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Klinsmann on U.S. vs. Mexico: 'It's a huge opportunity'

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Klinsmann on U.S. vs. Mexico: 'It's a huge opportunity'

It's been nearly 81 years since the U.S.-Mexico tug-of-war was born. Aldo ‘Buff’ Donelli, who eventually became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1941, hit four goals past El Tri in the first-ever meeting between the two bordering nations in a 1934 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match.

In front of just 10,000 at the Stadio Nazionale in Rome on May 24, it would mark the last taste of victory for the U.S. for 46 years -- a 2-1 qualifying win in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. on November 23, 1980 in preparation for the 1982 event in Spain -- before the contest, as we knew it, would morph into one of the most heated international rivalries of our time.

Despite a 17-32-14 all-time record against Mexico, the U.S. has firmly avowed its supremacy over its neighbors in recent years. The Yanks have accumulated a 12-5-5 record since 2000 and have been on the winning end of four "Dos a Cero" scorelines (Three in World Cup qualifiers, one in the 2002 World Cup Round of 16) since 2001.  

On Wednesday, it will rear its head for the 64th time in a 65,000-seat Alamodome in San Antonio.

[MORE: U.S. Soccer headlines ahead of match vs. Mexico]

“It’s a huge opportunity playing Mexico in any kind of environment and in any kind of game," head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told USSoccer.com. "I see this kind of a game as a huge opportunity for players to come in and play in front of a sold-out stadium and loud crowd, a lot maybe pro-Mexico, but these are the games where you mature and where you try to express yourself and show what you have, and therefore we are thankful that we can play this game.”

The 22 players called in by Klinsmann predominantly hail from Major League Soccer and Liga MX this time around, with Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin granted permission from their European clubs, Hamburg and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively. With the likes of Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan, Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya and Aron Jóhannsson unavailable, Klinsmann said this U.S. roster is unlikely to resemble the one that will be announced for the Gold Cup this summer. 

The match may not be scheduled on an official FIFA date either, but Klinsmann, who has yet to lose to El Tri since his appointment in 2011, has not lost sight of its significance.

"It's still U.S. against Mexico," he said. "It’s still sold out. It’s still both teams wanting to win and the players wanting to impress."

[RELATED: Klinsmann names 22-man roster for U.S. vs. Mexico]

A proverbial trait encircling Klinsmann's tenure and a formula for his coaching philosophy has been his proclivity for giving up-and-comers windows of opportunity to make the grade in a U.S. uniform, steadily reiterating his open-door policy.

Historically speaking, the former World Cup champion may have his critics for his roster call-ups from time to time, but his unwavering allegiance to rewarding in-form players and those weathering the ebbs and flows of their careers is his valued commodity.

Orlando City's Brek Shea is a prime example. Klinsmann's drawn-out experiment with lineups and formations has precipitated Shea's emergence as a left back after spending the majority of his professional career in a more advanced position. In the face of the flak Klinsmann received since the adjustment, his decision to stand by the 25-year-old has been validated. Shea's game is progressing as he continues to string fine performances together at the club and international level, notably scoring against Chile and Switzerland, all while playing a new position. 

"It’s very important that the players understand that even if they’re not with us for a long stretch of time that they’re always observed," he said. "We always watch them. We kind of suffer with them when things are not going so well.

"Often people say with a national team program that once you’re in you’re always in, and once you’re out you’re not getting back in anymore. That is not true. There’s always an open door no matter what phase of your career you are as long as you show that with your performances.”

With bragging rights for the taking, U.S.-Mexico is a baptism by fire. It can make or break a player and the maturation process will be on display once again in Wednesday's friendly clash, another bridge to the greater platform that will grant Klinsmann's fringe players to stake their claim in a raucous atmosphere on home soil.

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.