By Michael Lewis
For your reading pleasure, here are 17 matches through the years between the U.S. men’s national team and Mexico go at it once again, in a World Cup qualifier at Estadio Azteca on Thursday night.
1. U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (June 17, 2002)
In a rare CONCACAF confrontation in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, the United States stunned Mexico 2-0 in the most important match of the 68-year rivalry between the two countries. Brian McBride and Landon Donovan scored goals to propel the Americans into the quarterfinals against Germany. The win also was significant in that it was the first time the U.S. won a single-elimination game in World Cup history. It also was the U.S.’s first World Cup shutout since a 1-0 upset of England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.
2. U.S. 4, Mexico 2 (May 24, 1934)
This was game that started it all. The very first meeting between the two sides was played in a neutral venue — Rome, Italy. It was a qualifier for the lone North American spot only days prior to the 1934 World Cup. Aldo “Buff” Donelli was the American hero that day, scoring all four goals. The Americans’ gift for besting Mexico? A quarterfinal-round encounter with eventual world champion Italy, which was 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. — that Italian affair and he scored the lone goal. It was the last time the U.S. defeated the Mexicans until 1980.
3. U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (Feb. 28, 2001)
The first dos a cero match, although it took a couple of results to name that legendary score. A half hour into the match, the U.S. was living yet another World Cup nightmare. The Americans already had lost their most dangerous scoring threat, Brian McBride, to a swollen eye, and their best 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. But Josh Wolff wound up as the unlikely hero in a dream performance in a stunning 2-0 triumph. 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 hit six games (0-5-1).
4. Mexico 0, U.S. 0 (Nov. 2, 1997)
A little more than half hour into its qualifier against Mexico, the U.S. national team was facing its ultimate nightmare and worst-case scenario. Not only did the Americans start the match without four starters, they found themselves facing playing a man down in 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 Azteca Stadium with a well-deserved scoreless tie before 114,000 partisan fans. The U.S. turned the crowd on the hosts as they chanted “Ole!” every time it 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 El Tri for the World Cup.
5. U.S. 2, Mexico 2 (April 20, 1997)
Did anyone want to win this World Cup qualifier? More to the point, did anyone deserve to win? The match at times 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. In fact, the U.S.’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 six-yard 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 goal. After Mexico had taken 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 sub Nicolas Ramirez, who headed it into his own net.
6. U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (July 5, 1991)
After registering only two other wins in 28 previous encounters, the U.S. stunned El tri behind a 2-0 victory in the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal. Defender John Doyle and forward Peter Vermes scored 16 minutes apart in the second half to secure the win before a crowd of 41,103 at the L.A. Coliseum. How earth-shattering was the victory? 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.
7. U.S. 0, Mexico 0 (July 17, 1995)
In yet another neutral venue, the U.S. bested Mexico in the quarterfinals of Copa America in Uruguay. Goalkeeper Brad Friedel made two big saves in the shootout after the teams played to a scoreless draw. Jorge Campos, who went on to play for the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer, did not far as well, failing to stop any of the Americans penalty-kick attempts. Frank Klopas converted the game-winner.
8. U.S. 2, Mexico (Sept. 3, 2005)
When it wasn’t playing Mexico at Azteca Stadium, the USMNT discovered it had the Mexicans’ number. Actually, it’s two numbers — two and zero as in 2-0. Dos a cero. That also was the final of the Americans’ stunning triumph at the 2002 World Cup. It certainly was sweet revenge for the Americans, who lost to their archrivals in Mexico City, 2-1, in March. Goals by Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley early in the second half lifted the U.S. to victory in front of a packed house of 24,685 at Columbus Crew Stadium.
9. U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (Feb. 11, 2009)
The third dos a cero match. This time 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 on Nov. 23, 1980 (after the Americans had been eliminated for the 1982 WC).
