U.S. Soccer

2002 FIFA World Cup

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The Rivalry: USA-Mexico Through the Years

Originally published on April 14, 2015.

History, geography and sociology have long dictated the soccer rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico. And while it’s always been somewhat heated, only in the last 20 years has it been anywhere near an even affair.

The numbers clearly reflect it as Mexico held a daunting 28-6-9 edge over its neighbors to the north prior to the turn of the century. And while the U.S. went winless against Mexico in the final seven matchups of the 1990s, one result in that span, the 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw at Estadio Azteca in 1997, set a course correction in the series that has pushed the U.S. to a 13-7-5 record against its rivals since the turn of the century.

In that match, the U.S. earned its first result in Mexico’s vaunted soccer cathedral, despite playing a man down for nearly an hour after defender Jeff Agoos was sent off for an altercation with Pavel Pardo in the 32nd minute.

“We showed a lot of resolve in that match,” said Cobi Jones who went 56 minutes that day. “Either at the youth or full team level, a lot of us had been part of tough results against Mexico, but the experiences gained built towards us earning a historic result that day.”

An unused substitute in that match as he was beginning to carve out his role in the U.S. team, forward Brian McBride says the result gave the team confidence, but also earned the team recognition where they didn’t have it before.

“The last 15-20 minutes the Mexican fans are jeering Mexico when they have the ball and actually cheering us on,” said McBride. “The first time we actually heard it in that game, we all looked at each other and said, ‘what’s happening?’ At that moment, we all said that Mexican fans respect U.S. Soccer, whereas before there wasn’t a lot of respect. I think that translates into our attitude, how we went about handling them. It affirmed it, once you get affirmation, we continued to grow.”

Under the guidance of former head coach Bruce Arena, the U.S. opened up the new millennium with two friendly wins against Mexico, building momentum towards a home World Cup qualifying match in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 28, 2001, and the start of a great U.S. Soccer tradition.

The smaller confines of Columbus Crew Stadium (now MAPFRE Stadium) and a kickoff temperature of 28 degrees combined to give the U.S. a significant home-field advantage, but things didn’t go to plan early on.

Though not malicious, in his debut as a villain to American fans everywhere, Mexican midfielder Rafael Marquez clashed heads with McBride on a 50/50 challenge at midfield, causing the starting U.S. forward to make way for Josh Wolff early in the match.

There was little question about Marquez’s intent in the 36th minute, when in a sign of things to come, the future Mexico captain came through with a late, high challenge to chop down Wolff as he streaked through the midfield.

“I think I’m still feeling that foul,” Wolff joked. “Guys like Rafa and Claudio Suarez; there was viciousness with those games and violence at times.”

Though Wolff was alright, just before halftime, U.S. captain Claudio Reyna pulled up with a groin injury and Wolff’s childhood friend Clint Mathis also entered the match.

In what would become both players’ coming out party on the national team stage, Mathis sent a cutting ball over the Mexico backline and into Wolff’s stride.  The 23-year-old ran on, evaded goalkeeper Jorge Campos who’d come well out of his box and tapped into an empty net to take the score to 1-0.

“I’m sure they weren’t that worried about me or Clint coming in as reserves,” said Wolff, who was making just his fourth U.S. appearance in the match. “I was younger, had played against the Mexican youth national teams and had a good experience with the Olympic team, but I wouldn’t expect them to know that much about me or Clint, outside us being young players that are just breaking in.”

Late in the match, Wolff beat two Mexican defenders on the right before breaking into the box and centering for Earnie Stewart who finished from 12 yards out, creating the first of four staple “Dos a Cero” score lines in home World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico.

The victories over Mexico and the belief Bruce Arena instilled in his team built towards the rivalry’s biggest match to date in the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

 “When we knew we were playing them, we were overjoyed,” McBride said. “We knew them and we knew we could beat them. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone, but we were very happy to see them.

“Bruce has a confidence,” he continued “The way he goes about himself, it rubs off on you. He made some changes, moved things around all with the idea we were going to get the result.”

Perhaps remembering Wolff’s breakout performance 14 months earlier, one of Arena’s changes was starting Wolff, who’d played just eight minutes in the group stage, up top with McBride.

It took the forward tandem just eight minutes to link up for the game’s first goal as McBride quickly played a restart for Reyna on the right. The captain charged towards the end line before playing a square ball for Wolff who used the outside of his right boot to lay off what McBride called “the most perfect ball for a first-time strike”, as the veteran forward buried it past Oscar Perez for a 1-0 lead.

