Landon Donovan participated and play hero in many a USMNT-El Tri encounters over the years. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
In wake of the U.S. men’s national team’s triumph over Mexico Sunday night/Monday morning, I figured I would rank some of the most memorable matches between the countries through the decades.
If you have been living under a rock or your internet has been down, the Americans defeated El Tri, 3-2, in a game for the ages in Denver.
Here is a dandy dozen other games, which include wins, losses and draws:
- U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (June 17, 2002)
In a rare Concacaf confrontation in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, the USMNT stunned El Tri, 2-0, in the most important match of the 77-year rivalry between the two countries. Brian McBride and Landon Donovan found the net to propel the Americans into the quarterfinals against Germany. The victory also was significant in that it was the first time the USA won a single-elimination game in World Cup history. It also was the U.S.’s first World Cup clean sheet since a 1-0 surprise of England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.
- Mexico 4, U.S. 2 (June 25, 2011)
Mexico put to rest any doubts as to which team is best in the 2011 Gold Cup in spectacular fashion. Overcoming a two-goal deficit in the first half, El Tri struck for four unanswered goals to roll past the Americans and secure the confederation crown via a 4-2 victory at the Rose Bowl. In 2009, the Mexicans routed the USMNT, 5-0, to capture the Gold Cup crown, although many critics and observers dismissed that result and felt that the game was not a true indication of the strength of both teams because the Americans used essentially a B team. They deployed their A team at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa earlier that month. Midfielder Pablo Barrera tallied twice, including the game-winner in the 50th minute. Andres Guardado, the same Andres Guardado who had his penalty kick saved by Ethan Horvath in the USA’s win Sunday, and Giovani dos Santos, the man of the match, also scored for the winners. Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan scored for the hosts.
- Mexico 0, U.S. 0 (Nov. 2, 1997)
A little more than half hour into its qualifier against Mexico, the visitors faced their ultimate nightmare and worst-case scenario at Azteca. Not only did they kick off the game without four starters, the USMNT found itself facing playing a man down for the final 58 minutes after an ill-timed red card by Jeff Agoos. Instead of collapsing, the determined Americans pulled off an historic upset of Mexico, leaving the cauldron with a well-deserved scoreless draw and a precious point before 114,000 fans. The U.S. turned the crowd on their heroes as they chanted “Ole!” every time the visitors put together passes in the second half. The crowd also chanted “Fuera Bora!” meaning fire Mexico coach Bora Milutinovic, who was canned after the game, despite qualifying squad for the World Cup.
- U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (Feb. 28, 2001)
The first of four consecutive dos a cero results at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. A half hour into the match, the Americans were living another World Cup nightmare. They already had lost their most dangerous scoring threat, Brian McBride, to a swollen eye, and their playmaker, Claudio Reyna, was hobbling around with a strained groin muscle. In McBride’s place came an energetic and swift, 24-year-old forward who had all of four international games under his belt. Josh Wolff, now Austin FC head coach, was up to the task in a dream performance in a stunning 2-0 win. Wolff scored the first goal and set up the second — a late tally by Earnie Stewart — in a result that put Mexican coach Enrique Meza on the hot seat as Mexico’s winless streak reached six games (0-5-1).
- U.S. 2, Mexico 2 (April 20, 1997)
At time, this World Cup confrontation turned into a farce. At times, the game, televised by ABC, did not seem like a soccer game, but rather soccer’s version of Bloopers, Blunders and Practical Jokes. The USMNT’s 2-2 draw with its archrival had all the elements of a black comedy: goalkeeper gaffes, inopportune red cards and own goals. The tone of the match was set with the game barely 39 seconds old when defender Alexi Lalas sent a back pass to U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller into the goalkeepers’ box. Keller, not noticing that Mexican striker Carlos Hermosillo was lurking some eight yards to his right, tried to clear the ball, which bounded off the Mexican’s head and into the net. With the Mexicans clinging to a 2-1 lead, the U.S. got an unexpected gift from an unexpected source in the 74th minute. Eric Wynalda crossed the ball from the left side into the middle, which glanced off the head of midfielder Thomas Dooley to substitute Nicolas Ramirez, who headed it into his own net.
