As far as psychological advantages go, it would be hard to argue against the U.S. men's national team enjoying one over archrival Mexico. The U.S. carries a 9-2-2 record in the past 13 meetings (and an 8-0-2 record on American soil in the past 10) against El Tri heading into next week's World Cup qualifying showdown in Columbus, Ohio, as heavy favorites. That and the fact that several of the key players responsible for that lopsided record will be on the field for the United States.
While Mexico is likely to use several players who have never experienced the intensity and difficulty of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry, the U.S. starting lineup will be loaded with some of the series' key figures. These are players who have become all too familiar to Mexican fans who have watched their rivals dominate the series in recent years. It is those same players whom U.S. coach Bob Bradley will need to step up yet again in this most important series.
Here are five U.S. veterans who will play key roles Wednesday, and who have enjoyed their share of success against Mexico in the past:
If only Mexico fans could have known what they were witnessing when an 18-year-old Donovan came off the bench and scored in his U.S. national team debut, a 2-0 win against El Tri on Oct. 25, 2000. That day was the start of a run of domination that has turned Donovan into arguably the most hated soccer player in the world by Mexican fans.
The stats don't lie. Donovan has faced Mexico eight times, and in those eight matches he has produced four goals and an assist while helping guide the United States to a 6-1-1 record. His unforgettable headed goal in the 2002 World Cup, when the U.S. beat Mexico 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals, stands as one of the best memories in recent U.S. national team history.
That track record, coupled with Donovan's past habit of making controversial remarks about the Mexican team (and fans), has helped Donovan stoke the flames of the rivalry like few players have.
If you are a younger U.S. fan, or if your memory isn't that good, you might not even realize just how much success Hejduk has enjoyed against Mexico. Suspensions forced him to miss two of the biggest U.S.-Mexico clashes of the past decade: the 2002 World Cup match and the 2007 Gold Cup final.
So when was Hejduk's last match against Mexico? It happened to come in the 2005 World Cup qualifying victory against Mexico in Columbus, the same venue he calls home with the Columbus Crew, and the same stadium he is expected to be starting in on Wednesday. Before that, Hejduk played against "El Tri" five times, all between 1998 and 2004. What can also sometimes be forgotten is that Hejduk has actually scored two goals against Mexico: in a 1999 loss and in a 2000 blowout (3-0) at Giants Stadium against a ragtag Mexico bunch.
Unlike most of his teammates, Hejduk can draw from plenty of bad memories in the series, including losses in his first three meetings against Mexico. That, coupled with the matches he has missed in the series, should make his likely start Wednesday even more special for him.
|U.S. men's schedule
|U.S. vs. Mexico
Columbus Crew Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 HD, ESPN360
While he might not boast the statistics Donovan has against Mexico, Beasley has played a major role in the U.S. team's success in this series. His ability to attack, as well as to use speed to defend, has made him a very effective tool in testing Mexico every time these teams meet.
Like Hejduk, Beasley missed the 2002 World Cup meeting (due to injury), and he has also missed two of the past three meetings due to injury, but his last two matches against Mexico were memorable ones. He put on a solid effort in the 2007 Gold Cup final and delivered a man of the match-worthy performance in the 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory against Mexico in Columbus in 2005.
Why is a player with just three appearances in this series on the list? He's here because he is not only the U.S. team's best player, but he has delivered strong performances in that handful of meetings.
The scoreless tie the U.S. and Mexico played to in 2003 isn't often referenced as one of the better meetings in the series, but it was a special one for Howard. Not only did he record a shutout in his first appearance in the series; that match was also the one seen in person by scouts from Manchester United, who would go on to sign him that summer.
Howard is also here because he delivered one of the most memorable (and important) moments in the recent history of the series. His point-blank save of an Adolfo Bautista shot in the 89th minute helped preserve the U.S. team's 2-1 victory in the 2007 Gold Cup final.
No player on this list endured a worse introduction to the U.S.-Mexico series than Onyewu, who earned a start in a World Cup qualifier in Mexico City in just his third appearance with the U.S. national team. That Easter Sunday in 2005, which saw Mexico post a 2-1 victory, was a rough one for Onyewu, who looked every bit the inexperienced international defender he was.
It didn't take long for Onyewu to show he could handle Mexico. Just six months after that Easter Day defeat, Onyewu delivered a dominant performance in the U.S. team's World Cup qualifying victory in Columbus, and his famous staredown of former Mexico striker Jared Borgetti became one of the most indelible images of the series. Since then, Onyewu has won a Gold Cup title against Mexico and scored a goal in the 2-2 tie the teams played to in Houston on Feb. 6, 2008.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.
|U.S. vs. Mexico
|Last five home World Cup qualifiers
Sept. 3, 2005 -- W, 2-0, Columbus, Ohio
Feb. 28, 2001 -- W, 2-0, Columbus, Ohio
April 20, 1997 -- T, 2-2, Foxborough, Mass.
Nov. 23, 1980 -- W, 2-1, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Oct. 3, 1976 -- T, 0-0, Los Angeles