One of the best and most heated sports rivalries in the world – soccer or otherwise – gets renewed on Saturday when El Tri takes on the red, white and blue in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
Given the proximity of the countries, the passion of the supporters, the quality of the teams and the history between the two sides, the championship game at the Rose Bowl at 6 p.m. ET promises to be yet another memorable confrontation.
The match will be the fifth time these two archrivals will collide in the Gold Cup, the fourth time in the final.
Of the 10 previous tournaments, the Mexicans have won the title five times, the Americans four times, with Canada taking the crown the other time.
When they have bumped heads in the Gold Cup, the Mexicans hold a 3-2 advantage in all games and have won three of the four championship matches.
Here is a quick look at the five previous tournament encounters between Mexico and the U.S., which includes the 1991 semifinals, the first time these two countries met in the Gold Cup.
Close Encounters of the First Kind (1991)
After registering only two other wins in 28 previous encounters, the U.S. stunned Mexico behind a 2-0 victory in the semifinals in Los Angeles on July 5, 1991.
Defender John Doyle and forward Peter Vermes scored 16 minutes apart in the second half to secure the win before a crowd of 41,103 at the L.A. Coliseum.
The only other times the U.S. had defeated the Mexicans was during World Cup qualifying for the 1934 and 1982 tournaments. In the 1982 qualifying competition, the U.S. already had been eliminated from the competition, which made that win moot.
How earth-shattering was the 1991 result? The Mexicans fired their coach, Manuel Lapuente, two days later.
"I think we showed Mexico that they're going to have to show us some respect in the region," Vermes said at the time. "We came here to win the Gold Cup, but to get to the final is a big step for us, a real big step."
After a lethargic first half, the Americans struck on Doyle's 48th-minute goal. Defender Marcelo Balboa took a pass from Hugo Pérez and fed Doyle, who beat goalkeeper Pablo Larios from the right wing. Sixteen minutes later, Vermes dribbled to his left and fired a 20-yard shot into the top corner of the net.
The U.S. went on to win the first Gold Cup, surviving a shootout with Honduras after a scoreless draw. Coached by Bora Milutinovic, the Americans prevailed in the shootout, 4-3. Goalkeeper Tony Meola made three shootout saves and five in the game.
Some Home-Cooking in Azteca (1993)
Mexico demonstrated its superiority and gained revenge with a resounding 4-0 victory over the defending champions in the title game on July 25, 1993.
The triumph capped a unique hat-trick for the Mexicans, who also earned the $100,000 first prize. In May, Mexico became the first country to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Earlier in July, the Mexicans reached the Copa America final, losing to Argentina.
In group play, the Mexicans crushed Martinique, 9-0, tied Costa Rica, 1-1, before rolling over Canada, 8-0. They romped past Jamaica in the semifinals, 6-1.
"This was a very exciting match and bodes well or the future of our team," said Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who attended the match and waved a huge Mexican flag. "Let's go out and celebrate. This is a victory worthy of a fiesta."
Thousands of fans took to the streets shouting, "Viva, Mexico!" and waving flags. Authorities closed off the Paseo de la Reforma at the Independence Monument, where hundreds of fans celebrated.
The Mexicans, cheered on by a partisan capacity crowd of 120,000 at Azteca Stadium, showed an immense amount of flair and imagination.
The U.S. had to battle more than the Mexicans; the thin air, thanks to the 7,347-foot altitude of the city, smog and pollution created its own problems.
Milutinovic and the Americans, however, did not use the challenges as excuses.
"The altitude and the pollution didn't make a difference," defender Alexi Lalas told the Washington Post. "The bottom line is that we just didn't play that well."
Ignacio Ambriz gave the hosts all the scoring they needed in the 12th minute, sending a 35-yard free kick past a defensive wall and Meola into the far corner of the net. U.S. sweeper Desmond Armstrong scored an own goal in the 31st minute under pressure from wing Ramon Ramírez for a 2-0 lead.
Luis Alves Zague made it 3-0 in the 69th minute, chesting down a Ramírez cross and pushing the ball under Meola for his 11th goal of the tournament.
"We've had a lot of confidence, a lot of faith in ourselves, and we knew we could do it," Zaque said.
Guillermo Cantú completed the romp in the 79th minute, latching onto a deft flick from José Noriega to score from close range.
