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Volume 71, Issue 12, Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Sports

U.S. makes Mexico eat its words

Off the Wall

Tom Carpenter

¡Caramba! The U.S. national soccer teams' 2-0 victory over Mexico on Sept. 4 in Columbus, Ohio meant much more to the U.S. and Mexican squads than a simple berth among the 32 teams that will compete in Berlin, Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup fútbol championship. 

Where macho psyches are concerned, and the world of sport overflows with massive egos, the shutout in Ohio compares to the Battle of San Jacinto where the Texas revolutionaries ended Mexican political domination and formed their own empire.

"They do a lot of talking," said U.S. star Landon Donovan at a postgame interview with The Associated Press. "They haven't beat us in a long time here. I'm kind of sick of it. There's no better scenario than to beat them easily."

For Mexican soccer aficionados, the implications are the cause of growing unease and grave concerns that their worst fears have been realized: los gringos finally mastered the world's favorite game.

For Mexico, nothing less than national pride is at stake each time the teams meet on the field. Crestfallen Mexicans are screaming for the head of Mexican head coach Ricardo La Volpe, an Argentinean, despite his 5-1-1 record in World Cup competition. 

La Volpe's assessment of the US team's victory over his Mexican team hints at the bitter rivalry that has developed between the teams in the past 20 years which, coincidently, graphs the rise of American soccer on the international scene.

"The U.S. is a small team," La Volpe told the AP. "They play like my sister, my aunt and my grandmother." 

The last time the U.S. men were the first team to qualify from the North, Central and Caribbean region for the World Cup championship was 1934. It took decades, but 21st century US soccer teams can compete and win against the best teams on earth, including the New York Yankees of fútbol, Brazil. 

The win not only catapulted the surging Americans into the elite field of 32 that will compete in Berlin, it also cemented the Estadounidense hegemony over North and Central American soccer. This, an empire that one could reasonably argue stretches all the way to the borders of the defending World Cup champion, Brazil.

Few things have ever been certain for our friends and neighbors in old Mexico, but hammering the United States at soccer was a constant. 

It didn't matter to Mexicans that most Americans have little or no interest in World Cup soccer; each win gave Mexico bragging rights over the United States in a sport held in high esteem by the rest of the world. That domination came to an abrupt halt in Columbus Crew Stadium.

Mexico and the US entered the match ranked Nos. 5 and 6 in the world, respectively. That should change with the next rankings.

While the US streak of five consecutive trips to the 32-team field can't match Brazil's world-leading 18 consecutive trips, the future of the young US soccer team shines bright, maybe even a World Cup championship within the next decade.

All is not lost for the superb Mexican team.

La Volpe's team needs only one point in its final three qualifying games to join the elite field of 32 in Berlin. If the gods are in a playful mood, the US and Mexico teams will battle once more before a television audience of billions of people except for, of course, those in the States, who will be watching the latest reality show.
 

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