The rivalry between the United States men’s national team and the Mexican national team is undoubtedly the greatest rivalry in the CONCACAF region. In terms of the collective passion of their fans, it could be considered one of the greatest in world football. The rivalry is also the subject of a recent cult film, Gringos at the Gate.
Coming off the United States' humiliating 4-2 loss at the hands of Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final, there was little doubt that Mexico was the dominant team in CONCACAF, but two long years have passed and the paradigm has since changed significantly.
So, which nation currently holds the edge in this rivalry?
Both U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann and Mexico manager Jose Manuel de la Torre (better known as "Chepo") have had their fair share of ups and downs.
Klinsmann is currently 17-8-6 (win-loss-draw format) as manager of the U.S. national team while Chepo is 14-6-10 as Mexico’s manager over that same time period.
Klinsmann got off to a slow start with the USMNT, going 1-4-1 in his first six games in charge. He had some scary moments in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying in 2012, heading into the last game of the round needing a win to guarantee advancement.
Chepo, on the other hand, was 12-3-2 between the Gold Cup final in 2011 and the end of 2012, going unbeaten and untied in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying and picking up a nice win over Brazil in a friendly.
However, in 2013, the fortunes of these two managers have been completely different. While Klinsmann has the USMNT on a five-game unbeaten streak, Chepo and Mexico have struggled in 2013 with an overall record of 2-3-8.
Many fans of El Tri are now calling for Chepo to be fired, while Klinsmann has never enjoyed more support from U.S. fans.
To be sure, fans in both countries are finicky—when Klinsmann was struggling for results, he was widely questioned, even when the U.S. earned wins in friendlies over Italy, Mexico and Germany. Now that Chepo is struggling to find wins with a talented player pool and the team is working its way through an insufferable string of ties, there have been widespread inquiries into Chepo’s tactics and lineup choices.
Current Advantage: U.S.
In terms of youth development, there really isn’t much of an argument.
Mexico is the current world champion at the U-17 level, winning the U-17 World Cup in 2011. They also won the tournament in 2005. By comparison, the U.S. lost 4-0 in the round of 16 of the 2011 tournament and lost in the quarterfinals, 2-0, in the 2005 tournament.
Mexico placed third at the 2011 U-20 World Cup, a tournament the U.S. did not qualify for after losing to Guatemala in the quarterfinals of CONCACAF qualifying. In this summer’s U-20 World Cup, Spain knocked Mexico out of the tournament, 2-1, in the round of 16. By comparison, the U.S. did not advance out of their group and lost to the same Spain side 4-1.
Mexico is also the current Olympic champion, a competition which is primarily contested by each nation’s U-23 squad. By comparison, the U.S. did not even qualify for the Olympic tournament. They didn't even advance out of the group stage in CONCACAF qualifiers after losing to Canada and tying El Salvador.
Finally, many American youth of Mexican heritage go to Liga MX teams for their development. Some prominent current examples include Benji Joya, Daniel Cuevas, Alonso Hernandez and Juan Pablo Ocegueda. All four were members of the team that represented the U.S. this past month at the U-20 World Cup. When comparing the U-20 rosters of each country, it is also noteworthy that 19 of Mexico’s 21 players currently play in Liga MX. By comparison, only 14 of the 21 U.S. players currently play in Major League Soccer.
Current Advantage: Mexico
As in youth development, there really isn’t much of a debate when it comes to who has a better domestic league. While MLS is rapidly improving, Liga MX has a clear advantage.
Mexican sides have won the CONCACAF Champions League (formerly known as the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup) 12 times since MLS teams entered the competition. MLS sides, by contrast, have only won the tournament twice and never in its current format. Furthermore, on eight occasions since MLS entered the competition, the final has been an all-Mexico affair.
Comparing the U.S. and Mexico’s recent national team rosters also shows Mexico’s dominance in this regard. While 17 of Mexico’s 23 players on its Confederations Cup roster play in Liga MX, only eight of the 23 U.S. players rostered for its last World Cup qualifier play in MLS.
The recent U.S. rosters also include many individuals who play professionally in Liga MX, including Edgar Castillo, Herculez Gomez, DaMarcus Beasley, Joe Corona and Michael Orozco Fiscal.
By comparison, none of Mexico’s recent call-ups play in MLS.
Current Advantage: Mexico
Based on current form, the U.S. holds the advantage. In the Jurgen Klinsmann era, the U.S. is 1-0-2 head-to-head against Mexico, including both a win and a tie at Estadio Azteca, the once impenetrable fortress of Mexican football.
The U.S. has also enjoyed a better run of form in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, most commonly known as “The Hex." The U.S. is 4-1-1 in The Hex and has not lost since its first game. Mexico, on the other hand, is 1-0-5. The U.S. holds a five-point advantage in the standings with only four games to go.
Mexico has also struggled in its other games in 2013, tying all three friendlies this year, going 1-2 in the Confederations Cup and losing its Gold Cup opener to Panama on Sunday. Meanwhile, the U.S. is 2-1-1 in friendlies in 2013, including a win over Germany and a 6-0 thrashing of Guatemala on Friday night.
While it would be foolish for Americans to think that they have established a dominance over Mexico—Mexico simply has too much talent at all levels to continue their current dreadful run—the U.S. fields the stronger national squad right now.
Current Advantage: U.S.
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