A Disgraceful Display by the Fans (1998)
World Cup hero Luis Hernández scored the lone goal in the 43rd minute to give the Mexicans a three-peat (they also had won in 1996). But Hernández's heroics, in many respects, paled in comparison to what the partisan Mexican crowd of 91,255 at the Los Angeles Coliseum did to the U.S. team on Feb. 15, 1998.
The match might as well have been played anywhere in Mexico, considering the way the Americans were treated by the fans, who taunted and jeered the hosts. They also pelted the U.S. players with several objects, including bags of urine – on their supposed home turf.
"That's the most pissed off I've ever been at what happened on a soccer field," U.S. captain John Harkes told Soccer America, "and I've been through a lot of fights, bad tackles, [crap] thrown at you, fans saying bad things about your family and all sorts of [crap], and none of that was as bad. That was an absolute disgrace for soccer in this country."
The Comeback Kids (2007)
Despite being a goal down to their archrivals, the U.S. rallied for a pair of second-half goals to register a 2-1 win at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 25, 2007.
"It was nice to win the Gold Cup, but it's a little sweeter when we beat Mexico," U.S. captain and defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "We came from behind. It's nice we drained their spirits."
To rub it in a little more, the U.S. came back from a deficit against Mexico for the first time in its 73-year rivalry that had totaled 53 matches at the time.
"Awesome. Awesome," said Landon Donovan, whose 62nd-minute penalty kick tied the match. "It’s weird. You get into the game and you almost forget its a final because it's Mexico again. But we realized at halftime that this is the last 45 minutes. It’s not, 'you're in qualifying and you have more games to play.'
"This is it," he added. "It's now or never."
The unlikely goal-scoring hero was Benny Feilhaber, a 22-year-old midfielder who was a walk-on at UCLA. Feilhaber had but eight international appearances and two goals to his credit.
Goal No. 2 could not have been more dramatic – a 22-yard volley off a poor clearance that broke a 1-1 tie in the 73rd minute.
Donovan called the goal "unbelievable."
"I was wide and a little bit right and as it came I was going, 'Don't shoot it,'" Donovan said. "Maybe it’s one in a thousand he scores that goal."
The venue might have been the Windy City, but the atmosphere was strictly Mexico City, as the capacity crowd of 60,000 was essentially a sea of green shirts cheering for the Mexicans.
Mexico, behind Nery Castillo running wild in the midfield, dominated the opening half. Castillo set up José Andrés Guardado's five-yard score in the 18th minute.
El Tri Rises Again (2009)
It took 11 1/2 years and almost a dozen games, but Mexico finally won on U.S. soil again, and El Tri did it in style, scoring all their goals in the second half of a 5-0 rout at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on July 26, 2009.
The result was significant for two major reasons. It was the worst American home loss since a 5-0 defeat to England in L.A. in 1985. It also was the first Mexican win on U.S. soil since a 2-1 result in San Diego on March 13, 1999, snapping a 9-0-2 American domination.
The hosts did not deploy their A team, which finished second at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa. They used a side that was relatively inexperienced internationally. The Mexicans used five starters from their full squad, the Americans one – forward Brian Ching.
Mexican forward Giovani dos Santos, the man of the match, felt the result would silence the team's critics for the upcoming World Cup qualifier at Azteca (Mexico prevailed in that encounter, 2-1).
"The fans, like the media, will now believe in the National Team towards our Aug. 12 game," he said. "We've been working hard despite all the criticism."
The Mexicans struck in the 56th minute when captain Gerardo Torrado converted a penalty kick into the upper right past goalkeeper Troy Perkins after defender Jay Heaps dragged down dos Santos in the penalty area before a soccer-record crowd of 79,156 of mostly Mexico fans.
The goal certainly emboldened the Mexicans, who used counterattacks to pad their lead. Dos Santos converted a rebound of a Miguel Sabah shot in the 64th minute. Carlos Vela chipped the ball to the far right post in the 70th minute. José Antonio Castro (79th minute) and Guillermo Franco (90th minute) closed out the scoring.
"We just lost our composure," Ching said. "They punished us."
"That's not what we're all about," coach Bob Bradley said.
On Saturday, we’ll find out what the Americans and Mexicans are all about this year.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for three decades, is a frequent contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.
Michael Lewis, who has covered eight World Cups and has been reporting about soccer for four decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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