By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax) Siete a cero?
That is not the prediction of San Jose Earthquakes head
coach Dominic Kinnear
for the USA-Mexico Hexagonal opener, but rather the scoreline he’d like to see every time the nations meet on the soccer field.
“It’s the one game that, if you could poll ex-players who have played in it, it’s the one game I want to see the U.S. win more than anything,” says Kinnear, whose 54 caps
included a friendly against Mexico in 1991 (a 1-1 tie) and a crushing 4-0 defeat in the 1993 Gold Cup final at Azteca. “I hate talking about when I played, but we never played in Columbus.
We always played in L.A. or whatever, and we never had a home game playing against Mexico, and that boils your blood, a little bit. So whenever this happens, and people say, ‘What do you think
the score’s going to be?’, I say, ‘I’m not one for predictions but I sure hope it’s 7-0.’ Why not? It would be wonderful.”
The 1-1 tie
was played in the Los Angeles Coliseum, as was the 1991 Gold Cup semifinal a few months later in which the Americans first defeated Mexico by the revered 2-0 scoreline. Kinnear watched from the bench
as a heavily pro-Mexican crowd of 41,403 booed and whistled their players, who struggled to match goals by Peter Vermes
and John Doyle.
“That game, for
me, changed the fortunes of everything,” recalls Kinnear, who is one of many U.S. players whose soccer lives are intertwined with the game south of the border. “It gave the team more
belief. That stopped their unbeaten streak at the Coliseum -- I think they were unbeaten in 35 games against all the teams they had played -- and it was just a great game. Two of my good friends
scored in that game and it was almost like a passing point between the two teams.”
The Americans celebrated lustily at the final whistle and two days later Kinnear came on as a
substitute in the final against Honduras. The teams went to penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie and Kinnear converted in the seventh round. Fernando Clavijo
stuck away the next U.S. kick to
win the shootout, 4-3, and change forever the USA team’s persona.
In the 25 years since that tournament, fortunes between the teams have fluctuated, yet no longer do USA teams take
the field against Mexico already beaten psychologically. As USA head coach, Bora Milutinovic
-- who had coached Pumas as well as the Mexican national team before taking the U.S. job --
used every ploy to transform the mindset of American players.
Kinnear recalls one such anecdote from that Gold Cup semifinal. “Our bus and Mexico’s bus got to the Coliseum at
exactly the same time,” says Kinnear. “Sometimes people’s memories are a little bit hazy or different, but I sure do remember Bora yelling at the bus driver to get into the parking
lot first to cut them off. That was kind of fun.”
Two years later, Kinnear was on the field at Azteca Stadium for the ’93 Gold Cup final. Mexico took its revenge ruthlessly,
smashing the Americans, 4-0. “That was pretty much one-way traffic,” says Kinnear. “But we knew that happens to a lot of teams at Azteca. We still had that Coliseum win on our
At the time, club soccer in the United States was a hodgepodge of quasi-professional and semi-professional clubs. When the San Jose Hawks (formerly San Francisco Bay
Blackhawks) disbanded in 1993, Kinnear went east to play for the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in the American Professional Soccer League (APSL).
Through the head coach, Emilio
, Kinnear got an opportunity to play in Mexico City for Necaxa in 1995. His stay was brief and undistinguished -- one goal in five games -- but rewarding nonetheless. “It was a great
opportunity so I took it,” he says. “I didn’t play a whole lot but I scored a goal and made some good friends. But, sadly, I wanted to stay and even more sadly, they didn’t
want me to.”
Kinnear came back to the USA to play the tail end of the 1995 APSL season for Seattle and squared off against Doyle, playing for Atlanta Ruckus, in the championship
game. MLS started up the following year and he played for Colorado, San Jose and Tampa Bay before ending his playing career in 2000. Since starting out as a coach the following year as an assistant in
San Jose, he's coached dozens of times against Mexican clubs in friendlies, SuperLiga, and Concacaf.
While the U.S. national team has reached a par with its Mexican counterpart, the
dynamics are much different at the club level. Kinnear coached Houston during a period he feels the gap narrowed between the countries, but the Concacaf Champions League results in the past eight
years have reversed that trend. Only Real Salt Lake (2011) and Montreal (2015) have reached the CCL finals. Every title has been won by a Mexican team.
“The club thing is
tough,” he says. “We’re still catching up and I don’t think expansion helps. I think we were starting to catch up with our Dynamo team and the Galaxy and Salt Lake reaching the
final of Concacaf and you look at what’s going on now. You don’t want to blame expansion, because obviously it’s great for our league and for the structure and overall health of it,
but from that point of view, you go, ‘This doesn’t help us in the international market.’”
Kinnear will be combing through the international market in the next few
weeks to help rebuild the Quakes but will take a few hours off on Friday. His preferred 7-0 scoreline is unlikely to occur in Columbus, yet he will relish the setting and spectacle as much as the
intense, full-blooded action on the field. He will see, hear, and feel a vibrant passion swathed in red, white and blue that was barely a dream 25 years ago.
“It’s not just
about the results and the teams and the rivalry,” he says. “It’s about having a place to go where you know it’s an American stadium and an American crowd that’s going to
be behind you. It’s awesome.”