Claudio Reyna played a key role in a pair of big wins over Mexico in 1992. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
It doesn’t have such a long or intriguing history as World Cup qualifiers, but the United States and Mexico have had their moments when they have knocked heads in Olympic qualifying through the years.
El Tri has dominated the series, although the USA has enjoyed some memorable matches and milestones.
The two rivals will go head-to-head in in the final Group A game at the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Guadalajara, Mexico Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET (FS1, TUDN).
Both teams already have booked their spots to the semifinals, so the game is not do-or-die, although first place in the group is at stake, which could mean something depending on the semifinal matchups. Sunday’s semifinal winners will book a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
Mexico holds a 4-5-3 advantage in the previous 12 meetings between the two rivals, although two of those wins were forfeits and awarded to the Americans.
Here is a short history of the previous 12 encounters (in chronological order) between the neighboring countries since Olympic qualifying started in 1960 (Olympic years in parentheses):
Mexico 2, U.S. 0 (1960)
In the very first Olympic qualifying encounter, the Mexicans ruled the roost in Mexico City. Not much is known about the Oct. 8, 1969 match. Victor Ottobini played in the nets for the visitors.
U.S. 1, Mexico 1 (1960)
Back in the day, it was difficult getting a result against El Tri, whether it was home or on the road. So, the draw was a moral victory for the Americans, who were eliminated from the caggregate goals series, 3-1 on Nov. 22, 1959 at Rancho Cienega Stadium before 8,200 spectators. The USA grabbed an early goal as an Al Zerhusen cross set up Ed Murphy. The Mexican equalized in the 80th minute when Fernando Meza drilled a 40-yard effort past Ottoboni. According to the Los Angeles Times, defenders Herm Wecke and Joe Speca and Ottoboni stood out for the hosts.
Mexico 2, U.S. 1 (1964)
In the last of three matches against as many opponents in Mexico City March 20, 1964, the USA failed to reach the Rome Summer Games via a 2-1 loss to the host team before 10,000 spectators. Mexico became the Concacaf representative. The Americans had dropped a 1-0 result to Suriname March 16 before recording its first Olympic qualifying victory, a 4-2 win over Panama two days later.
Dent McSkimming wrote in the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “The artistic Mexican players brought out their best effort” of the series. Carl Gentile scored the USA’s lone goal.
Interesting footnote: McSkimming, who paid his own way to watch the USA’s historic 1-0 upset of England in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in the 1950 World Cup while he was on vacation, covered this match live for his newspaper. Would have not been surprised if McSkimming paid his way on this one as well.
U.S. 1, Mexico 1 (1972)Shep Messing shared goalkeeping duties with Mike Ivanow during the 1972 Olympic qualifying run. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
This American team showed its muscles by playing the Mexicans to a 1-1 draw on the road – in Guadalajara Jan. 23, 1972. Southern Illinois University’s John Carenza gave the visiting side a 1-0 lead, converting a Mike Seerey (St. Louis University) pass in the 34th minute. Ten minutes later, Mexico equalized on a penalty kick past goalkeeper Shep Messing after Horst Stemke was called for a handball in the penalty area.
U.S. 2, Mexico 2 (1972)
Seerey struck twice as the USA picked up a vital point and found itself on the verge of qualifying for the Summer Games before 12,687 spectators at Kezar Stadium May 10, 1972. Mexico drew first blood in the 17th minute when Leonardo Cuellar – yes, the same Leonardo Cuellar who directed the Mexican women’s national team for 18 years – outmuscled defender Chris Bahr in the penalty area and beat Messing from eight yards. Then Seerey went into action. He drilled a Carenza feed past keeper Rogilio Ruiz to equalize in the 38th minute. Five minutes into the second half, Seerey converted a Hernandez corner kick during a scramble to the right of the net for a 2-1 lead. Armando Pina headed in an Angel Talavera pass to knot things up in the 61st minute.
Both teams almost scored in the waning minutes. In the 83rd minute, Seerey’s shot hit the right post. A minute later, Mexico’s Lorenzo Reyes’ attempt bounded off the right upright.
It might have been a U.S. home game, but it could have been played in Mexico as far as USA head coach Bob Guelker was concerned. The majority of the fans rooted for the visitors. “The same thing happened to us in Miami,” he was quoted by the Post-Dispatch. “When we beat Guatemala there, most of the fans were Latins who were pulling for the visiting team.”
