You can measure the growth of soccer in America in a lot of ways, from television ratings to performances at World Cups. One of the most significant benchmarks is the United States men's national team's performance against its most significant regional rival: Mexico.
From the first meeting between the two North American neighbors in 1957 through the end of the 1990s, the U.S. won just four of the 14 games played between them on American soil. The first ever victory did not come until 1980, and the second was in 1991.
But when the calendar turned past the 90's, the U.S. started to seize control of the rivalry. Under Bruce Arena and then Bob Bradley, the U.S. reeled off a run of 12 wins and two ties in the 14 home games against Mexico between June of 2000 and February of 2009.
Five of those 12 U.S. wins - including all three home World Cup qualfiying matches in the decade - came by the same score: 2-0.
The most famous game of that era, though, did not take place on American soil. It didn't take place on Mexican soil either. It took place halfway across the globe in Jeonju, South Korea, in the Round of 16 of the 2002 World Cup.
The game was 10 years ago Sunday. You might remember that kickoff was at 2:30 a.m. Eastern Time. I suspect that some of you woke up early, and others of you probably stayed up late.
Regardless, it was worth screwing up your sleep schedule to watch. It was the ultimate showdown in North America's signature soccer rivalry, and it had a signature scoreline: 2-0 to the United States.
As American fans both at home and abroad chanted in Spanish that day: dos a cero.
The goals came from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan. I'm not going to repeat the most famous line from ESPN's broadcast (it still hurts my ears to this day), but I think you know what it is. If not, dig around in this video for long enough and I'm pretty sure you'll find it:
I went back into the Inquirer and Daily News archives to dig up pictures of the cover pages from the morning after the game. Although neither paper had reporters on site - Mike Jensen flew to South Korea right after the game to cover the quarterfinals and semifinals - the win still generated a lot of buzz.
Here's the back cover of the Daily News:
The Inquirer found space on A1 for a story on the importance of the victory:
And the sports section made the game story (taken from the Washington Post's wire service) its lead item above the fold:
(I can't help noting the tout above the masthead to the story on the Women's United Soccer Association. That shows you how much time has passed since then.)
I mentioned above that the U.S. recorded a 14-game unbeaten run on home soil against Mexico during the 2000s. The streak was finally snapped in June of 2009 at the Gold Cup final. The U.S. fielder a B-level squad due to that summer's Confederations Cup, which immediately preceded the Gold Cup.
Mexico's Gold Cup squad was at full strength, though. Led by Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela and an overwhelmingly pro-Mexican crowd at Giants Stadim, El Tri blew the U.S. off the field in a 5-0 rout.
The U.S. has not beaten Mexico on home soil since. In the 2011 Gold Cup final, Mexico won in a 4-2 rout in front of a similarly green-clad throng at the Rose Bowl. That game cost Bradley his job. Since then, the only meeting was the 1-1 tie at Lincoln Financial Field last year in Jurgen Klinsmann's debut.
So yes, the rivalry has tilted back in Mexico's favor. But no one on either side of the border has forgotten what the U.S. was able to do in the last decade. And when the two teams meet in World Cup qualifying next year, don't be surprised if you hear that chant make a comeback. It is too ingrained in the history of the rivalry now to ever be forgotten.