Why is it so big?

The number of Americans of Mexican descent is approximately 54 million people, or almost one-sixth of the United States population. The tight balance in the CONCACAF region makes every US-Mexico game a high stakes spectacle between two often evenly-matches teams.

Mexico more or less dominated CONCACAF from the 1950s until 1995 with only minor blips interrupting four decades of control. But when Mexico would fall on temporary troubles, it would be nations such as Haiti, El Salvador or Honduras that took advantage. Between a win in the qualifying playoff for the 1934 World Cup and the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, the United States beat Mexico just one in a competitive match. That game, a qualifier for 1982 World Cup in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was held after the United States had already been mathematically eliminated from advancing.

But since 1995, the series has been largely balanced, with the United States at times going on runs of as many as six matches without losing to Mexico. For the Mexican people, that balance is largely unacceptable. In Mexico the sport is the national game; for the United States, it was largely an afterthought at the international level until the early 1990s.

Mexico has not won a World Cup qualifier on US soil since 1972, has gone winless in the last seven World Cup qualifiers between the two nations, and has been outscored 12-3 in those games.

The rivalry builds: 1991-2011

The 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup final was a warning shot, but more important was the United States getting by Mexico in the 1995 Copa America quarterfinals in a penalty shootout. That match stoked the rivalry to new levels, and by the time the teams met for World Cup qualifying in 1997, continental supremacy appeared to be passing from Mexico to the United States. The two sides played to draws in both qualifiers, with El Tri’s supporters turning on the Mexican team towards the later stages of the 0-0 draw at Estadio Azteca. The US, playing down a man had, won the respect of Mexico’s supporter.

The 1998 FIFA World Cup was a debacle for the USA, but later that year, DC United defeated Toluca in the finals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup. That match furthered the national team rivalry, though it remains the one significant competitive triumph to date for an American club over a Mexican side.

Since 1999, the rivalry has been fairly balanced with a slight edge to the United States. The sides have met not only in qualifying, but in countless friendlies, the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup semifinal and the 2002 FIFA World Cup Quarterfinals. Friendlies held on US soil tend to draw ruckus crowds mixed between the two fan bases. This has intensified the rivalry to almost fever pitch levels.

The United States has won four successive World Cup qualifiers against Mexico on American soil. All four of these matches were held at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, home of one of Major League Soccer’s original teams (the Crew). But the record for the United States in recent competitive matches held outside Columbus on US soil has been mixed. Two successive CONCACAF Gold Cup final losses (2009, 2011) by an aggregate 9-2 score demonstrate what happens to the United States in front of largely hostile crowds in do-or-die matches against Mexico.

In the 2011 final, the United States raced out to a quick 2-0 lead behind some silky attacking play featuring Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Freddy Adu. But El Tri stormed back to win the match 4-2. US Coach Bob Bradley was sacked soon after.

CONCACAF CUP: Questions across the US back line | Mexico’s defense set

The series since Klinsmann took over

Current US manager Jürgen Klinsmann has not lost to Mexico in his six matches in charge. The US has won four of those matches, most recently April’s 2-0 victory in San Antonio.

On Saturday night, Klinsmann will face his fourth different El Tri manager. While many in the American soccer community want Klinsmann to face the sack, his record against the US’s biggest rival has caused headaches for his opposite numbers, all of whom have found themselves fired soon after failing to defeat to Klinsmann’s side.

Why does Confederations Cup matter so much to these nations?

This is the ultimate question. The Confederations Cup is for some nations a throwaway competition that falls right in the middle of World Cup qualifying, thus not worth the effort. But both these nations have pedigree in the competition, with Mexico winning the trophy at home in 1999 thanks in large measure to defeating the United States on a golden goal in the semifinals. In 2009, the United States reached the final of the competition and led Brazil 2-0 at halftime before wilting in a 3-2 loss.

People around the game in the United States feel that the Confederations Cup is especially important to give players competitive matches against top non-CONCACAF countries in FIFA World Cup venues. So while the tournament results don’t matter that much, not being there matters more.

Why is Jürgen Klinsmann on the hot seat?

Klinsmann has done a poor job of managing both expectations and the personnel at his disposal. However, he’s been handed a bit of a bum steer – the players he has inherited in the player pool are arguably, at the very top level, the weakest group the United States has had since before the aforementioned 1995 Copa America. However, the player pool is deeper and more professional than it has ever been. So without any real standout stars other than arguably Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, but also a much deeper player pool filled with professionals with similar attributes, selection becomes more difficult. Since soccer now has more attention in the United States than anytime previously, and more US-based journalists are covering the national team and leagues abroad than could have even been imagined 10 years ago, opinions about players and tactical decisions are stronger than ever.

This all having been said, Klinsmann is also the technical director for the United States and thus is responsible for the overall direction of the programs. The United States youth national teams are playing better than any point since the mid 2000’s currently, but for whatever reaso,n Klinsmann is not getting the sort of credit for this that he may deserve.

CONCACAF CUP: Klinsmann, Ferretti  bring different styles.

The Game

United States versus Mexico is on FOX Sports 1 and Univision in the United States. Kickoff is set for 9:30 p.m. Eastern time. FOX will have a full 90-minute pregame show for the match, which is incidentally more than they had for any FIFA Women’s World Cup game outside of the final.

Yes this game is THAT BIG in the eyes of the American soccer supporting public. World Soccer Talk will have a special edition of Divers and Cheats after the match for postgame analysis.