MISSION VIEJO, Calif. -- With hopes of erasing memories of that suffocating afternoon at Azteca last July, the U.S. national soccer team resumed its pre-World Cup schedule last night in a rematch with Mexico at RFK Stadium in Washington.
The stakes aren't nearly so high, and the teams bear merely passing resemblance to those that met in the Mexico City massacre, but today's friendliness isn't nearly as meaningless as it appears.
"It's not that you want to get revenge," says U.S. midfielder Dominic Kinnear. "You just want to win."
Coach Bora Milutinovic is seeking something much more elusive as he prods along a slow maturation process that, he hopes, will result in success next summer. He's still searching for the right combinations, the right players, the right rhythm for his squad.
"It's important to play a competitive game," Milutinovic said. "For us to be successful, it's very important to play against a good team like the Mexican team. We need to have more of these games."
That can be "no so easy," he admits; his team has been idle since a 1-0 loss Sept. 8 at Norway, and it hasn't been by choice.
"It's not great for us to be off that long," says forward Peter Vermes. "One of the things you lose when you're not playing games -- you lose form."
So expect the Americans to be a bit rusty in their quest to avenge -- or at least assuage -- a 4-0 spanking by Mexico in the July 25 CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
Milutinovic has brought in Mexico-based defender Cle Kooiman, reuniting him with sweeper Desmond Armstrong and defensive midfielder Thomas Dooley as the core of the American defense that so impressed in the Gold Cup. Also back is Netherlands-based striker Ernie Stewart, one of the revelations of U.S. Cup '93.
Armstrong, Dooley and Kooiman are among only five U.S. starters who saw action in the Gold Cup final. Midfielder Cobi Jones and defender Alexi Lalas also played against Mexico.
Mexico coach Miguel Mejia Baron, who has created a diamond out of the chaos that has stalked Mexican soccer the past half decade, has more of his stars available, but like Milutinovic -- his former roommate -- he'll use the match to gauge talent for next summer's World Cup.
His roster includes only five players on the field in the last meeting -- goalkeeper Jorge Campos, defenders Ignacio Ambriz and Ramon Ramirez, midfielder Jorge Rodriguez and forward Zague -- plus superstar midfielder Alberto Garcia Apse.
"It's not nearly the same," said U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola. "Neither team has its full team -- it's the U.S. and Mexico on paper, but as an athlete you can't equate it in the same way.
"There is no revenge until the two teams meet again with full sides and something [at stake]. Hopefully, that's the third round of the World Cup."
NOTES: Milutinovic's starting lineup: G Brad Friedel; D Armstrong, Kooiman, Lalas and Jeff Agoos; M Dooley, Jones, Joe-Max Moore, Hugo Perez and Mike Sorber; and F Stewart. . . . M Chad Deering (Schalke 04, Germany) is expected to make his international debut in the second half. . . . The U.S. team, 8-10-10 in 1993, meets Ukraine on Saturday in High Point, N.C., then again the next Saturday at Bethlehem, Pa. Mexico faces the Ukrainians a week from today in San Diego.