10. U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (Sept. 10, 2013)
Let’s make it four in a row. 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 in 2001. Landon Donovan set up the first goal by Eddie Johnson and scored the second goal. Goalkeeper Tim Howard produced some stellar goalkeeping late in the first half when it was anybody’s game.
11. U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (Nov. 12, 2021)
What were the odds of this happening a fifth time in the state of Ohio? Only five minutes after coming on, Christian Pulisic tallied the go-ahead goal in the 74th minute and Weston McKennie added an insurance score in the 85th minute at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati. Including the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup finals, the Americans had beaten El Tri for the last three times – all on U.S. soil. Depending on how the USA fares in this qualifying run and if the team reaches Qatar 2022, this game could move up on the list.
12. Mexico 2, U.S. 1 (Nov. 11, 2016)
Dos a cero became history as Mexico made some history of its own in the Concacaf hexagonal opener. Former Red Bulls defender Rafa Marquez, who has tormented the United States 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 Mexicans defeated the Americans at the stadium. The previous four results were 2-0 victories by the USA — in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013. 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.
13. Mexico 2, U.S. 1 (Sept. 8, 2018)
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. Not only did El Tri win the confrontation of the past two Gold Cup championships, they 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. The hosts rallied twice from deficits, with substitute Bobby Wood answering striker Oribe Peralta’s strike early in the extra period.
14. U.S. 3, Mexico 2 (June 6, 2021)
It remains to seen whether the United States’ 3-2 thrilling and classic triumph over Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League final will be a turning point for this young side. But it could go very far in defining what this young team can accomplish, especially the way the side mucked its way through to victory. It was a game for the ages that had just about everything, including lead and momentum shifts, unlikely heroes, a goalkeeper coming in cold off the bench and a pair of 11th-hour penalty kicks that decided the match. The game was settled by penalties, but not in a shootout. Christian Pulisic converted a PK in the 114th minute to snap a 2-2 deadlock and lift the Americans to a 3-2 lead before 37,648 spectators at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver. Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, making only his sixth international appearance, was forced into the contest in the 68th minute due to an injury to Zack Steffen. He turned into an unlikely hero by saving Andres Guardado’s penalty two minutes into the second extratime stoppage time (122nd minute).
15. Mexico 4, U.S. 2 (June 25, 2011)
Mexico put to rest any doubts as to which team is best in the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup — spectacularly. Overcoming a two-goal deficit in the first half, El Tri struck for four unanswered goals — two in each half — to roll past the United States and capture the title behind a rousing 4-2 triumph at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. In 2009, the Mexicans rolled over the Americans, 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 since the U.S. used essentially a B team. Midfielder Pablo Barrera struck for two goals, including the game-winner in the 50th minute. Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos, the man of the match, also scored for the winners, while Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan found the back of the net for the hosts.
16. U.S. 2, Mexico 1 (Nov. 23, 1980)
The USMNT already had been eliminated from the 1982 World Cup qualifying competition, but a 2-1 victory over Mexico in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. did make some history. It was the first time the Americans defeated the Mexicans in more than 46 years in qualifiers or international friendlies. The previous win was a 4-2 qualifying triumph in Rome, Italy on May 24, 1934, the team’s very first encounter. New York Cosmos forward Steve Moyers scored twice, his second goal breaking 1-1 deadlock in the second half, before a crowd of 2,126 at Lockhart Stadium. Cosmos midfielder Rick Davis was converted to sweeper because of a shortage of players. Former Real Madrid scoring star and Mexico legend Hugo Sanchez, a former Mexican national coach, tallied for the visitors.
17. U.S. 2, Mexico 0 (April 15, 2015)
What a great venue for the ultimate border war, given the history of what transpired in San Antonio, Texas almost two centuries ago. Forward Jordan Morris will always remember the Alamodome. After all, that’s where the 20-year-old Stanford University student scored his first international goal Wednesday night. Juan Agudelo will remember that indoor stadium as well. After all, that’s where he tallied his first international goal in four years. Their goals powered the United States to yet another dos a cero result in front of the capacity crowd of 64,369.