Those type of crowds showed up at many U.S. men’s international matches for years before U.S. Soccer started to strategically schedule games in certain cities and tried to have a ticket policy that would have mostly partisan USA supporters at matches.
Three days later on May 14, the USA ended a 16-year Olympic drought by clinching a berth at the Munich Games behind a 2-1 win before a crowd of 7,296 in Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The Americans lost only once in six games in the round-robin final-round competition that also included Guatemala. Manny Hernandez, off assists by Carenza and Archie Roboostoff, lifted the hosts into the lead at 12:37. Carenza doubled the lead off a Seerey pass at 35:05 before the Reggae Boyz pulled one back on Leonard Mason’s goal past goalkeeper Mike Ivanow.
Mexico 8, U.S. 0 (1976)
The less said, the better about this disaster of a game in Toluca, Mexico Aug. 25, 1975. Gary St. Clair was the poor chap in goal who had to take the ball out of the net eight times while Jose Gomez didn’t have to worry about much at the opposite end of the pitch. Future NASL players Santiago Formoso (New York Cosmos) and Joe Clarke (St. Louis Stars and Steamers), who went on to coach the St. Louis University men for 14 years, and Glenn (Mooch) Myernick, the 1976 NASL rookie of the year and future U.S. national team assistant coach U-23 boss, were among the players who competed in that match.
Mexico 4, U.S. 2 (1976)
A near capacity crowd of 4,700 watch Mexico register a 4-2 win at Baynard Stadium in Wilmington, Del. Aug. 28, 1975, which sealed the Americans’ Olympic fate. The match started on an optimistic note for the hosts, who struck first as Telmo Pires headed home a Myernick corner kick 35 seconds after the opening kickoff. Hugo Sanchez, who went on to star for Real Madrid, equalized with a 16th-minute penalty. The Americans took the lead again, 2-1, in the 58th minute as George Chapla chested in Kevin Welch’s corner kick. The final half hour was all Mexico. Victor Ranger headed in the 2-2 equalizer in the 65th minute before Sanchez buried a rebound past goalkeeper Kurt Kuykendall minutes later. The Mexicans added an insurance goal.
With two minutes remaining, Kuykendall was forced from the game with an injury. Because the USA already had made its allotted two substitutes, midfielder Len Salvemini played the rest of the way in the net.
BTW, the crowd was the largest for a Delaware non-scholastic sporting event since 1952, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
U.S. 2, Mexico 0, forfeit (1980)
Soccer, as you might have heard, is a game of two halves. This 1979 series between the USA and Mexico was one of two results.
On the field, the Americans dropped both legs to the Mexicans, a 4-0 decision in Leon, Mexico May 23, 1979 and a 2-0 loss in the first game of a doubleheader at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. June 3 (the Cosmos played an NASL match in the nightcap).
U.S. 2, Mexico 0, forfeit (1980)
The Mexicans got goals from Efrian Gonzalez and Sergio Lira on each side of halftime en route to a 2-0 victory, which eliminated the USA (but not permanently). Life got much worse for the hosts after winger Dave MacWilliams was red carded in the 43rd minute, forcing the U.S. to chase the game a man short the rest of the way.
After losing the second encounter, USA head coach Walter Chyzowych said the U.S. Soccer Federation protested both results because the Mexicans used professional players from Leon. At the time, professionals were not allowed in the Olympics.
“That’s right. They were professional players,” Lima said. But what is a professional player.”
Uh, one that gets paid and went against Olympic ideals of the late seventies.
“What is fair?” Luna said, getting philosophical. “There is no justice. If there was justice, there would be no rich or poor people.”
Chyzowych told the media: “We know that Mexico used professional players, but it is now up to FIFA to make a ruling on this matter,” he said.
Heck, Mexico head coach Luis Luna admitted he used pros for his team – the team from
On Oct. 3, Mexico withdrew from the qualifying tournament, allowing the USA to advance to the next round.
Incidentally, after the second Mexico match, Chyzowych complained that the majority of his players hadn’t arrived until one or two days prior to the contest, while two did not get there until 6:30 a.m. on game day.
“The availability of players has been a problem we’re trying to get sorted out,” he was quoted by United Press International. “The federation and the NASL has to set up some kind of technical committee to act as a liaison. This committee would act in the future to make sure we have players. Until then, we’re going to have problems.”
