United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann feels their World Cup qualifier against Mexico is “about a lot more than just soccer”.
The Gold Cup holders travel to Colombus on Friday for their first match in round five of the CONCACAF qualifying section for the finals in Russia in 2018.
The rivalry between the region’s two football superpowers has been accentuated this week, with Republican candidate Donald Trump – who has been criticised for his comments on Hispanic residents in the USA – having triumphed emphatically in the presidential election just days before the match.
Speaking ahead of those election results, Klinsmann admitted that Friday’s encounter is likely to involve “a lot of heat”, although he stressed that his players have always embraced the rivalry with the utmost respect.
“It’s very unique,” the former Germany striker told FIFA.com. “It’s a confrontation that’s about a lot more than just soccer.
“But it’s also part of a tradition in the game worldwide, where you have teams that define themselves in relation to their biggest rivals. You have Argentina-Brazil and Holland-Germany and Italy-France and so many others. And that’s not even considering the club rivalries and derbies.
“It really is a special thing. In our region, it’s the big one. It’s the two big boys going at each other for a lot more than just the result. There’s a lot of heat involved, but also there’s a lot of respect. This can’t be ignored. In my five years in charge, every game between the two of us has been played with intensity and respect. It’s never boiled over.
“Every game against them, we have a point to prove. And I think that’s a cool thing. My players know how big this game is. They know that everyone at home is watching. It’s a big stage. It’s a special occasion, especially in World Cup qualifying. It’s the moment American players all wait for.”
Klinsmann also hailed the development of Borussia Dortmund forward Christian Pulisic – a player he believes can reach the very pinnacle of the game.
“This player’s potential is limitless,” he said of the 18-year-old, who has managed two goals and six assists in all competitions this term. “I’ve always said, you need to write your own story and he’s doing it right now.
“I think it’s rare in America for a player to be so developed at such an early age, but in Europe if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. He’s taken things in his own hands.
“He’s the piece of the puzzle we were hoping for this year and he’s a great example to other young players about how to go for it – to play at the highest level and prove yourself.”
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