Enjoy the next game between the US and Mexico: changes to the World Cup will alter the rivalry forever

Yunus Musah I had only heard about it. The fire. The intensity. Bags of urine flying across the stands, like disgusting gold grenades. Urban legends, you know? Folklore. Musah had heard the stories. However, it wasn’t until this summer that he was finally able to experience it in person.

It is not your fault that you did not know about all this. Musah grew up in Italy, spent his years as a youth footballer playing in England. He is as American as any other member of the United States national team (he was born in New York); However, it was not until last June, when he was part of the call-up for the team that played the Nations League final, that he did not fully grasp the singular truth that his teammates with American roots seemed to understand from the first time they kicked a ball.

The games against Mexico are different.

“It was then that I realized it,” Musah told me one day last month, wide-eyed as he spoke of national anthems, the fireworks and the way the fans shouted and chanted between sides, with that incredible heat that it was more like a rolling boil. He started laughing. “That’s when I realized, ‘Okay… this is crazy.’

It is. And so it has been for several decades, with all generations of footballers, coaches and fans bringing their own stories to the rivalry, only to inevitably end up in the same place. There is no valid debate on this particular topic, no other perspective. When the World Cup qualifying schedule was announced, which match did you look for first? What date did they immediately reserve on their agendas?

Now finally, here it is again. This Friday, in Cincinnati. United States vs. Mexico (watch it LIVE on ESPN + or ESPN2 in English in the United States and Star + in South America at 9 pm ET). It is another of those encounters that come off the pages. That crackles. That feels like the beginning of a new chapter in this story that we all long to enjoy.

Only, this time, it also feels like something is about to end.

We must say it: Musah was not exaggerating. The atmosphere in Denver for that Nations League final was really remarkable. The match, played by the best players from each eleven, featured all the details that distinguish the rivalry between the United States and Mexico: controversial arbitration decisions, brawls, harshness, absurd emotional changes and, once the American victory was completed and finalized, the arrogant indifference of Mexico, generated by a group that maintains a comfortable advantage in the historical record.

However, despite the positive atmosphere that night, it was still the League of Nations. It was still a tournament without history.

The World Cup qualifiers between the two teams, on the other hand, have always existed on a different plane. Yours is a heightened sense of urgency, of importance, of meaning.

The stakes are unmatched: for teams in North America, the World Cup stands alone at the top. The Gold Cup, for all its charm, is not the European Cup or the America’s Cup: it simply is not. For players or fans, it does not come close to other continental tournaments in relevance. For this reason, when Mexico and the United States meet in a World Cup tie, the game is not only about asserting superiority. It’s about standing in front of your opponent, who gets in the way of the only thing that really matters.

We already know the moments. The “two to zero”. Mexico’s brutal comeback five years ago in Columbus, which was part of the death spiral of the US national team. The goalless draws at the Azteca Stadium in 1997 and 2003. The United States has yet to know victory in World Cup qualifying rounds in the imposing arena of Mexico City.

These matches are the dramatic root of this rivalry, its lifeblood. However, as far as their meaning is concerned, they can be almost complete. The match at Azteca in this knockout cycle will not take place until next March, when one (or both) teams could have already sealed their pass to Qatar. And with the 2026 World Cup co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada, these countries will not need to participate in the knockout tournament for the next four years. They will only have friendlies.

Additionally, FIFA voted to expand the pool of World Cup participants to 48 teams (for now), which means that CONCACAF will receive at least six spots in each tournament; a reality that will only serve to detract from the drama of the confederation’s qualifying process, which already has a fairly loaded shortlist. Traditionally, the last knockout round featured six teams (the Hexagonal, as it was known), with three teams with guaranteed spots, spicing up the classics.



David Faitelson believes that the Mexican National Team should have left the Azteca Stadium a long time ago to avoid punishments for the discriminatory shout.

What will happen in the future? With the disparity of resources between the CONCACAF teams, it seems virtually impossible to imagine a situation in which any of the big countries is at risk of being eliminated from a World Cup, with six spots available. After all, since 1990, only 7 of the 41 CONCACAF member nations have even made it to a World Cup, highlighting just how divided the region really is.

Now, let’s be clear: no one claims that the intensity of the clashes between the United States will suddenly disappear. It is impossible. The players will always contribute their respective stories to the matches; and increasingly, these stories are imbued with the passion for this rivalry, lived from the youngest age. When Paul Arriola He was 14 years old, he attended the United States youth team camp. Among the activities was a trip to witness that summer’s Gold Cup final at the Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. The senior teams of the United States and Mexico faced each other. The Aztecs overwhelmed their northern neighbors 5-0.

Arriola, raised in the Californian town of Chula Vista, near the Mexican border, remembers that game as a particularly formative afternoon in his sports career.

“We were all there, with our polo shirts from the United States,” Arriola told me. And, every time Mexico scored, [los hinchas de México] they threw beer at us. And I remember being so angry, and feeling so frustrated because we were children and these people showed so much passion, to the point of being willing to throw beer at children. ” He shook his head. “Obviously, I have great respect for the rivalry and the teams, and you know, for Mexico and its fans, but to this day it drives me to always want to win against them. Because, you know, I have that extra drive. And that experience I had ”.

Ricardo Pepi, who will likely lead the US attack this Friday, grew up near the border in El Paso, Texas; and he has no reservations when it comes to expressing what his family’s love team was when he was younger.

“I’m honest with you: I used to cheer for Mexico because, you know, my parents cheer for Mexico,” he said. “They are Mexican, I grew up watching Mexican soccer. I grew up watching the Mexico national team. And you know, that was a time when we were generally cheering for the Mexican team. In my house, everything is Mexican culture. I’d come out of my house, and it was all American culture. “

Pepi shrugged. Regardless of the stakes, a meeting between Mexico and the United States will always be something special for your family. “I started representing the United States and the United States teams, and I began to feel something for the shield,” he said, “and I said that I would represent the United States with all my heart.”

This Friday’s game feels like the typical powder keg. The United States has a staff full of young people, most of them with little experience; demonstrating the inconsistency one would expect to see in such a group: disappointments such as the home draw with Canada or the unsolvent performance in the loss to Panama; contrasted with the vibrant second half in Honduras, or the fight to come back and score three points against Costa Rica. For better or worse, an unpredictable element always remains.

For its part, Mexico has not been as automatic as it would like. It required a goal in the last minute to beat Jamaica (widely considered the weakest team in the group) and draws with Panama and Canada (at Azteca, surprisingly) have exposed their vulnerabilities. The importance of this meeting, for both teams, is real.

Is it the most likely for both teams to arrive in Qatar? Certainly. However, the scars of 2018 still persist for US fans, doubts remain and enough games are missing in this knockout cycle, to the point that the relevance of this clash has increased substantially. Brenda Aaronson, who is one of many American players who will play their first qualifying match against Mexico, has stated that it will be “a war”; while Tim Weah, who entered the field as a substitute in the Nations League final, told me it was his “first taste” of the rivalry. “And it was an amazing feeling, I can’t wait to live any longer.”

Weah is not the only one. It’s what everyone craves. United States against Mexico. A packed stadium in Ohio. A World Cup square within the reach of players who know how to prevail.

It’s the best night in American football, the kind of night that players, coaches and fans see every time they close their eyes.

Assume it. Worship it. Enjoy it. We will probably never experience something similar again.


We would like to thank the author of this post for this outstanding content

Enjoy the next game between the US and Mexico: changes to the World Cup will alter the rivalry forever