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The Mexican national team played its debut game in Arizona on February 13, 2002, a decade ago. With State Farm Stadium remaining four years from construction, El Tri fell to Yugoslavia on a homemade pitch uncomfortably fit into what was then Bank One Ballpark.
Over 40,000 people packed the Diamondbacks’ stadium to the brim with American pride.
That encounter was a preview of what games in Phoenix could look like barely a decade after the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) began playing the majority of its friendly north of the border. In 2005, El Tri returned, beating Hungary, 2-0, at the newly renamed Chase Field.
State Farm Stadium, which opened a year later, opened up a whole new universe of possibilities for the Phoenix Rising to play in the Valley. Mexico has returned to Arizona a total of ten times since then, with nine of those games taking place in the stadium where the Cardinals play.
This summer, they’ll add another Phoenix-area game, playing Uruguay in Glendale at 7 p.m. on June 2. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on April 18 at MexTour.org.
The encounter, which was confirmed Tuesday, is part of Mexico’s four friendlies over the summer as it prepares for the World Cup in Qatar in November. The remaining three games will be played in Dallas, Chicago, and Atlanta, respectively, against Nigeria, Ecuador, and Paraguay. Mexico will also play Guatemala in Orlando in April, although that match is outside of FIFA’s international schedules and will feature a reduced team.
El Tri’s summer-friendly was limited to opponents from South America, Asia, or Africa because of the UEFA Nations League and the desire to avoid rematches with rivals from CONCACAF, Mexico’s qualifying region. Initially, Argentina had been reported as a probable opponent but that changed when the two nations were put together in Group C at the World Cup.
The Mexico manager told a translator, “We need to keep in mind that you have to take into account your possibilities.” Tata Martino. With so many games taking place around the world, “you can’t always get what you want,” but considering the rivals’ potential and our own, “we are thrilled with the summer we are going to have.”
While Martino is mostly focused on the opponents, selecting locations was an equally crucial component of the game for FMF. Unsurprisingly, all four summer host towns have contemporary NFL stadiums and considerable concentrations of Mexican inhabitants.
FMF president Yon de Luisa, on the other hand, was more concerned with Phoenix’s past as a host city for El Tri than its formal credentials. Just this past summer, Mexico sold-out State Farm Stadium for a 3-0 win over Honduras in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
In his opinion, Phoenix’s stadium is “amazing,” as de Luisa put it when asked about the facility. “We have gone there numerous times. In addition, we have a strong fan base in Phoenix. It is a location where every year we look forward to coming back and this year, no doubt having a match with an opponent the size of Uruguay is going to be terrific, fantastic for us.”
Although six of Mexico’s 12 all-time encounters in Phoenix have occurred in competitive tournaments rather than friendlies, the timing of this summer’s match barely five months before the World Cup adds a dimension of significance. These friendly games are crucial testing grounds for Mexico’s national team.
In CONCACAF only the U.S. and Canada possess the comparable talent to El Tri, which features the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers attacker Raul Jimenez, Napoli winger Chucky Lozano and Atletico Madrid midfielder Hector Herrera.
Martino led his team to qualification by finishing second in the final round of eight teams, but his performance in the four qualifying games against the United States and Canada, where his team lost twice to the Americans last summer, has not gone unnoticed.
“To recapture the level we had in the early years of this process,” Martino stated of his aims for the summer. “It is fairly evident that being together and not being under the pressure of outcomes in a World Cup qualifies when it is wonderful to play well but it is even better if you do it with results. We were unable to play well but we achieved results so we will have the chance of working more comfortably and making corrections during the course (of the summer).”
Mexico, though, did find improved form near the end of the qualifying campaign, with four victories and two draws over its final six games.
Argentina and Brazil topped the CONMEBOL qualifying standings, with Uruguay coming in third. La Celeste is reaching the end of a golden age that’s carried them to the knockout rounds of three straight World Cups but still poses a strong opponent for Mexico.
For El Tri, striker Luis Suarez stands head and shoulders above the rest of the CONCACAF pack.
Neither Suarez nor his teammates, though, will be wholly unfamiliar with Mexico. Uruguay prevailed 4-1 in a friendly between the two teams in 2018. Two years previously, they squared off in a Copa America Centenario group stage encounter in Glendale – the eighth of El Tri’s Arizona visits.