There is this idea that when the United States and Mexico play, it is never friendly. That idea was born out of a decade of friendlies between the two countries that were never friendly. There were red cards, dirty play and bad blood in matches that defined the intensity whenever the two countries met, friendly or not.
But now, the U.S. and Mexico can certainly play a friendly and have it be friendly. In fact, they did it just a year ago. The Americans hosted the Mexicans in Philadelphia, PA, where just 30,138 people showed up to watch and there were more empty seats than full ones at Lincoln Financial Field. Referee Raymond Bogle handed out just three cards all night, all to Mexican players for fairly innocuous challenges or tactical fouls not dangerous plays. At no point in the match did the teams scuffle and look for someone to punch and when the match ended the two teams shook hands.
Five years ago or 10 years ago, it would have been impossible to play a match in a stadium with so many empty seats, with so few cards, without any scuffles and when the whistle blew, the two teams would have been in each other's faces or celebrating wildly, not shaking hands. The rivalry has changed.
No longer is this a battle to be the top team in CONCACAF. Everybody knows that Mexico are that team and without those stakes, the intensity has been ratcheted down.
Now, the U.S. and Mexico can play friendlies. When the two teams square off at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday, there won't be the thousands of empty seats like in Philadelphia and the atmosphere of the famed stadium will give the match an added intensity , but that doesn't mean that there is no such thing as a friendly when these two teams play. After all, they were very friendly just a year ago.