And so we play Mexico yet again with all the usual parties hurling the usual invective, spouting off the usual quotes and overall doing little but adding to the usual stew of pollution hanging over Mexico City.
Pardon me, but I’m a bit over the whole Mexico life-and-death rivalry thing.
This rivalry ceased being interesting to me on June 17, 2002 when we beat them when it truly mattered most, on a neutral site in the World Cup round of 16. There were no officiating controversies and no beefs to point to by either side. The USA simply marched into Jeonju and brushed the Mexicans aside. The US proved its point and announced that there were two “big guns” in CONCACAF now. Job done.
Since then, the US has proven that on a good day we can beat Mexico all over the field and that on a bad day, we can lose or maybe tie them. That merely makes Mexico like nearly every other country in CONCACAF that isn’t an island.
I am not saying that the match tomorrow isn’t important, because it is, but not because “it’s Mexico,” or “it’s the Azteca” but because we’re almost there. We’re almost in the World Cup and even with a loss, still probably only a win or two away. The sooner we wrap this up, the sooner we can begin the important and under-stressed part of this process, preparing for the actual tournament. That’s what Bruce and the players got so wrong in 2006 and that’s what we need to get right in 2010. But that’s for another column.
Maybe I feel this way because I harbor feelings that, amongst US soccer fans, make me something akin to a leper.
I actually like Mexico. I like Mexicans too. I like their food, I like their culture, I like their art, I like their women, I even like their soccer, and I thought bullfighting was one of the single greatest things I have ever seen live.
In short, I have few beefs with Mexicans, other than that too few of them live in the DC area for me to be able to get a really good plate of Chicken Mole Poblano around here.
I guess I am just not enthusiastic about being on the tip of the spear that wounds the Mexicans the way that a loss to the USA at the Azteca would do. I am not sure that as Americans we can truly know what a loss tomorrow will feel like to Mexicans, and I am not sure 1) we’d ever want to and 2) we ever could since we tend to react to national sporting calamity by the entire tournament invalid (the World Baseball Classic) or by denying the validity of the entire concept all together (Olympic basketball).
I should add that I am not a complete wuss about all this. There are countries out there I’d love to us beat far more than Mexico, even at the Azteca. You want to see me foam at the mouth? Let’s get Germany back on the schedule consistently. You want to see some serious trash talk out of me? Let’s play England every year or so. You want to see me completely lose my grip and start screaming indiscriminately at strangers? Have us play Duke or the University of Michigan.
But Mexico? Nah, I am more comfortable playing the underdog than I am playing the bully.
That’s probably why, if we win tomorrow, I’ll be happy and I’ll probably be a bit ecstatic; But I’ll leave the overt and almost inevitably distasteful chest-pounding to others. Maybe , if I see a Mexican person looking a bit despondent near me at the bar tomorrow, I’ll tell them, “you’ll get us next time” and buy them a beer.
That’s how rivalries are.*
*Except for Ohio State and Michigan… one can only hope Michigan never again wins against the forces of Scarlet, Grey, and Good.