One of the great regional rivalries in international soccer will remain that and only that when the United States and Mexico meet on Friday, said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The game has attracted extra focus, coming at the end of a week in which Donald Trump, whose campaign was fueled by his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and taking a tough stance with undocumented immigrants, was elected president.
U.S. captain Michael Bradley told reporters Wednesday that an already spicy World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, night now has an extra layer to it. Klinsmann, though, expects that the rivalry on show at Mapfre Stadium will be solely a sporting one.
"Football worldwide is a sport that connects people together, and you have always this healthy competition," the German said Thursday, according to ESPN. "It's a big rivalry. It's a big clash like you have in Europe with Germany-Holland or France against Spain. You have Brazil against Argentina."
He continued: "Over here now, they notice now in Europe and in South America that there is a very, very special rivalry that has developed in North America. It's purely a sporting event. We have a lot of respect for Mexico, their people and the team, their coach. So I think this is the wonderful side of sport, that brings people together.”
When the U.S. and Mexico faced off at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California last October, the crowd of nearly 94,000 was made up mostly of Mexico supporters. But Friday will be the fifth consecutive World Cup qualifying cycle where the U.S. has chosen to host Mexico in Columbus, a venue where the home team knows it can command a strong majority of support.
For those that will be cheering Mexico on in the U.S., coach Juan Carlos Osorio has said he can fully understand their fears regarding a Trump presidency. The Colombian has previously worked in the U.S. as coach of Major League Soccer sides Chicago Fire and the New York 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,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “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.”
Osorio certainly has reason to be focused on matters on the pitch. A 7-0 humiliation at the hands of Chile in the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario this summer still looms large, and a fifth consecutive loss for Mexico in Columbus would leave his position in even greater jeopardy.
For both teams, the match is just the first of the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, known as the Hexagonal. And, with three teams qualifying automatically for Russia 2018 and a fourth going into a playoff, there is ample margin for error.
However, four years ago Mexico came perilously close to not even securing a playoff spot, giving the team particular reason to want a strong start this time around. The U.S. will be loath to open with a poor result, too, given that in its following match on Tuesday it will travel to Costa Rica, where it has lost on its last eight visits.