The stifling São Paulo traffic splits for few. Even ambulances, with their ear-splitting high-pitched squeal, struggled to find their way through the honks, beeps and rumbles of early morning traffic from Guarulho International Airport this morning. Just about the only vehicles that found their way through the chaos were motorcycles weaving in and out between the cars; those and the U.S. National Team bus.
The USA arrived in Sao Paulo on Monday after a 4,000-plus mile trip that included nine hours of total flying – one hour-long jaunt from Jacksonville to Miami, then a nearly eight-hour overnight flight from Miami to Sao Paulo. The team arrived just past the peak of the São Paulo rush hour, boarded their bus, and a police escort guided the team through standstill traffic.
Some motorists had so much idle time, they stopped and took pictures.
"My eyes were still closed trying to get off the plane," Tim Howard joked. "I think we were quite tired, but the reception was great. We're looking forward to unpacking our bags and getting used to the hotel and our surroundings."
The streets surrounding the team's São Paulo hotel turned into an exhibition of security precautions as the bus approached for the players' first entrance into their home away from home. Brazilian military stood stone-faced with rifles at the ready. A phalanx of police guarded the sidewalks.
But the scene greeting the team in the lobby was a celebratory one; a line of hotel staff surrounded the players upon their entrance, greeting the Americans with a warm round of applause.
The team received their keys and proceeded to their rooms. For some, like defender Matt Besler, it was only then that the enormity of the situation began to dawn on them.
That moment when you land in Brazil and realize you're here to play in the WORLD CUP...yea, that just happened #USA— Matt Besler (@mbesler) June 9, 2014
There would be little time for basking in the glow. Despite head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's absence – he stayed behind in Miami along with advisor Berti Vogts to scout the USA’s Group G opponents Ghana in their friendly against South Korea – the U.S. would have their first training session in Brazil just a few hours after arriving at the hotel, and only 20 hours after leaving the country they will soon represent at the world’s most popular sporting event.
Another bus, another police escort. This time to the training grounds of São Paulo FC, the same location where the team spent 12 days training on a dry run in January – preparation for this very moment.
"It's like Christmas morning," Howard said. "We're just excited to be here, and now it's gotten real."
Despite being North American neighbors, the first meeting between the United States and Mexico actually took place on the other side of the Atlantic. Played on May 24, 1934 in Rome, the game was a one-off match – essentially the USA’s first World Cup qualifier – for the right to play in the second FIFA World Cup, which was set to kick off days later in venues across Italy.
Playing in front of 10,000 spectators, including Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the Americans rode a four-goal performance from Aldo “Buff” Donelli to defeat Mexico 4-2 and earn a place in the 16-team field at the 1934 FIFA World Cup.
You would hope the 11 players that came away victorious that day cherished the memory in Rome, because as big as the result was, it would take another 46 years before the USA would defeat Mexico again.
Though 17 of those 24 matches were played on Mexican soil, that winless streak against our neighbors to the south is by far the longest against any one opponent in team history, both in terms of number of games and years,. It fortunately ended on Nov. 23, 1980, when the U.S. used a pair of goals from Steve Moyers to defeat Mexico 2-1 in another Qualifying match, this time for the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
With Mexico already booking its ticket to the next round of Qualifying and the USA already eliminated, from a competitive standpoint, the match was meaningless. However, whether or not they realized it, the 2,126 fans in attendance at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium witnessed history that night, and to this day are among the few Americans that saw the USA’s 43-year winless streak against Mexico come to an end.
Though the USA and Mexico met only once more during the decade, the dam had been cracked. With 1990 marking the MNT’s first appearance in the World Cup in 40 years, the 1980s also served as a transitional phase in the rivalry with Mexico as a new generation of American players began to reap the benefits of greater emphasis on the game here at home to lay the foundation for future triumphs.
The first in a series of successes came during the semifinals of the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Led by former Mexico head coach Bora Milutinovic, the USA used second-half strikes from John Doyle and Peter Vermes to stun El Tri 2-0 in front of a pro-Mexico crowd of 41,103 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and went on to win the tournament’s inaugural title.
WATCH: USA Defeats Mexico 2-0 in 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup SemifinalRead more