribable. To hear that silence in Azteca after a USMNT player puts one away
is sweeter than any song ever made, same for the roar of the crowd when the game is in the USA. In reverse, I’d rather listen to Lady Gaga than hear the Mexican fans celebrate a goal against our boys.
When fans meet in person the result isn’t much different from the actual games themselves. When the US plays Mexico on American soil the fan atmosphere is amazing, great back and forth between both sides fans, however nothing out of hand, and rarely any violence. But when the games are in Mexico it’s a different story. US fans literally have to fear for their lives. Riot police escort them to and from the stadium as the Mexican fans shout and sometimes throw objects at them. During the game they are also protected by police, and in most cases Mexican fans attempt to break through police to get to the US fans. There is no middle ground for US and Mexico fans, there is nothing but hatred between the two sides, and us fans of the USMNT wouldn’t have it any other way.
There is no doubt that soccer in the US has yet to reach its full potential. More and more fans are popping up all over the country, and supporters groups like the American Outlaws are gaining members daily. CONCACAF has attempted to kill the US vs. Mexico rivalry by changing the World Cup qualifying format so the two sides no longer face each other, but I think that will only make the rivalry stronger. Now every time these two teams meet it will mean so much more. The next meeting between the two may come during the 2011 Gold Cup, and if it does you can bet that both sides will be ready for battle. Because every time these two teams meet it’s a war, not only for the players and coaches
, but for the fans as well.