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USA-Mexico: Linc to a great rivalry

FOR THIS TO remain a lasting rivalry for the ages, the federations-that-be can't force feed USA-Mexico. Can't do it - unless it promises to produce the second half of play witnessed last night here at Lincoln Financial Field.

The U.S. struggled early against Mexico, but was much better in the second half. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
The U.S. struggled early against Mexico, but was much better in the second half. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)Read more

FOR THIS TO remain a lasting rivalry for the ages, the federations-that-be can't force feed USA-Mexico.

Can't do it - unless it promises to produce the second half of play witnessed last night here at Lincoln Financial Field.

In spite of the prime-time exposure, the ESPN2 pomp and a Linc parking lot that would have made suburban soccer moms lock the doors and roll up the windows to their minivans, last night's match was a rivalry that at first glance didn't seem like one.

Mind you, these two teams did battle in front of a pro-Mexican crowd of 93,000-plus at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena a little more than a month ago in the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

In American (and Mexican) soccer circles, USA-Mexico is Red Sox-Yankees, Lakers-Celtics - on an international stage. This rivalry has seen bags of urine, feces and other unknown excrement cascade down the rows of seats in the direction of U.S. players at Estadio Azteca in Mexico and on a whole has sold out (or come close to a sellout) in nearly every venue over the past 5 years.

You can't blame the U.S. Soccer Federation, or Mexico's for that matter. On this exact date last year, the men's program played to a near-sellout crowd of 77,223 against Brazil at New Meadowlands Stadium.

But you have to blame the circumstances that surround this date, one mandated by FIFA for international competitions. Not on record, but national team officials both pre- and post-Bob Bradley era have said that playing an international match on this date is ill-timed, and unfair to players who compete on overseas (specifically European) club teams.

In any case, the crowd of 30,138 that traveled to the Linc last night for a match scheduled for a 9 o'clock start (actual start 9:14) saw a motley crew of U.S. veterans and young up-and-comers battle to a 1-1 tie in a physical match that conveyed what this rivalry represents: a deep-seated dislike for the other. The United States is 15-32-12 all-time against its rival to the South, a 9-2-3 record since 2000 and a 2-0-1 mark against El Tri at the Linc.

Mexico would strike first in the 17th minute after forward Oribe Peralta deflected a ball past U.S. goalie Tim Howard from point-blank range off a laser of a cross from Antonio Naelson. In the 73rd minute, the Americans would bring it level after second-half substitutes Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers connected. Shea sped past a pair of defenders and slotted a perfect ball to Rogers across Mexico goalie Guillermo Ochoa's 6-yard box that Rogers needed only to tap in. More poignant was that Rogers, who plays for the MLS' Columbus Crew, was a late callup to new coach Jurgen Klinsmann's 22-man roster.

"I think we saw a real interesting game," Klinsmann said. "I think especially in the second half we saw an exciting game. We wanted them to get more confident the longer they were in the game and also give Mexico more pressure. And that's what we saw in the last half-hour, where we saw the players get more and more confident and the defensive tasks were under control."

The real story here was supposed to be Klinsmann's debut and just how the corps assembled 2 weeks before last night's match would perform given short rest and the lack of star power. But while the first half lacked little spark, the Americans took it to Mexico, especially late in the second half. It was very reminiscent of how the team played during last year's FIFA World Cup run that captivated the nation.

One name of note was defender Michael Orozco Fiscal, the former Union center fullback whose loan deal was not picked up by the club despite playing early in preseason. Orozco, 25, played a full 90 last night, sharing central defense with captain Carlos Bocanegra. Orozco exhibited smart, safe soccer, rarely getting jammed up in the defensive third and in the late stages of the game even pushed up behind the defensive midfield in the United States' efforts to nab a late goal.

"Just getting the start was obviously good for me," said Orozco Fiscal. "I have been working very hard with my club team to get a call in and [to be honest] I never expected one this quick. I still gotta keeping working, I am not going to put my hands down, and I was happy to get 90 minutes, especially in front of the fans in Philadelphia that have supported me."

With the whirlwind that has become the explosion of soccer in this country, from the U.S. national team playing to sellout crowds, Major League Soccer gaining popularity and expanding into different markets, soccer is here to stay, whether naysayers like it or not. Just yesterday, MLS and the NBC network announced a 3-year television deal, reportedly worth $10 million annually, to broadcast league matches and four national team games.

And it's all due in major part to rivalries like the one that played at the Linc last night. It's a match that may have arrived too soon, but one that didn't lack an explosive performance.

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