The 10 Best Moments in U.S.-Mexico Soccer History

To help get you energized for Wednesday night’s clash between the United States and Mexico, ASN contributing editor Brian Sciaretta ranked the 10 best moments in the rivalry’s history.


Brian Sciaretta


April 14, 2015

7:15 PM

WHAT ARE THE 10 BEST American moments in the periodically epic soccer rivalry between the United States and Mexico? We’re glad you asked. Here you go.  

No. 10—February 11, 2009

Marquez meltdown provides a lasting image. In the third installment of the “dos a cero” series in Columbus, Ohio, Rafa Marquez sealed his legacy as the No. 1 player U.S. national team fans love to hate. In the 65th minute, the Mexican captain was given a red card for a vicious studs-up challenge on Tim Howard. Seven years earlier at the 2002 World Cup, he was also shown a red card for a head-butt on Cobi Jones.

Following the game in Columbus he asked his teammates and Mexican fans for forgiveness but it was a defining moment of a player who had a long and ugly history playing against the U.S. national team. His reputation in the States was not enhanced by his time in Major League Soccer, as the former Red Bull is considered by some to be the worst designated player in the history of the league.

No. 9—November 7, 1997

Boos and whistles at final whistle at the Azteca. In what was an unthinkable result, the U.S. national team headed down to Azteca and secured a scoreless draw for its first-ever point at the intimidating venue. The point helped the U.S. national team qualify for the 1998 World Cup, and it was accomplished in impressive fashion. From the 32nd minute and beyond, the U.S. played a man down following a red card to Jeff Agoos.

Mexico had its chances but the U.S. nearly won when a Thomas Dooley shot from outside the box hit the inside of the post and missed going in by only the smallest of margins.

The boos and whistles that erupted at the end of the match was a defining moment in this rivarly. From that moment on, the U.S. was never quite perceived as the underdog they once were.

No. 8—September 4, 2005

Oguchi Onyewu stares down Jared Borgetti. The U.S. national team’s second “dos-a-cero” win was the most lopsided of all of the wins over Mexico in major competitions (World Cup, World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup). Mexico’s free kick in the 45th minute forced a Kasey Keller save… but that was the only decent opportunity from El Tri in the entire game.

The win allowed the U.S. to clinch a World Cup berth on home soil against its arch rivals, much to the delight of the pro-American crowd.

The game, however, will be remembered for one particular moment in the 9th minute when Oguchi Onyewu and Jared Borgetti were involved in a rugged challenge. Onyewu won but Borgetti  took exception and went up to Onyewu to have words. The American defender gave Borgetti a look that will not soon be forgotten.

No. 7—June 18, 1995

Reyna’s goal caps a near-perfect game. In a contest that stunned the 38,615 people at RFK Stadium that day (as well as the national TV audience), the U.S. national team demolished a full-strength Mexican side 4-0 at the 1995 U.S. Cup.

The game was the first major international achievement for 21-year-old Claudio Reyna who burst onto the international scene that day with a remarkable performance. In the first half, Reyna notched two jaw-dropping assists. His goal in the 68th minute, however, capped the best single-game performance ever by an American player against Mexico and essentially ushered in a decade where he was the Americans’ dominant player.

No. 6—July 5, 1991

Vermes lifts U.S. to 2-0 win in inaugural Gold Cup. The first-ever Gold Cup was held in 1991 to give the CONCACAF region a proper championship tournament. Back then Mexico was the dominant team but it was still getting over the embarrassment of being banned from participating in the 1990 World Cup. The United States took advantage of Mexico’s suspension to qualify for the 1990 tournament (its first since 1950) in what was really the start of the modern-era of American soccer.

Both teams had a lot to prove in the semifinal clash of the Gold Cup, which was played in front of a decidely pro-Mexican crowd of 36,703 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In the 48th minute John Doyle opened the scoring with a volley off a long free kick. It was Peter Vermes, however, who provided the defining moment of the game with a stunning shot from distance that gave the U.S. a “dos-a-cero” victory that is often overlooked. 

No. 5—September 13, 2013

Donovan’s final U.S. goal caps fourth straight 2-0 win. Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave Donovan off the 2014 World Cup team will rightfully be talked about for years to come. Donovan’s career numbers speak for themselves and he is easily the best-ever player in U.S. national team history. 

 Despite his controversial end with the national team (not counting his farewell match last October), it is fitting that his final goal for the national team came the way it did. His 77th-minute goal, assisted by Mix Diskerud, put the U.S. up 2-0 over Mexico in an important World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. The Yanks would go on to clinch a berth in Brazil.

No. 4—July 17, 1995

Friedel’s penalty heroics send the U.S. to Copa America Semifinals. In a tournament that featured a string of shocking results, the U.S. national team defeated Mexico in a shootout in the quarterfinals of the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay. In the group stages, the Americans also defeated Chile and Argentina, by a commanding 3-0 scoreline, to win its group.

In the quarterfinals, the U.S. had to face Mexico in a matchup of rivals that were both participating as guests in the tournament. After a scoreless 90 minutes, the game went into a shootout and Brad Friedel was remarkable. After allowing a goal in the opening round, he saved Carlos Hermosillo’s shot in the second round.
His third-round save against Alberto Coyote, however, was a thing of beauty and the moment that defined this game. The U.S converted all of its chances to advance to the semifinals, eventually coming back to reality and losing to Brazil, 1-0.  

No. 3—June 24, 2007

Feilhaber scores a beautiful goal. Every American soccer fan knows this goal and it will be remembered as the tally that delivered the 2007 Gold Cup to the United States in front of a very hostile “home” crowed in Chicago. With the game tied 1-1 in the 72nd mintue, Feilhaber’s game-winning volley proved decisive and symbolic.
This moment also helped erase the memory of 2006, when the United States performed horribly at the World Cup only to have the U.S. Soccer Federation fire Bruce Arena and then made an embarrassing (and unsuccesful) attempt to land Jurgen Klinsmann as coach. Golazo indeed.

No. 2—February 28, 2001

The Cold War marks the arrival of Wolff and Mathis. U.S. Soccer does not have as many traditions as the top soccer countries, but playing its home World Cup qualifier against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, is pretty good. The first installment in this series, in 2001, remains the best. 

The raucous crowd was the first ever “pro-American” crowd in the legendary rivalry and the game became known as the “Cold War.”
The defining moment came in the 47th minute when Clint Mathis chipped a beautiful pass to Josh Wolff, who moved in alone on Jorge Campos. Wolff got by Campos for an easy finish, and for once the U.S. could celebrate in front of a crowd of supporters

No. 1—June 17, 2002

Donovan’s header seals historic win. The regional rivalry evolved into a global one at the 2002 World Cup, when the United States faced El Tri in the knockout round. 

A counterattacking U.S. played a terrific game from start to finish and thoroughly deserved its 2-0 win for the most important “dos-a-cero” win ever. Brian McBride’s eighth-minute strike set the tone but it was the second goal, in the 65th minute, that became a lasting, iconic image.

 It was a breathtaking play from everyone involved. John O’Brien sent Eddie Lewis sprinting down the left wing. Lewis then hit a perfect cross that found Landon Donovan, who headed it home. The game forever made Donovan a legend of the U.S. national team and a permanent villain throughout Mexico. It was truly a moment that defined the team.

That’s Brian’s list—do you agree with his rankings? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.