PHOENIX – The United States men’s national team meets bitter soccer rival Mexico for the 75th time in the inaugural Allstate Continental Clásico Wednesday night at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. This is the third time the United States and Mexico have faced off in the Valley and the first in almost a decade.
The Allstate Continental Clásico is an annual event that pairs the USMNT against a high end opponent from North, Central or South America.
“It’s a huge game, you know, it’s gonna be in front of a massive crowd … these games are so special to be involved in,” USMNT coach Anthony Hudson said in a press conference. “Wherever we play in the States, we just love and appreciate our fans. Our fans have been incredible wherever we go and if any U.S. fans have not experienced a U.S.-Mexico game like this, I would recommend, suggest, plead: go and experience it because it’s a very unique occasion, atmosphere, everything.”
Glendale has hosted the rivalry twice. In 2007, the U.S. met Mexico in a friendly match, winning 2-0 in front of over 62,000 fans. The rivalry returned in 2014 when just over 59,000 fans came out to see the teams battle to a 2-2 draw in another friendly.
Outside of playing each other, the United States and Mexico have each played in Glendale more than once in recent years.
Mexico most recently came to the Valley in June of last year when they faced off against Uruguay on their U.S. tour in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. Mexico fell 3-0 that night in front of just over 57,000 fans, almost all of whom were in support of El Tri.
Previously they faced off against Honduras as State Farm Stadium hosted the quarterfinals of the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. That match finished 3-0 in favor of Mexico as it booked a spot in the Gold Cup semifinals behind the support of a packed house of over 64,000.
Both nations played a match in Glendale in 2016 as part of the 100th edition of the Copa America, one of the most storied tournaments in all of international soccer.
The United States last played in the Valley in 2019, when they defeated Panama 3-0 in previous manager Gregg Berhalter’s first match in charge. Walker Zimmerman, who features in the squad for this game against Mexico, scored his second international goal on that night.
The squad has since returned to Arizona once to hold training camp ahead of the international window in January and February of last year. Overall the United States holds a 4-1-2 record when playing in Arizona.
While it will be a home game for the United States, the split of fans in the stadium might indicate otherwise. Mexico has a passionate fan base in Phoenix that has supported the squad through buying tickets anytime they’ve played in the Valley. That, coupled with the home support of the United States. should make for a lively atmosphere.
“The opportunity to build a platform that brings a world-class opponent to the United States each year will be another key step toward making soccer the preeminent sport in our country, and kicking off the event with one of the biggest rivalries in international soccer will no doubt present a unique opportunity for us to engage avid, casual, and multicultural soccer fans alike,” Kelly Higgins, U.S. Soccer VP of Partnership Marketing, said in a release.
This match doesn’t fall into a designated FIFA international window, meaning most European-based players were unavailable for selection due to games with their club teams, leading to a primarily domestic-based squad.
The roster features 10 players who traveled to Qatar for the World Cup, where the U.S. made it to the round of 16 before falling 3-1 to the Netherlands, a campaign that saw them jump to No. 13 in the world.
Three starters in the game against the Netherlands – Walker Zimmerman, Jesús Ferreira and Sergiño Dest – were all called up for this match.
Dest and Alan Soñora are the only two players on the squad who play club soccer internationally, with Soñora playing for FC Juarez in Mexico and Dest lining up for powerhouse AC Milan in Italy. Dest is one of only eight U.S. players to play over 300 minutes at the World Cup, starting all four games.
The USMNT were given special allowance from AC Milan to bring Dest into the squad for this rivalry game.
“The way we select the next two or three squads, there’s going to be all these unique situations with players,” Hudson said. “First of all, we’re so grateful to the club for allowing him to come to this game and play against Mexico. Serge is someone who’s done great for us, was great at the World Cup. We love having him around the team.
“And not only that, he wants to come and he wants to play in the game. And so we’ve had some really good conversations with Sergiño and again, the club have been great to allow him to come. So there’s all these unique one-off situations where, you know, with relationships with conversations, we’re able to get players outside of a window like this.”
Along with some veterans, the squad features plenty of youth as Hudson looks to give some experience to younger players ahead of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Caleb Wiley, Joshua Wynder and Drake Callendar will all be taking part in their first senior camp as they seek their first caps in an U.S. jersey.
Wynder, 17, is the youngest player on the squad and the first player from the USL Championship to be called up to the USMNT since December 2021. He plays for Louisville City FC, which come to town this summer to take on local USL side Phoenix Rising.
Wynder, along with the other squad debutants, will hope to impress enough in training to follow the path of Dest, who made his USMNT debut against Mexico in 2019.
Since the first USA-Mexico game in 1934, El Tri have defeated the United States 36 times while the U.S. has emerged victorious from the fixture 22 times. Despite Mexico’s advantage all-time, the United States have had the best of the rivalry since the turn of the century, holding a 17-9-7 record in that span.
The United States is also undefeated against Mexico in the last four matchups between the sides, including consecutive victories to win the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup in 2021.
Although just a friendly, this game will be an interesting litmus test for the coaches ahead of June’s Nations League semifinal matchup against Mexico, which carries significantly more weight than Wednesday’s friendly. While the U.S. are eager to repeat as winners, Mexico will surely want revenge for last tournament’s defeat.
“The Allstate Continental Clásico is obviously a great game to be a part of … we firstly want to win this game, you know, that’s anytime you play against your biggest rival you want to win the game, so that’s our first objective,” Hudson said. “I think probably the most important thing is that we balance the squad in the right way, (so) that we go into the Nations League and then the Gold Cup and we’ve balanced the squad in a way that we have the opportunity to retain both titles. This is a great game for us to prepare for that and look at players with the view very clearly on the fact that this is an important game. It’s an important game to everyone involved, the fans, and it’s a game we want to win.”
Hudson and Mexico coach Diego Cocca will be entering their first game at the helm in this rivalry, each being appointed after last year’s World Cup. Hudson was appointed in January on an interim basis after Berhalter’s contract ran out, while Cocca stepped in earlier this year replacing Tata Martino, who was fired immediately upon Mexico’s group stage exit from the World Cup.
Each will surely be looking to stamp their mark on one of the most intense rivalries in international soccer.
“This is a historic rivalry and it’s a privilege to be a part of it,” Cocca said through a translator. “We’re stepping into these games highly motivated, with a lot of energy, with a winning mentality because that’s what we need and getting those results (against the U.S.) would be a huge motivation going forward.”
The USMNT has faced its fair share of controversy in the months since the World Cup but focus has been turned fully toward this game against Mexico as Hudson looks to assess some new faces in the squad ahead of the rematch in the Nations League this summer.
“Having a big win against Mexico, I think that’s the most important thing,” Hudson said. “I think that the game is going to be tight, the game is going to be competitive and the atmosphere is going to be great. And we are focused on winning the game.”