Over 18,000 showed up at the Sun Bowl Saturday night for an exhibition of ex-Selecciones (national team soccer players) made up of great names from both Mexico and the United States.
Household names like Jorge Campos, Luis Hernandez and others dotted Team Mexico's roster.
For the U.S., the pro-Mexico crowd would be hard-pressed to come up with names other than Marcelo Balboa, who still has the hair -- facial and otherwise -- that made him so recognizable during his career.
For me, though, it was a treat to see former national teamers like Paul Caligiuri and Ted Eck and Fernando Clavijo -- the first generation of Americans upon which US Soccer has built a successive string of World Cup qualifications and a whole first division domestic league (Major League Soccer).
And, love or hate either side, before players like Caligiuri, Clavijo, Eck and Balboa the U.S.-Mexico rivalry did not exist -- it was their play that lifted American soccer and made this THE rivalry in North America and the Caribbean.
US Soccer -- and, in certain respects, Mexican soccer -- owes this bunch a huge debt of gratitude.
Here's some video from Saturday night -- with a decidedly pro-U.S. touch.
Simply put, below is the man who started it all...Paul Caligiuri, the defender whose opportunistic goal in 1989 put the United States into its first World Cup in 40 years.
Though the US was schooled in Italia '90, Caligiuri's goal provided the momentum the whole of US Soccer needed.
For one, it meant the US wouldn't have to wait for their automatic qualification to the World Cup as tourney hosts in 1994. Beating Trinidad & Tobago, 1-0, on Caligiuri's goal meant the US earned their passage -- a passage that provided the spark to elevate American soccer to the top of CONCACAF, to qualify for every World Cup since and to create its own domestic league, Major League Soccer.
Former US National Teamer Thomas Dooley started his career in the Bundesliga, but as his father was a member of the US military, Dooley is also an American citizen -- something US Soccer was more than happy to take advantage of when he decided to play for the US National Team.
Now a resident of California, he pronounces his current home state much like its governor. But his contributions to US Soccer are great.
Wonderful to have this classy veteran in El Paso.
Mexico's Marco Antonio Ruiz scores the first of two goals in a 2-0 Mexico victory over the U.S. in a game of former national team stars in the Sun Bowl.
This, unfortunately, epitomized the night for the U.S...