Zach Johnson
Thursday June 16th, 2016

Javo Velasco came to support Mexico in Monday night’s Copa América game against Venezuela in Houston, his hometown. He wore a Mexico jersey and wrestling mask in honor of his team.

“Man, I love it. Great experience,” said Velasco when asked about what it means to see the Copa tournament in the United States. “It’s my first time at an international match. It’s good. El Tri (the nickname for Mexico’s national team) is going to take it all.”

The Copa América, which is Spanish for America Cup, is taking place in 10 cities across the U.S. It’s the first time in the 100-year history of the tournament that it has been held outside of South America; 15 of the 16 teams come from South and Central America.

Thousands of local and international fans have been able to see top-level soccer in the U.S. Some of the most famous players in the world, such as Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, have been playing in American cities including Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia.

The fans in attendance have been passionate. Many come dressed in the colors that represent the country they support. The stadiums have been filled with fans waving flags, playing horns, and sporting masks or face paint.

Outside the stadiums, fans can be seen dancing, playing drums, and having fun with their families. Some fans are even enjoying the traditional food of the team playing. In Houston, on the night Mexico took on Venezuela, the Mexican restaurant near the stadium was packed with fans fueling up before the game.

For U.S. men’s national soccer team fans, this tournament has provided a chance to see their team play at home against some of the best teams and players in the world. For fans with family ties to South and Central American countries, this has been an unexpected opportunity to see their favorite teams play inside the United States.

More Than Just a Team

Soccer, or fútbol, has a long tradition as part of the Latino culture.

According to YouGov Research, more than 25% of Americans who identify as Latino or Hispanic say that soccer is their favorite sport to watch.

Soccer is more than a sport to many Latinos in the United States. It is a way to connect to the countries and cultures of their families. When Havas Sports & Entertainment surveyed fans across the country, they found that Latino soccer fans are most likely to support the team of the country of their parents or grandparents. They also found that Latinos in the U.S. say that soccer is a part of who they are and a way for them to be closer to their families.

Ray Alvera of Houston brought his family to the Copa to celebrate the birthday of his oldest son, Rolando. They were also there to cheer on Mexico.

When asked about the importance of having the Copa in the United States, Alvera said, “It’s exhilarating. I mean, it is one thing to watch it at home on TV. But when it is here, and you are here in person, there is nothing like it.”

“For us, it’s our first ever Copa, so it’s a once in a lifetime experience,” added Norma Alvera.

Some fans of the Mexican national team even flew into the United States from Mexico to watch the action. “It’s our team,” said Javier Castillo, who traveled from Mexico City with three of his friends. “We need to be where they are to support them. It’s the biggest competition in the world.”

The Mexico fans in Houston endured a nail-biter on Monday night during the Venezuela game. In the 10th minute, Venezuela’s Jose Manuel Velazquez scored a beautiful goal using a scissor kick, putting Venezuela ahead, 1–0.

But in the 80th minute, Mexico’s Jesus Manuel “Tecatito” Corona smoothly dribbled around six defenders and fired the ball past Venezuela keeper Dani Hernandez to tie the score. The game ended with a 1–1 draw, resulting in Mexico winning Group C.

Corona spoke to reporters after the game about his stunning goal. “I’ve done it as a kid, but to pull it off in this kind of game, I’m just happy,” he said.

The fans in Houston supporting Corona’s team were definitely happy too.

Photos (from top): Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images; Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images; Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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