USA vs. Mexic When Cultures Collide Game is a Point of Pride

COLUMBUS (By JOHN ELIGON New York Times) - For the United States under-23 national team a trip to Guadalajara in February 2004 included a public urinating incident by Landon Donovan chants of "Osama" from the fans at Jalisco Stadium and Mexico's 4-0 thrashing of the Americans to end their Olympic hopes.

In other words the trip fit all that is the soccer rivalry between the United States and Mexico.

The two national teams will write a new chapter Saturday night when they square off here in a World Cup qualifier. The winning team can punch its ticket to Germany in 2006 and will have temporary bragging rights as the best team in a region that comprises North America Central America and the Caribbean.

Mexico won the last meeting 2-1 in Mexico City on March 27.

Donovan perhaps more than any of his teammates is eager for the rematch. He has become Mexico's whipping boy of sorts. During a training session for the Olympic qualifier in Guadalajara Donovan said he relieved himself on a bush at the practice facility because he could not get into the locker room. The scene was captured on video tape.

During the United States' victory over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup Donovan said Mexico forward Luis Hernández made a threat about his mother. Mexico's goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez recently made disparaging remarks about Donovan's mother in a soccer magazine.

"Some things you can shake off; some things dig deeper than soccer Donovan said. "That's where you realize for their country it's more than that. And I think that's what angers them about us: We have lives beyond soccer. Really for a lot of them they don't. Players coaches people in Mexico that's what they have.

"It's almost what makes it sweeter to beat them. Like I said if they were nice people I wouldn't feel that way."

Mexican players and fans are not the only ones who can get nasty said Tab Ramos a former United States midfielder. He said fans from teams other than Mexico have spit on him and thrown bags of urine at him.

"To pick on the Mexican fans I think at that point it just becomes ridiculous Ramos whose daughter was born in Mexico while he played professionally there for two years said in a telephone interview.

The rivalry became heated when the United States started beating Mexico said Ramos who was inducted into the United States soccer hall of fame Monday.

In the first 50 years of the rivalry which dates to 1934 the Americans won only 2 of 25 matches. Since 1991 however the United States has gone 9-7-7 against Mexico. Since 2000 the United States has beaten Mexico six of nine times.

In Mexico where soccer is the No. 1 sport some fans and players are worried that the United States has closed the gap. Players on both sides have said there was no sweeter feeling than beating their Concacaf rival. The matches are intense with players going for tackles a bit harder than usual Donovan said.

But the players try to keep the fire between the lines.

"I don't think outside of the field you're going to feel angry or something like that Francisco Palencia who played with Mexico during the past two World Cup tournaments said in a telephone interview.

Palencia plays for the Major League Soccer expansion squad Chivas U.S.A. a branch of Chivas Guadalajara a team in the Mexican League.

"The only rivalry we have is only on field he said."