UPI reported that Los Angeles Aztecs midfielder Angelo DiBernardo and San Diego Sockers defender Ty Keough, the Olympic team captain, were released after an angry phone call from U.S. Soccer Federation executive director Werner Fricker. They arrived in New Jersey at 6:30 a.m., five hours prior to kickoff.
After jumping through so many hoops to eventually qualify, the U.S. had the carpet ripped out from under its feet as President Carter announced a boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Alexi Lalas played in that USA win in Mexico City. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
U.S. 2, Mexico 1 (1992)
This one was a stunner in Mexico City as the Americans secured their first major international triumph there in before red, green and white clad 41,000 at Azulgrana Stadium March 25, 1992. After spotting the Mexicans a 1-0 lead on Pedro Pineda’s 55th-minute penalty kick, the USA turned the game on its end during a 12-minute span. Goalkeeper Brad Friedel started the first scoring sequence, booting a long ball to Dante Washington, who flicked it to Chris Henderson. Henderson drilled a 22-yard shot to equalize in the 62nd minute. Mike Lapper headed in a Claudio Reyna free kick for the game-winner in the 74th minute. “This was the biggest game of my life and it is an incredible feeling to beat Mexico in their home stadium,” defender Alexi Lalas said. “This game is the first and one of the most important on the way to Barcelona.”
Cobi Jones was among several future National Soccer Hall of Famers on the 1992 squad that stunned Mexico twice. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
U.S. 3, Mexico 0 (1992)
Before dos a cero defined WCQ, the Americans pulled off a stunning tres a cero result to book a spot at the Barcelona Summer Games with an impressive 4-0 record with two games remaining. Not many teams have accomplished that in qualifying. Striker Steve Snow, who ripped the nets for a USA-record nine goals during qualifying, tallied a goal in each half (31st and 80th minutes). That was sandwiched around a 36th-minute Henderson goal before 13,927 fans at Goodman Stadium on the Lehigh University campus in Bethlehem, Pa. April 26, 1992. Mexico played the final 13 minutes with 10 men after goalkeeper Miguel Fuentes was red carded for pulling down Cobi Jones on the edge of the penalty area. That play set up Snow’s last goal. Friedel registered his third clean sheet. Friedel was in goal for all 10 qualifiers. This U.S. team was loaded with players who made an impact on the U.S. men’s national team in the World Cup and in Major League Soccer. They included future National Soccer Hall of Famers Joe-Max Moore, Reyna, Jones, Lalas and Friedel.
Landon Donovan could not work any of his magic against Mexico in 2004. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
Mexico 4, U.S. 0 (2004)
The USA’s string of qualifying or competing at five consecutive Olympics was broken with a 4-0 defeat to Mexico in Guadalajara Feb. 10, 2004. Coach Ricardo Lavolpe’s entertained a capacity crowd of 60,000 at Estadio Jalisco. The defeated snapped a streak of 19 successive FIFA-sponsored world championships (that started in 1995) for which the USA had qualified (Under-17 and U-20 men’s and women’s, U-23 men, women’s and men’s Olympics and World Cups.
The visitors might have realized there were in for a long night even before kickoff. The U.S. national anthem was booed before it was whistled and drowned out by chants of “Mex-i-co! Mex-i-co!” Jones wrote. The host side, according to Los Angeles Times sportswriter Grahame L. Jones, was “faster to the ball, quick in their reading of the game, more precise in their overall play,” adding, “the Mexican players provided a lesson that will be remembered for a long time.
El Tri scored twice within a three-minute span in the middle of the first half. Rafael Marquez Lugo (no, not that Rafa Marquez) headed a Diego Martinez cross past keeper D.J. Countess in the 25th minute before Martinez doubled the lead in the 28th minute and the rout was on. Marquez made it 3-0 in the 54th minute before sub Ismael Iniguez put the final nail in the U.S. coffin in the waning seconds. It didn’t help that USA defender Nate Borchers was red carded in the 73rd minute after he was awarded his second yellow card.
Forward Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson did not see much of the ball to pull the USA out of the hole.
“There were too many times tonight when our defenders didn’t do a good enough job of slowing the attack down,” Myernick was quoted by the Miami Herald.