Sunday, February 11, 2007

US-Mexico: Where Were the American Fans?

So there I was, watching Wednesday night's US-Mexico match (and missing Real World Denver in the process), in my family's colder-than-normal living room. Wrapped up in my throw blanket on the always-colder-than-air-temperature leather couch, my dad walks in, pauses in front of the TV, and takes a gander at the screen.

"Who's playing?" my dad inquires.

"US versus Mexico."

"Oh ok...where are they playing?"


A handful of seconds ticked by as he gazed upon in the sea of green and red.

"Really? Sure they're not playing in Mexico?"

"Yeah," I grumbled, "it's because the majority of fans there are Mexican, which sucks, because this is supposed to be a home game."

“For which team?”

My head shook in reluctantly.

"Well it looks like the American fans need to order their tickets a little bit earlier next time, huh?"

To those unfamiliar with American soccer, this would seem like a perfectly logical explanation as to why 60,000 of the 63,000 or so fans present were there to support the Mexican side. For those who were already aware of this disparity in advance, the sad reality was only cemented during one of Rob Stone's pre-game talking points. Among them: the importance of the US side to "take the crowd out of the game" ….on its home turf. In other words, take the roughly 95% Mexican crowd, in your home country and stadium, and outplay the Mexicans early and often in order to take the wind out of their supporters’ sails. Let that thought settle in your brain for a moment. Essentially, this was for all intents and purposes, a de facto home match for the Mexicans. In fact, with the rivalry accurately compared by commentator Dave O’Brien to that of the fierce Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, the scene in the southwest would be as unsettling as 35,000 Yankee fans hijacking Fenway Park and chanting "Red Sox Suck!" for nine innings.

So what gives? While I was pleased with the 2-0 result, I was equally upset with the lack of American fans at the match. The animosity between the US and Mexican teams was quite clear throughout the game, and the absence of the traditional post-game handshakes only bolstered the evening’s hostilities. Although the Americans were outplayed for a good portion of the match, the event (and yes, it was an event) certainly lived up to its billing. To call this match a "friendly" would be like calling Game of 7 of 2004 ALCS an "exhibition". The players clearly did not like each other. Tensions often ran high, and while Mexico certainly had its chances, the frustration of being unable to find the back of the goal was clearly noticeable. The American and Mexican sides were about as pleasant to each other as Rosie is to the Donald, and vice versa. But this is not my point.

My point is that while Mexican fans came out in droves to support their team, at an away venue for classic match-up like this, and took over the crowd for all intents and purposes, is extremely upsetting. Where were the American fans? This is our team, in our country, and the guys in the white shirts and navy shorts are our guys, playing their hearts out, only to hear deafening cheers when slide-tackled, and boisterous boos when kissing the twine. Whether you root for different teams in different leagues in different countries, the fact that Carlos Bocanegra plays for Fulham or that Jimmy Conrad plays for Kansas City made no difference to this devoted Revolution fan. These players sport the badge of the American soccer team. Club allegiances are a far distant second when matters of national pride are at stake.

Credit the Mexican fans though - they support their team like more American fans should. Although Sam's Army did make its presence known, one could only wish that more of the like-minded were present for such a highly-charged match. Would the Red Sox fans ever let Yankee fans take over Fenway Park? The comparison may not be an accurate one due to that fact that both teams’ fans actually care enough to wear "Yankees Suck" and "1918" shirts to display their absolute lack of appreciation for the other team. In other words, both teams' fans care so greatly that they to even go out of their way to ridicule the opponent. This is the passion missing from American fans, and it’s something that the Mexican fans clearly displayed when they successfully took over of University of Phoenix Stadium Wednesday night. It's not to say American fans don't have this passion at all- there just wasn’t enough of it on display.

This is a sport played by millions of men, women and children right here in our very own country. There are fans. And while many of these American-based followers surely exist, we need more of these people to support their country’s soccer team rather than falling into an abyss of indifference. People need to start caring enough to where a sold-out US Soccer game on American soil isn't dominated by the fans of the opposing team, and that our players can instead hear the cheers when scoring and boos when an opponent makes a hard slide tackle. As a collective American soccer fan base, we need to raise our voices. We need to make ourselves known at these games. We need to show our own players that what they're doing is truly admired and appreciated.

The morning after this exciting game, I checked the newspaper to find a report on it.

Nothing. Not one sentence devoted to the exciting and hard-fought match played by our guys.

My dad chimed in. "Anything about the game last night?"

"Nope. I guess the editors felt it wasn't even important enough to be mentioned."

Even my dad, who would rather watch many other things before watching soccer, understood the importance of the dramatic US-Mexico showdown

"Those bums!” my dad retorted. “Don't they know that the rivalry is as intense as the Red Sox and Yankees?”

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