CARSON -- They're friends now, in some cases connected beyond the rivalry they've seen grow from nothing into one of the world's most heated, so Sunday evening's “Clasico de Leyendas” benefit match is more reunion than anything else.
But that spark of what was -- the intensity of the battles, the hatred of the foe -- figures to color what occurs on the Home Depot Center turf, even if the duels aren't so bloody nor the pace so quick.
More than a dozen legends from the U.S. and Mexican national teams, most of them veterans of the 1990s showdowns that created the rivalry between CONCACAF's twin powers, along with other pros will meet up again in a 70-minute match to benefit Hispanic college scholarships.
Some of the biggest names from the era -- Cobi Jones, Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas and Paul Caligiuri for the U.S.; Claudio Suarez, Ramon Ramirez, Jorge Campos and Luis Hernandez for Mexico -- are slated to play in the 6 p.m. game, which sounds as much celebration as competition.
“I remember my first game against Mexico was in Azteca Stadium [in the 1993 CONCACAF Gold Cup final], and we lost, 4-0,” said Thomas Dooley, the German-born midfielder who played in the 1994 World Cup and captained the U.S. at the 1998 World Cup. “My first experience that I have was with [defender and current Guadalajara head coach Ignacio] Ambriz, and we almost had a fight on the field, kicking each other, boxing each other.
“That's what the rivalry is all about, going after each other. And after the game, we looked for each other and we traded jerseys and we actually became friends whenever we saw each other. I think that's a big part of our games against Mexico. It's a competition on the field, and after the game, it doesn't matter if Mexico wins or the U.S. wins, we'll always be friends.”
If it sounds a little too Kumbaya, consider Wynalda, star of three U.S. World Cup campaigns, who once said (then denied he'd said it, but I was there, and he did say it, although it was misconstrued into something else) that he “hates Mexico.” Wynalda, who has gone into coaching and broadcasting, has worked in Southern California with Suarez, a former Chivas USA captain who lives in Palos Verdes, and Ramirez, another Chivas USA alum. Wynalda also works with a club in Mexico.
The colorful Campos splits his time between his homeland and Southern California. He has friendships with several of the U.S. stars, including Caligiuri and Jones, former teammates with the Galaxy. Hernandez, too, played for the Galaxy, and Francisco Palencia -- also on the Mexico roster -- was with Chivas USA.
The rivalry remains heated, as anyone who watched last year's Gold Cup final (or the Galaxy-New York Red Bulls playoff, with Rafa Marquez hurling the ball at Landon Donovan post-final whistle) can attest. The games can get ugly, and the intensity can be overwhelming, as much in the stands as on the field.
“When I first began [with the national team], Mexico didn't want to play the United States at all,” said Caligiuri, who debuted with the national team in 1984, took the “shot heard 'round the world” to get the U.S. to the 1990 World Cup, started every American match at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, and returned from a career in Europe when Major League Soccer arrived in 1996. “They didn't think we were good enough. And we weren't good enough. But we became competitive, we gained their respect, and, eventually, we beat them, and now it goes back and forth. Any given day.
“We created one of the greatest rivalries in all of soccer, in all of football, all over the world. Germany-Holland, France-Italy, Brazil-Argentina, Mexico-United States.”
The match is accompanying the finals of the MLS Copa Bud Light 6V6 championship, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on fields outside the main stadium. The title game will be played at halftime of the U.S.-Mexico match, with the winner advancing to the world finals next month in England.
ROSTERS: Here are the rosters of players scheduled to take part (with World Cup years in parentheses).
D Paul Caligiuri (1990, 1994)
M Thomas Dooley (1994, 1998)
M Ted Eck
G Ian Feuer
M Cobi Jones (1994, 1998, 2002)
M/F Jovan Kirovski
M Chris Klein
D Cle Kooiman (1994)
D Alexi Lalas (1994, 1998)
F Roy Lassiter
M Clint Mathis (2002)
F Brian McBride (1998, 2002, 2006)
M John O'Brien (2002, 2006)
D Greg Vanney
F Eric Wynalda (1990, 1994, 1998)
Head coach: Curt Onalfo
F Luis Roberto Alves/“Zague” (1994)
F Jared Borgetti (2002, 2006)
G Jorge Campos (1994, 1998, 2002)
M Missael Espinoza (1994)
M Alberto Garcia Aspe (1994, 1998, 2002)
F Luis Hernandez (1998, 2002)
M Ramon Morales (2002, 2006)
F Jesus Olalde
D David Oteo
F Francisco Palencia (1998, 2002
D Ramon Ramirez (1994, 1998)
M Marco Antonio Ruiz
D Joel Sanchez (1998)
D Claudio Suarez (1994, 1998, 2006)
M Mariano Trujillo
G Martin Zuniga
M German Villa (1998, 2002)
Head coach: Carlos Reinoso