It's the final everybody had expected in the 2011 Gold Cup with the United States and Mexico set to battle for Concacaf supremacy
United States midfielder Clint Dempsey isn't thinking about rivalries. Whether his team was facing Mexico or any other squad, he understands the difficult task ahead.
"We know it’s going to be a tough game no matter what when we find ourselves in a final," Dempsey said of the upcoming Gold Cup championship game. "We’ve just got to make sure we go out and give our best game, and hopefully we can get the job done."
The U.S. will face El Tri Saturday evening in Pasadena, California, to claim the best team in the Concacaf region. It's the final that most people wanted to see and had predicted before the tournament kicked off at the beginning of the month.
"These are the two best teams in the Gold Cup," Mexico midfielder Rafa Marquez said. "We will see what will happen."
It wasn't always easy for both sides. Mexico cruised through the first round before finding life a bit tougher against Guatemala and Honduras in the knockout stages. The U.S., meanwhile, had their struggles throughout, including an embarrassing loss to Panama. But the final is set, and for the 10th time in 11 tournaments either Mexico or the USA will claim the Gold Cup crown.
There are certain things that make a rivalry great - contrasting styles, cultural differences and location, just to name a few - but great rivalries can't exist until both teams truly believe the other is a threat.
That's why this rivalry never existed prior to 1990. Before that time Mexico had dominated the series, winning 22 times in 27 matches with three draws. The series has evened out since. In 30 matches over the last two decades Mexico has won only nine times, losing on 13 occasions and walking away with eight draws.
||Prior to 1990
|15 wins, 11 draws, 31 losses
||2 wins, 3 draws, 22 losses||13 wins, 8 draws, 9 losses|
|31 wins, 11 draws, 15 losses||22 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses||9 wins, 8 draws, 13 losses|
The competitions involving both sides have also been fairly evenly split in recent time. Mexico has five Gold Cup titles (along with three other regional titles prior to the tournament being re-branded as the Gold Cup) to the United States' four, with the decisive win coming in the final of the 2009 tournament.
Other recent results favour the U.S., which has topped Concacaf's World Cup qualifying for the last two cycles - though Mexico and the U.S. both finished the Hexagonal with 22 points heading into the 2006 tournament - and claimed a win in the last Gold Cup (2007) that qualified the winner for the Fifa Confederations Cup.
In other words, there is plenty of reason for fans on either side of the divide to claim dominance. But this weekend, only one team can walk away as Concacaf's best."It’s the Rose Bowl," USA defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "Big stadium, lot of history. You know, (it's) the final of our confederation to put us in the Confederations Cup. So this one is a big one."
A big one it is. The last time the USA met Mexico the teams were drastically different. Both rosters have been changed quite a bit, with the biggest addition to the rivalry being Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, who replaces a series of strikers who weren't quite as lethal for Mexico. For the U.S., Jermaine Jones replaces a series of unstable midfielders.
The USA and Mexico will kick off at 21:00 local time with the new blood ready to add an important chapter to the old rivalry. At least one side of the rivalry will have new evidence to support its claim as Concacaf's top dog.