The U.S. Men’s National Team on Friday will begin the final stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with a match against Mexico, the United States’ most bitter international soccer rival.
The match comes just three days after the general election victory of Donald Trump, who labeled Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists” when launching his presidential campaign and insisted repeatedly that he would build a wall along the southern border of the U.S.
Given that timing, American soccer’s governing body, top players and the team’s largest organized fan group are asking people in the U.S. to respect Mexico’s fans and players.
In a tweet featuring a quote from USMNT captain Michael Bradley, U.S. Soccer on Thursday called for fans to “respect the rivalry.”
“I would hope that our fans do what they always do, which is support our team in the best and most passionate way possible,” Bradley told reporters on Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, where the match will take place. “I would hope that they give every person in that stadium the respect they deserve, whether they are Mexican, American, man, woman or child.”
“I hope that it is a special night in every way. U.S. vs. Mexico ― this is the biggest game that we play,” Bradley said.
The American Outlaws, the largest unofficial group of USMNT supporters, also tweeted a message to its members ahead of the match.
Trump’s statements about Mexico and Mexican immigrants played a role in the sports rivalry last October, when the two teams met in a final qualifier for the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Before the match, a Mexican TV station taunted the USMNT with an ad that cited Trump’s statements about the country, and his insistence that “the American dream is dead.” Fox, which broadcast the match in the United States, responded with its own Trump-themed ad, a promotion that didn’t go over well with many American soccer fans.
The match will mark the fifth consecutive World Cup qualifying cycle that the USMNT and Mexico have met in Columbus. The U.S has won each of the last four by the same 2-0 score.