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.
“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."
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.