Chief among players Mexico would deem a villain, Landon Donovan would score the most significant of his six against El Tri off a cross from Eddie Lewis in the second half to take things to 2-0.

As time went on, the U.S. style of play, sitting in then springing quick counter attacks, frustrated Mexico throughout the match, and that’s where Jones earned his hero status in the rivalry.

Having played a mostly substitute role in his final years with the national team, Jones’s fresh legs kept pressure all over the field in the mid-day sun. He hadn’t been on for 10 minutes before Marquez played U.S. villain again, this time as Jones went up for a free header, the Mexican captain led with his studs up into Jones’ torso, before delivering a vicious head butt to the veteran winger.

Marquez immediately saw red, one of five in his international career and the first of two against the United States, while the dismissal effectively ended any chance Mexico had at a comeback.

“That was the moment where that all started with him,” Jones said. “He’s the captain of the team. He’s played at big clubs before and since, but he’s never known how to handle the high pressure situation of playing his arch-rival on the international stage and losing. That was the big issue for him and we see how he reacted to it.”

Moments later as Jones took the ball into the corner to kill off stoppage time, both Salvador Camona and Sigifredo Mercado came through and stomped on both of Jones’ legs.

“You could see the frustrations in their players because they couldn’t find a way to beat us,” Jones said. “Luckily, the referee blew his whistle not too long after.”

While the U.S. players celebrated a first trip to the World Cup quarterfinals, sportsmanship didn’t exactly rule the post-match festivities, as most Mexican players walked directly off the field.

“We were also ticked off at the fact that they weren’t necessarily respectful in loss,” McBride remembered. “There were plenty of times where we lost games where we thought we should have done better in, but still we never tried to injure anybody, never tried to not shake hands. That part was disappointing. Having said that, it’s the heat of the moment - a huge game for them and for us of course, and I saw some of the guys a month later and they were awesome.”

Today, a younger crop of players has brought a mutual respect between the two teams that wasn’t there in the past. And while the U.S. has leveled the series over the last 17 years, Jones appealed to the younger generation to shake off any complacency heading into a match against Mexico.

“As far as the passion is concerned, I hope the younger players understand the history and tradition there,” he said. “I hope they take a look back to see what it’s about and have an underlying need and want to beat Mexico. If they take it too lightly, they have to understand that the other side will take advantage.”

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MNT May 24, 2017

Captain Claudio Recalls the Greatest 'Dos a Cero' of All

Originally published on October 7, 2015.

The U.S. Men’s National Team rode a shock opening win against fourth-ranked Portugal, a draw against the host Korea Republic and a little help from the goalposts to advance to the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Finishing second in the group meant that the MNT would have less than three full days rest to turn around and face regional rivals Mexico in the highest stakes match the two nations had ever played. With little time to prepare, in some respects the U.S. was lucky to have drawn the team with which it was most familiar.

Despite the U.S. having won four of the previous five meetings, according to U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, when the team arrived at Jeonju World Cup Stadium that June afternoon, there wasn’t much respect shown from the opposition side.

“Before the game we walked out and we were walking around the field. We had this focus and concentration as a team as you do preparing for any game,” the former team captain told ussoccer.com. “I was with Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart and we were ready to go – we were foaming at the mouth for this game. We looked over and the Mexicans were laughing, joking and looking at us…That was it.”

Reyna called the team over to quickly finish their pre-game pitch inspection and head back into the locker room.

“We sort of wanted the game to start, we were so ready to go,” he continued. “Back in the locker room, I remember saying, ‘These guys are laughing at us. They think they’re going to beat us easily.’”

Mexico had done efficient work to get to that point. Having finished with seven points atop a group that featured Italy, Croatia and Ecuador, El Tri’s run to the Round of 16 had the side brimming with self-assurance ahead of the match.

“They were feeling confident, but the lack of respect they showed was clear – you never do that,” said Reyna. “I would never do that in my career, even if I felt really comfortable about beating an opponent. That you’d be giggling, laughing and joking at the opponent. It was pretty clear that it was directed at us and at some of our players, and obviously we play them all the time so there’s that rivalry.”

“I remember saying, ‘We’re not losing this game guys.’ Everyone went around and you could feel it all the way through that we couldn’t wait to get out there.”


Reyna gets past Ramon Morales in the most famous "Dos a Cero" in Men's National Team history.

