USMNT vs Mexico: How to get the sizzle back in Concacaf's top rivalry

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Jonathan Daniel
There's a lack of buzz ahead of Friday's rivalry matchup, but that will change if these four trends continue to develop

The United States men's national team plays the Mexico national team Friday. That's only three days away.

Yet, there doesn't seem to be the same buzz around this game as previous matchups between the North American rivals. The Washington Post reported 36,000 tickets have been sold for the game at MetLife Stadium, which can hold more than double that number.

Maybe it's the fact that these two teams' most recent match also came against the other. Maybe it's fatigue from the third game played between the teams in a calendar year. Maybe it's simply that ticket prices are too high or people have other big plans for their Friday nights.

Whatever it is, it's a bit of a shame. The US-Mexico rivalry isn't in danger of falling off the map. This is the 70th meeting between the two nations, and they can't all be winners. Intensity will pick up ahead of World Cup qualifiers or other big games. But, here are some things already in motion that will help future meetings between the teams have the same feel as previous encounters:

More weekends like the past one, with players finding success in top leagues

This weekend served as a nice appetizer for the contest, with players from both squads finding success in some of the world's best leagues. Mexican winger Hirving Lozano scored a debut goal with Napoli as a rally against Juventus fell just short. Raul Jimenez scored in the Premier League for Wolves, extending his streak to a goal in each of the team's last four matches.

For the United States, young forward Josh Sargent scored in his first Bundesliga start, Christian Pulisic went the full 90 minutes for Chelsea as he continues to lock in with the Premier League team, and both Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales showed well in the midfield for their Bundesliga clubs.

Fans of both nations are watching Ajax, where Mexico central midfielder Edson Alvarez and United States fullback Sergino Dest are teaming up to help the Amsterdam side defend its Eredivisie title and push on in the Champions League.

The more players the sides have excelling at top clubs, the better for U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter and his counterpart Tata Martino. The more fans get excited about players excelling in the world's elite leagues, the more desire will build to see those players do the same on the international level.

More meaningful games

The Gold Cup final was an excellent showcase of what both teams can do, and there was a legitimate prize for the winner at the end - continental supremacy. 

Sure, there were players missing for both sides. Tyler Adams' presence in the United States team will change things when he's back to full fitness. John Brooks is among the Americans who missed the summer tournament who are set to take part in this month's contest. Mexico is getting back big names too, with World Cup veterans like Hirving Lozano, Jesus Corona, Hector Herrera and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez all in Martino's squad. 

The fact that those players are back lends some excitement to this friendly, but it won't compare to a game like the Gold Cup final where something really was on the line. 

Jonathan dos Santos Mexico USA Gold Cup 2019

With European teams involved in qualification for Euro 2020, it's not easy for either team to find friendly opposition. With each side set to begin Concacaf Nations League play next month, the number of friendlies likely will decrease anyway. That's a good thing. 

The friendly games give fans something to talk about and do serve as chapters in the grand book of the rivalry, but these exhibitions hardly have the same bite or stick in the memory like the 2-0 games in a frigid Columbus, the Gold Cup finals or the matches in the Estadio Azteca. 

The U.S. and Mexico squaring off in the Nations League final would be intriguing. The competition won't have the history of the Gold Cup, but the European version showed there's a chance for a regional tournament to capture the imagination. The teams will have to get there first, something that isn't a given with Martino hinting he may use the games to give younger players experience and each with an upstart desperate to improve its standing heading into World Cup qualification in the group (Canada with the U.S. and Panama with Mexico). 

That's getting ahead of things, but we can all agree the games are better when something is on the line. 

Increased interchange between domestic leagues

MLS and Liga MX are more than just making eyes at each other, they're full-on making out. Leagues Cup already has seen storylines like Tigres center back Carlos Salcedo, a Mexico international, taking on his former club. The footballing cultures of both nations are linked, with lots of overlap both on the sporting and commercial side. 

That said, players like Jonathan dos Santos - a Mexico international playing in MLS - or Ventura Alvarado - a U.S. senior team candidate playing in Liga MX are rare. As ties between the leagues grow, there will be more players like DaMarcus Beasley, Herculez Gomez and Giovani dos Santos who have played in both leagues and are familiar with players on the other side. That will increase both the relationships they have with members of the other team and the stories that come with this type of rivalry. 

Sure, a bit of grit

Diego Lainez and Matt Miazga got into it during last September's friendly match in an incident that produced memorable memes if nothing else. Lainez went toe to toe with Miazga, who poked fun at Lainez's short stature. On the field, it was Lainez getting the best of the American defense, with a moment of magic that left Miazga gasping in the box - though the U.S. had the last laugh with a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from Adams. 

Matt Miazga Diego Lainez USMNT Mexico

There will be no Lainez vs. Miazga rematch this month, with neither player included in their respective squads. Miazga suffered a calf injury with Reading, and Lainez, still only 19, is staying in Spain as he looks to convince Real Betis' new manager that he needs to be seeing a steady diet of minutes. They'll almost certainly come together in the future, however, and it should be a spicy encounter. 

Those moments, in which the players show fire on the field and essentially laugh it off once the game is over are excellent ways to get the blood pumping for a rivalry game like this.  

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Don't forget, however, the powerful message the teams sent ahead of the 2016 World Cup qualification match in Columbus, Ohio. Just after the election of Donald Trump, who kicked off his campaign with lies about Mexicans and continued the hateful rhetoric throughout the cycle. Players from both teams intermingled and put their arms around each other  

In the pre-match and when the whistle blows, it's serious. But the players set the tone before and after games, often saying hello to current and former club teammates or pals they've made through mutual friends or shared sponsors. 

Let's not confuse passion with unpleasantness. This is one of the most special rivalries in the world and should remain as such - with grit and desire to win but not spilling over into the sectarian incidents that plague other international sports rivalries. 

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