United States vs. Mexico: 50-50 Challenge
This special edition of the 50-50 Challenge takes a look at the United States-Mexico rivalry, and in particular, the upcoming CONCACAF Cup playoff that will determine which country earns the ticket to the 2017 Confederations Cup. Two Mexican-Americans, Sergio Tristan, leader of Pancho Villa's Army, a Mexican national team supporters group in the U.S., and former U.S. international Herculez Gomez, give their perspectives on the game.
Where will you be on Oct. 10?
Herculez Gomez: I'll be in Toronto, Canada, watching the game on television with my wife [Elsie Vargas]. My wife, when we were dating, she and a friend were in Azteca Stadium for the game in which we tied 0-0, wearing my red and white USA jersey in a sea of green. If I'm not playing, my wife cheers for Mexico -- she still wants to see them do well. She says, "Even if they lose, please don't let it be 2-0."
Sergio Tristan: I'll be at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, with Pancho Villa's Army. PVA was founded after the 2011 U.S.-Mexico match [in the Gold Cup final]. I went to a local soccer bar in Austin, Texas, to see the game. I endured the "Dos a Cero" talk from U.S. fans after the [Michael] Bradley and [Landon] Donovan goals. However, once Mexico stormed back I was ready to celebrate, but no one was around. I realized at that time that there must be lots of people like me, looking to unite with other Mexico fans and celebrate Mexican soccer. Mexican-American fans rally around the Mexico team due to culture and history. When many of us arrived in the U.S., we gathered in small Mexican communities. Those communities revolved around food, language and soccer. As we have grown up and families and communities have spread out, we have realized a yearning for a little of that community. PVA can be that community for many people.
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Which side is in better form and why?
HG: Honestly, I think in Mexico's camp right now, there's some gloom and doom among the media and fans. Since they don't have a permanent coach, everything is in shambles, the players don't care, etc, while the U.S. is like, "Oh, God, what is Jurgen [Klinsmann] doing?" and "We're going to play them in the Rose Bowl." Their supporters and reporters have got gloom and doom, too, and many of the same questions, just phrased differently. I don't think either team is coming into form, so it'll be an even game. It wouldn't surprise me to see any result in this game.
ST: Mexico is better. The U.S. has nothing at the moment. This is easily the worst U.S. team in recent history. Mexico fielded eight players in Champions League play last week. The main stars for the U.S. all came back from Europe with uneventful careers. Mexico is hands down the better team. More importantly, Mexico is riding some good momentum after winning the Gold Cup. The players found a new leader in Andres Guardado and interim coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti seems to understand how to manage the locker room.
Who needs this win more -- and why?
HG: Speaking freely on what football means to the country and their business model, it should mean more in Mexico. When the Mexican national team almost didn't make the World Cup, it was like $800 million that would have been lost, revenue and endorsement dollars, this crazy amount of cash. They've been hurting for a while. The U.S. were in a difficult World Cup group and they did some things, but there's by no means the same amount of pressure on both sides. If the U.S. loses this game, it won't be a good situation, but it won't be on daily television every night, analyzing, criticizing, where everyone's on the hot seat, players, the coaches, the federation, all 18 owners of the first-division clubs. There's much more importance from this game to the overall state of being of the country there.
ST: The U.S. fans need this win more. It's not the U.S. team, but their fans. They can only live off beating Mexico. Otherwise, they have nothing else to cheer their team for. We have Gold Cups, youth World Cups, Confederation Cups, gold medals, and a blossoming youth system that's exporting to Europe. What do they have?
Which coach is better? Why?
HG: Jurgen is undefeated against Mexico. Whether people agree with his formations and tactics, his overall ideology of the way the game should be played or not, he still has the upper hand in that alone. But Tuca's a very good coach, strict and disciplined. He has the structure Mexico was lacking. He got them playing with confidence and attacking dynamically in a short time. They looked dangerous and organized on the counter going forward. So I don't know, but I will say Jurgen based on results.
ST: Tuca! Hands down, he's a better coach. He has tactical knowledge and respect for the players. Klinsmann was a great player, but never a great coach. He might be a motivator at most. Call him the Hugo Sanchez of Germany.
Which player will be crucial to the win and how?
HG: Rafa Marquez brings a ton of leadership. They rely on him a lot. He's not the most physically gifted guy at this stage, but what he brings to the table will be needed on their side. On the U.S. side, the playmakers need to have influence in the game. Michael [Bradley], Clint [Dempsey], Jermaine [Jones], those guys need to be on.
ST: Carlos Vela will be a crucial player. He is easily the most important player in either team. He has the most pedigree of anyone else on that field. He needs to have the breakout performance everyone has been anticipating since his new return to El Tri.
HG: 2-1 USA. It's a tough one. Any score on earth would not surprise me. People don't realize both camps are going through some of the same things. It won't be like the rivalry games of the past. I see two teams who aren't just trying to figure out their opponents -- they're trying to figure out who they are. Nothing would surprise me, but if I have to, I'll say the U.S. will win it 2-1. I don't think it'll be an easy win over 90 minutes; it might even be a situation of extra time. It's hard to predict. There are so many factors and variables.
ST: 3-0 Mexico. Vela will score twice and then Jesus "Tecatito" Corona will add one more.
Andrea Canales covers both Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.