SPORTS

México and U.S. Rivalry in Danger

United States' Landon Donovan, front left, celebrates after scoring a goal with fellow team members United States' Clint Dempsey, back left, and United States' Edson Buddle, front right, during the World Cup group C soccer match between the United States and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, June 23, 2010.  (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

United States' Landon Donovan, front left, celebrates after scoring a goal with fellow team members United States' Clint Dempsey, back left, and United States' Edson Buddle, front right, during the World Cup group C soccer match between the United States and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, June 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

It could very well be one of the best, if not the best, National Team rivalry on the planet.

México vs. the United States.

Giovani dos Santos vs. Landon Donovan.

El Tricolores vs. the Red, White and Blue.

Over the past decade or so, the rivalry has grown and intensified with the Mexicans continuing their dominance on their soil and with the U.S. being virtually invincible at home.

But now, that rivalry is threatened in games that truly count -- World Cup qualifying.
CONCACAF has approved a plan that would certainly benefit the smaller countries of the confederation, especially the ones in the Caribbean, but certainly not México or the U.S. And like it or not, democracy rules, even in CONCACAF, because all of the voting members will have a say, not only the two dominant forces in the confederation.

That's a crying shame because when México meets the U.S., there is drama and so much at stake.

Of course, there is the Mexicans' pride, which has taken a beating the past decade or so, not being able to put the Americans away, especially in three qualifiers in Columbus, Ohio. They did register a resounding 5-0 triumph, however, in the 2009 Gold Cup final at Giants Stadium.
And, there have been so many moments to remember in recent qualifying history.

Who can forget Carlos Hermosillo's goal off of U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller's ill-advised clearance in the opening minute of a 1997 match?

Or the Mexican faithful chanting "Fuera Bora" during a scoreless tie against a 10-man U.S. side at Estadio Azteca later that same year? Shortly after the match, the Mexican federation gave coach Bora Milutinovic the pink slip, even though the team had qualified with a 4-0-4 record.

Or the El Tri's comeback from a 1-0 deficit to record a 2-1 victory at Azteca in August, 2009?

That wouldn't be happening if FIFA approves the plan.

This is how it would reportedly work:

The six lowest ranked teams in CONCACAF would have a home-and-home series to make the field an even 32. In the second phase, eight groups of four teams will play in a six-game quarterfinal series. The two top teams from each group would book a spot in the semifinal round, where four groups of four countries will play a six-game schedule. Again, the top two teams will advance to the final round, two groups of four teams would play in the final round (another six games).

The group winners would go to Brazil while the second-place teams play for a World Cup berth. Under the 2010 qualifying rules, the loser would play a country from another confederation for the right to reach Brazil. If CONCACAF gets its way, both second-place sides would reach the World Cup.

Most Caribbean countries play two games and then they're eliminated from the competition. This will give them an opportunity to get more international experience.

According to an interview by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl had with CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer, the groups would be seeded according to FIFA rankings. Since México and the U.S. are the two strongest teams in the region, the possibility of those two rivals playing would be virtually impossible unless both countries finished second in their respective groups.
Without those two rivals slugging it out, it probably would make for an easier qualification for México and the U.S., but certainly much less dramatic and obviously less fun.

What a major shame. And what a loss -- to Mexican, American and international soccer.
It certainly won't be the end of the rivalry, but the end of the rivalry as we know it. Confrontations between the two countries will continue in international friendlies and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, whether they are played at the Rose Bowl, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix or East Rutherford, N.J.

The 2011 Gold Cup will mean something with a spot in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil on the line.

But let's face it. World Cup qualifying will never be the same without the El Tricolores and the Americans duking it out in games that really matter.

Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for three decades, can be reached at soccerwriter516@aol.com.