Mexico, U.S. clash for more than Gold Cup
By Ivan Orozco

 

PASADENA, California - It's a final most expected, has happened four times before, and will again decide bragging rights in the CONCACAF region.

Mexico vs. the United States for the Gold Cup title on Saturday is a grudge match that has become so intense it stacks up against other notable rivalries in the Americas: Argentina-Brazil, Boca-River, Chivas-America, even Red Sox-Yankees.

When the Stars & Stripes clashes against El Tri, the winner will earn a ticket to the Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013, a year before the Word Cup.

But it's also about pride. Their respective fans get to boast in the team's glory. And maybe none more than Mexico fans living in the United States.

"For years now this has transformed into something very important to the Mexican people that live in the United States. It is a clásico," Mexico manager Jose Manuel de la Torre said. "That makes for a heated atmosphere. But the final is still a soccer game featuring two strong, well coached teams that have worked hard to reach a final we will enjoy."

Mexico has enjoyed the comfort of commonly drawing capacity crowds throughout the United States for friendlies, as well as when it plays in the Gold Cup every two years. It drew 80,108 in Dallas for its opener against El Salvador, 62,000 in Chicago against Costa Rica, 78,807 in New Jersey and 70,627 for Wednesday's semifinals at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

The United States, which schedules matches to avoid being the "away" team at home, probably will be a visitor at the Rose Bowl.

"It sucks," United States defender Jonathan Bornstein said. "You come into your country and you know they are going to have more fans than you are, but nonetheless, we're going to have enough fans out there supporting us. We're on our home turf, and so we need to be considered the home team even though we might not have all the fans."

The United States doesn't have home field advantage and it doesn't always get the respect it might deserve despite dominating Mexico in the United States while being at full strength.

The United States has not lost to Mexico on American soil when at full strength in 12 matches dating back to the year 2000.

The two ties came in Houston in 2003 and 2008. Coach Bob Bradley's team has beaten Mexico in the last three World Cup qualifiers between both teams played in the United States. All three were 2-0 victories (2001, 2005 and 2009).

The last time El Tri won on American soil against a United States carrying a complete squad was August 1999 in San Diego.

On the other hand, the United States has never beaten Mexico on Aztec soil.

Mexico is still considered the favorite to win its sixth Gold Cup title. De la Torre is unbeaten since he took over as Mexico's coach. His team has outscored opponents 18-2 in this tournament. El Tri's roster has a roster regarded as its best in recent history despite missing starters Guillermo Ochoa and Francisco Rodriguez.

Mexico won championships in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, and 2009 -- when it beat the Americans 5-0 in the final.

The match two years ago was an embarrassing moment for the United States. It came immediately after a runner-up finish at the Confederations Cup and using what amounted to a third-choice team.

But even without its regular first-team regulars, allowing five goals in a second-half collapse resulted in the most lopsided loss in 24 years.

The United States will be considered to be at full strength despite losing striker Jozy Altidore, who will miss the final with a hamstring strain. This is the first time these two teams face each other with practically their "A" teams since Mexico beat the United States 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier in August of 2009 at Estadio Azteca.

The Americans have won the cup in 1991, 2002, 2005 and in 2007. The last was the win that sent the United States to the 2009 Confederations Cup where it finished as second behind Brazil.

Qualifying to the Confederations Cup is one of Mexico's incentives. A loss to the United States Saturday could be considered disastrous.

"We'll just be a second-place team," said Mexico's veteran defender Rafael Marquez.

This is supposed to be the squad that will change the future of Mexican soccer, the second "Golden Generation."

El Tri has the internationally renowned players. It has Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the Manchester United striker who has become the equivalent of a rock star in Mexico and parts of Europe.

But regardless of which players take the field, the rivalry remains the same for United States goalkeeper Tim Howard.

"It's been the same," Howard said about the rivalry. "It's been the same since I was a kid watching it. It's the same today. It's passion. There's a ton of respect, but yet again it borders hatred.

"But it's passion. It's good. I think we have very healthy respect for them and whether they want to say it or not, they have healthy respect for us and they should."