November 11, 2016
USA-Mexico World Cup qualifier is the 1st confrontation since Trump's election as president
By Michael Lewis
|Michael Bradley: "I certainly think there's an added layer to this game, given everything that's gone on the last few months."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Friday night's dos a cero confrontation between the United States and Mexico offers a new and challenging version of political futbol.
In the first meeting between the two archrivals since the USA's presidential election, observers are wondering about the tensions between the team teams and fan reaction at MAPFRE Stadium.
When he declared his candidacy in June 2015 speeches, president-elect Donald Trump severely criticized Mexican immigrants.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he said at the time. "They're sending people that have lots of problems ... They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
Trump also has stated he wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Needless to say, this did not go over well with Mexicans or the Hispanic community in the USA.
American players felt politics won’t spill over onto the playing field.
"I certainly think there's an added layer to this game, given everything that's gone on the last few months," U.S. captain and midfielder Michael Bradley said. "We have total respect for everybody and a real appreciation not just for the Mexican-Americans but for the people from around the world who come and make a new life for themselves in our country."
Since the USA has won four consecutive qualifying matches by a 2-0 score line, the players claim they are much more interested in what will transpire between the lines at the stadium, not outside of it.
"I would hope not, you know?" midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. "I know there are people out there who would like to politicize this game, but I don't see the need for it. It's a rivalry — U.S. vs. Mexico. It's nothing more than that. We're going to try to kick each other's butt on the field."
Not surprisingly, both coaches have downplayed the role of politics in their World Cup qualifier. They're more interested in recording a victory in the opening match of the CONCACAF hexagonal of the final round.
Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who came to the United States seeking a college education at Southern Connecticut University, lived in Brooklyn and played for the Brooklyn Italians and the New York Centaurs professional side. He went on to coach the Chicago Fire and Red Bulls.
"I was first an exchange student, then I was an immigrant in the United States trying to get a great opportunity and work, and work as hard as any American,” Osorio said. “So I can sympathize with how the Mexicans feel about the whole situation. Nevertheless, my efforts are all directed toward winning the game and nothing else. I'm really not here to discuss any political issues."
Neither was U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Asked whether the game had political overtones, Klinsmann essentially deflected his response.
"No I don't think so," he replied. "Football worldwide is a sport that connects people together. You always have this healthy competition. This is a big rivalry. It's a big clash like in Europe. You have Germany-Holland, you have France-Spain. You have Brazil against Argentina. They notice in Europe and South America, a very, very special rivalry has developed here in North America in the Mexico and the U.S. It is purely a sporting event. It is a game of respect, respect for Mexico for their team and their coach. This is the wonderful side of sports. It brings people together."
Some 24,000 soccer fans will be brought together at MAPFRE Friday night. It will be intriguing to see what the atmosphere will be.