Injuries and suspensions limited the U.S. options, and Bruce Arena used the uncertainty to confound the Mexicans by deploying a 3-5-2 formation for the match. The switch saw Reyna move from his regular central midfield position to the right flank, with the move paying off almost immediately. Following an eighth minute foul in the Mexico half, Brian McBride quickly restarted as he saw Reyna pushing up the flank. The U.S. captain beat two defenders to the end line before centering for Josh Wolff, whose deft touch teed up McBride for a clinical finish and an equally gratifying goal celebration.

The goal set an early tone and played perfectly into Arena’s game plan, allowing the U.S. to sit in and pick its moments to counter against an increasingly frustrated Mexican side. Landon Donovan’s second- half header off an Eddie Lewis cross helped ice the game, giving the MNT its first ever World Cup knockout round win and a quarterfinal date with Germany.

“It was just a great team performance. To beat them 2-0, eliminate them and afterwards realize this was a big deal back in the States,” Reyna said.

The win raised the profile of the Men’s National Team more than any other since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but with games played in the middle of the night back home and in an age before social media, Reyna admitted the players didn’t realize how big an impact the victory had made.

“We didn’t know how huge it was at home,” he said. “We were in Korea and we knew it was sort of growing in momentum. I remember seeing some of the news clips from Mexico City where there were people in plazas and squares crying over the result – that felt good.”


U.S. supporters celebrate during the MNT's 2-0 win against Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Though the momentum was already building towards U.S. domination of the rivalry, the World Cup win tipped the scales. Since 2000, the MNT has held a 13-7-5 advantage against El Tri.

“From that moment on, it continued to be a real domination of Mexico,” Reyna said. “We went on and beat them all the time. That was the point where we felt we were no longer playing behind them, that we were better than them.”

“It was one big coming out party on the biggest stage.” 

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MNT Nov 30, 2016

On This Day: Captain Carlos Earned His First Cap for His Country

On this day in 2001, five players, including former captain Carlos Bocanegra, earned their first cap with the U.S. Men’s National Team in a 1-0 loss to Korea Republic at Jeju World Cup Stadium in Seogwipo, Jeju Province. Manny Lagos, Diego Gutierrez, Jeff Cunningham and Richard Mulrooney also made their team debuts in the U.S. MNT’s final match of 2001.   Bocanegra went on to p Read more
MNT Dec 9, 2015

Gallery: Remembering the Biggest Dos A Cero

It was 13 years ago, but the memory of the win is still as sweet as ever. The U.S. Men’s National Team played its way through to a berth in the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and waiting for them was their arch nemesis and rival Mexico. In what would be the most important match in the 70 years of competition between the next-door nations, goals from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan Read more
MNT Jun 17, 2015

World Cup Rewind: U.S. Turns Heads on the World Stage in 2002

When the U.S. Men’s National Team clashes with Germany on Thursday, June 26 (live on ESPN, WatchESPN, ESPN Radio and Univision), memories of the nation’s 2002 World Cup match are sure to come to the surface. The two countries met with a spot in the semifinals on the line, and although the USA fell 1-0, the result was a giant step in the right direction for U.S. Soccer. ussoccer.com cau Read more
MNT Jun 25, 2014

Games of the Future Past

For its second group game, the U. S. Men’s National Team will battle Portugal in the Arena Amazonia, while immersed in the steamy, jungle conditions of Manaus. The matchup on Sunday, June 22, which is live on ESPN, WatchESPN and Univision, brings up memories of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when these two combatants met in group play, with the United States knocking off Portugal 3-2. ussoccer.com Read more
MNT Jun 19, 2014

Point-Counterpoint w/ coaches Bruce Arena and Bob Gansler

Every month, we'll pose a question or make a statement about something in soccer that will be debated by two individuals from the same walk of life. Be it a coach, player, general manager or whomever, the two will each give their side of the story, so to speak. In this case, we've enlisted the help of two of the most important figures in the current state of the U.S. Men's National Team program. I Read more
MNT Dec 6, 2001

Schedule

Results

Date Matchup Result Venue Attendance Goal Scorers
0-1 L Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium; Ulsan 37,337
2-0 W Daejon World Cup Stadium; Daejon 36,380 McBride, Donovan
1-3 L Daejon World Cup Stadium; Daejon 26,482 Donovan
1-1 D Daegu World Cup Stadium; Daegu 60,778 Mathis
3-2 W Suwon World Cup Stadium; Suwon 37,306 O'Brien, Costa (og), McBride
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