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Jun 23, 2007

Mexican players feeling the heat against U.S.

Pressure is something that comes with the green jersey of the Mexican national soccer team. Every player that wears it, feels it. They see the packed stadiums and hear the roars from the crowd and know that a nation's emotions truly hinge on how well they perform.

Given that, you would think Mexican players would be accustomed to the pressure of a matchup against the U.S. national team. The numbers would seem to suggest otherwise. In the past 11 meetings between these bitter rivals, Mexico has managed just two victories. Things have been even worse on American soil, where Mexico has not won or even scored a goal since a 2-1 victory in San Diego on March 13, 1999 (they're 0-8-1 during that span).

As staggering as these figures are, some Mexican players will claim to have been oblivious to them. Call it denial or call it a weak attempt to ignore the reality of the U.S. team's dominance of the series, but a surprising number of Mexican players dropped an "I did not know that" when approached with the series' statistics.

"We don't think about those things," Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo said when asked about the lopsided results in the series. "Pressure for us isn't there any more than normal. Mexico is always obligated to win so we live with pressure all the time. It is not unique to games against the United States."

Believe that one and there may be a purchase of the Brooklyn Bridge in your future. Mexicans are fully aware of their lack of success against 'Los Gringos' and it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that the American domination of the series has begun to affect Mexico's play.

"We have their number and they're getting frustrated because they haven't beaten us," said U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley. "They want to beat us so bad that it may work against them.

"They have a lot more pressure on them because their nation is soccer," Beasley said. "They can't beat us in any other sport but soccer, so for them to lose to us is like a national tragedy and every time we beat them it is very bad for their country."

Not every Mexican player lives in denial over the magnitude of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry and the Americans' recent domination of it.

"It might be an obsession for us and that's something we're at fault for," German-based Mexican defender Ricardo Osorio said. "We have to calm down and realize it's something we want but not something we can be desperate for.

"We can't rush ourselves and become obsessed with beating them," Osorio said. "We must relax and play our soccer."

Mexican frustrations over not being able to solve the U.S. national team were never more obvious than in the last meeting between the teams, a 2-0 U.S. victory on Feb. 7 in Glendale, Arizona. Mexico dominated play and created numerous scoring opportunities but missed chance after chance as they failed to score on American soil for a ninth straight time.

As has been the routine after such defeats, Mexican players refused to give their American counterparts much credit and clung on to any excuse they could find to explain away yet another loss to the United States.

"We were the better team and created more but could not find the goal," said Mexican forward Jared Borgetti on that day. "When we outplay an opponent this way we must be able to find the goals."

"It was a game where we didn't have much rest," Osorio said about the loss in February. "I flew almost 16 hours, Pavel [Pardo] the same and Rafael [Marquez] the same. We were dead to be honest and we lost."

There won't be room for excuses for the Mexican team on Sunday. They haven't spent the previous days traveling, the field is not in terrible shape and the soldout crowd expected to fill Soldier Field will surely be dominated by Mexican fans. The stage is set for the Mexicans to finally vanquish a rival that has frustrated them for years and, if they don't, their players will have to stop living in denial about the United States' dominance of the series and its claim to the title of best team in CONCACAF.

"A final is important enough, but we know playing it against our rival makes it more special," Osorio said. "We've learned a lot from our matches with them and we just have to be calm and realize we have an opportunity to beat them."

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.