- U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (July 5, 1991)
After recording only two victories in 28 previous encounters, the USA shocked Mexico with a 2-0 win in the Gold Cup semifinal. Defender John Doyle and forward Peter Vermes scored 16 minutes apart in the second half before a crowd of 41,103 at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. The Mexicans fired their coach, Manuel Lapuente, two days later. The U.S. went on to win the first Gold Cup, surviving a penalty-kick shootout with Honduras, 4-3, after a scoreless draw.
- U.S. 0, Mexico 0 (U.S. wins shootout) (July 17, 1995)
In yet another neutral venue, the USA eliminated Mexico in the quarterfinals of Copa America in Uruguay. Goalkeeper Brad Friedel produced two vital saves in the shootout after the rivals played to a scoreless draw. Jorge Campos, who went on to play for the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire (Major League Soccer), did not fare as well. He failed to stop any of the Americans’ penalty-kick attempts. Frank Klopas converted the game-winner.
- U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (Feb. 11, 2009)
In another World Cup qualifier and dos a cero game in Columbus, midfielder Michael Bradley had the first and last words with a goal in each half in the opening game of the hexagonal round for both teams. Bradley became only the fourth U.S. player to score twice in a match in 55 games against Mexico and the first since former Cosmos forward Steve Moyers did the trick in a 2-1 win Nov. 23, 1980 (after the Americans had been eliminated for the 1982 World Cup).
- U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (Sept. 10, 2013)
Regardless of what transpires in Brazil next year and beyond, the U.S. national team knows it will always have Columbus. And Mexico. And dos a cero. Like clockwork, the Americans pulled off yet another 2-0 result, their fourth World Cup qualifying victory by the same exact score since they decided to make Columbus Crew Stadium a quadrennial chamber of horrors for El Tri a dozen years ago. Veteran midfielder Landon Donovan, the comeback kid, set up the first goal by Eddie Johnson and scored the second goal. Goalkeeper Tim Howard produced some stellar saves late in the first half when it was anybody’s game. To rub it into their archrivals’ faces, the Americans (5-2-1, 16 points) took over the hexagonal lead from Costa Rica and qualified for their seventh consecutive World Cup and pushed the beleaguered Mexicans (1-2-5, eight) into fifth place by goal differential with only two precious games remaining.
- Mexico 2, U.S. 1 (Nov. 11, 2016)
All good things come to an end, even the USMNT’s incredible dos a cero streak in Columbus, which was snapped at four successive wins (2001, 2005, 2009, 2013). Former Red Bulls defender Rafa Marquez, who has tormented the USMNT with some unwarranted physical play in the past, scored the game-winner in the 89th minute to boost El Tri to a 2-1 triumph before a capacity crowd of 24,650 at MAPFRE Stadium. It was the first time the Americans dropped a home WC qualifier since a 3-2 loss to Honduras in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 1, 2001, ending a 30-game WCQ home unbeaten streak. It also was the first time Mexico recorded a qualifying win on U.S. soil since a 2-1 victory in Los Angeles on Sept. 10, 1972.
- Mexico 3, U.S. 2 (Oct. 10, 2015)
The United States was game, only that it could not take its game a full 120 minutes. The Americans battled Mexico tough, but could not get over its exhaustion in extratime and fell to their archrivals in the Concacaf Cup, 3-2, in front of 93,420. Not only did El Tri win the confrontation of the past two Gold Cup championships, the team booked a spot in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, a trial-run tournament in Russia a year prior to the 2018 World Cup. The Mexicans tallied twice in extratime, including a superb volley from right back Paul Augilar at the Rose Bowl.
- U.S. 4, Mexico 2 (May 24, 1934)
And last, but certainly not least, the first international meeting between the rivals. As it turned out, the contest was played in a neutral venue — Rome, Italy. Believe it or not, it was a qualifier for the lone North American spot only days before the kickoff of the 1934 World Cup. Aldo “Buff” Donelli tallied all four American goals. For the record, Donelli found the net in the 28th, 32nd, 74th and 87th minutes. The USMNT’s gift for besting Mexico? A quarterfinal-round meeting with eventual world champion Italy in the opening game of the tournament. The Italians vanquished the U.S. in a 7-1 rout. Donelli played in only one other international for the U.S. — the Italian encounter in which he scored the lone goal. It was the last time the U.S. defeated the Mexicans until a relatively meaningless World Cup qualifier, a 2-1 win in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Nov. 23, 1980.