It began in the 90s.
"That was the era when both teams hated each other," US soccer fullback Marcelo Balboa told The Classical. "There was a bitter rivalry. It wasn't a very pretty game back in that era. There was a lot of hard hitting."
Paul Caligiuri's spectacular goal had won the US a spot in the 1989 World Cup — its first in 40 years. That meant the US men's soccer team was now competing. Squads warring for superiority in the regional confederation, CONCACAF, and for berths in international tournaments took notice. Mexico was one of those squads.
At that time, Mexico — winner of the 2012 Olympic soccer gold medal — was technically superior. The Americans were a self-admittedly thuggish group trying to win with heart and luck.
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Now the teams are relative equals. Except, that is, in Mexico City's Estadio Azteca. Today the US steps into the stadium packed with an expected 104,000 diehard fans who know how to make the field shake with thunderous applause. And those fans matter. The US record there is a dismal 0-23-1. (Their international friendly match is on Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 8 p.m. ET, to be broadcast on ESPN2/3 or Univision.)
There are cultural, historical and geopolitical undercurrents in these games. But more than anything, the rivalry is built on two decades of hard-fought matches, hate and, most importantly, earned respect.
And not to forget the stranger moments. Alexi Lalas getting one in the groin (see below), and Landon Donavan enraging all of Mexico by urinating on the pitch at Estadio Jalisco (not seen below).
In honor of this North American "Clasico," here's a look back at 20 years of flagrant tackles, cheap shots and great games.
Fans throw trash at Landon Donovan during the FIFA World Cup Qualifying match between USA and Mexico at Azteca Stadium on Aug. 12, 2009 in Mexico City. US lost 2-1. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images).
Feel the love. Luis Roberto Alves of Mexico kicks Alexi Lalas in the groin during a US Cup game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 19, 1997. Lasas described the kick as "A full-frontal assault on my manhood." Mexico won the game, 2-0. (Elsa Hasch/Allsport).
Mexico's Raul Lara of is kicked in the face by David Regis during their Nike US Cup soccer match on March 13, 1999, in San Diego, Calif. Mexico won 2-1. (Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images).
A fan shows a US player voodoo doll prior to the FIFA World Cup match between Mexico and the US, noon Feb. 7, 2009. So that's why the US lost! (Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images).
Jay Heaps tackles Mexico's Giovani Dos Santos during the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament on July 26, 2009, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Mexico won 5-0. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images).
Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco tackles Steve Cherundolo during the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying match on March 27, 2005, at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Mexico won 2-1. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images).
Landon Donovan celebrates a 2-1 win against Mexico during the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final match at Soldier Field on June 24, 2007, in Chicago, Illinois. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images).
The US had a little help that game:
Mexico's Diego Reyes falls to his knees after winning gold in the men's soccer final against Brazil at the London 2012 Olympics on Aug. 11, 2012. It was their first gold medal. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images).