By that standard, the countries’ Olympic teams are just getting acquainted, meeting Wednesday in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament for just the fourth time in 30 years.
The competitive fires, however, burn no less intensely. In a game with nothing more at stake than pride and seeding in Sunday’s semifinals, for which both teams have already qualified, Mexico rode a first-half goal from Uriel Antuna to a spirited and hard-fought 1-0 win in Guadalajara.
The win was Mexico’s 14th straight in Olympic qualifying.
“Mexico’s obviously a very good team,” U.S. coach Jason Kreis said. “We competed very well. I’m really pleased with the effort. I’m really pleased with the fight that we had.
“And ultimately it’s really difficult to lose the game on an individual error.”
The U.S. conceded its only goal of the tournament just seconds before halftime when Antuna intercepted a lazy pass from Sebastian Soto deep in the American end. The former Galaxy winger dribbled to the top of the box, cut to his right to create space, then beat U.S. keeper David Ochoa inside the left post.
The goal came on Mexico’s ninth shot of the first half. The U.S., meanwhile, had just seven shots on the night and tested backup goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado only once. Jurado came in in the 39th minute for starter Luis Malagon, who left the field on a stretcher.
The real prize comes Sunday, with the winners of each semifinal earning a spot in the Olympics, a tournament the U.S. has played in just once since 2000.
“The most important game is coming. So we need to move forward very quickly and prepare ourselves for that,” Kreis said.
“The next game is the one we have to win. It’s all still there for us. Nothing’s changed.”
With Wednesday’s victory, Mexico will play the second-place team from Group B in the semifinals while the U.S. will take on the group winner. Just who those teams will be will be decided Thursday when El Salvador plays Haiti and Honduras faces Canada on the final day of group play.
None of the four has been mathematically eliminated, but the U.S. will face either Honduras or Canada since neither Haiti nor El Salvador can win the group.
In Wednesday’s first game, Costa Rica got a pair of second-half goals from Randall Leal in a 5-0 rout of the Dominican Republic.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.