Driving toward the Alamodome before the soccer game between Mexico and the U.S. on Wednesday, still miles from the stadium and hours away from the match, I began to feel the rivalry. Flags of both countries proudly waved, and swarms of fans decked out in their team’s colors eagerly approached the sold-out Alamodome.
As soon as it was announced that these two teams would play a “friendly” here in San Antonio (meaning a game that wouldn’t count in any standings), I knew that it would be a huge sporting event for a city hoping to welcome a Major League Soccer franchise. It was also an important game to me, personally.
I was born in Mexico City but raised in San Antonio. When Mexico plays the U.S., it is always a huge game for my family since we are really on both sides. We know how important this game is for both countries.
At the press conference the day before the game, United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. veteran Kyle Beckerman fielded questions about the upcoming game match. Both Beckerman and Klinsmann made it very clear that this was more than just a friendly.
“It’s like a game in New York City under the bright lights,” Beckerman said. “It brings the media out. Everything’s a bit highlighted. It’s just a special game. It really is. It brings out the best in both countries, [which] seems to make it an exciting game no matter what.”
Beckerman’s statement couldn’t have been truer. Before the game, I decided to walk around the concourse to get a feel for the crowd. I was amazed. Not one minute went by without chants breaking out. If a “U-S-A” chorus began, it was quickly answered with a “ME-XI-CO” chant. Horns, maracas, drums, and anything that emitted noise made the Alamodome an electric environment.
“The history goes way back,” said U.S. fan Zach Montana. “We don’t really like each other, but deep down we have to. We’re neighbors, so it’s going to be fun to see everyone riled up.”
Said Mexico fan and San Antonio resident Miguel Martinez, “When these two teams meet, they go face to face. It’s always very fun.”
As kickoff drew closer, I walked up to my seat in the press box. There was a list with assigned seating for the more than 60 media members. I never could have imagined covering such an important game as a Kid Reporter.
After a long but fun pregame, it was finally time for the game to begin! At halftime, the game was tied 0–0. But in the second half, the U.S. came out firing.
Stanford University sophomore Jordan Morris (yes, he’s still in college) opened the scoring with a goal in the 49th minute. Juan Agudelo followed up with a goal in the 65th minute, making the final score 2–0.
The United States came out on top for the sixth consecutive time against Mexico. Mexican coach Miguel Herrera wasn’t too happy with the outcome, but he also wasn’t worried.
During the game, Herrera was still trying out players to see who will play this summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Mexico and the U.S. have met in three of the last four Gold Cup finals (the U.S. is 1–2 in those games) to see who will advance to the Confederations Cup against other champion nations.
“We will see them again in the Gold Cup final and see what happens,” said Herrera.
Being bilingual, I was able to converse in Spanish with two soccer legends from Mexico, Claudio Suarez and Alberto Garcia Aspe, who are now analysts for Fox Deportes. Both of them talked about the importance of the rivalry and about how the growth of soccer in the U.S. has fueled it even more.
“It’s a classic rivalry, and you want to win no matter what,” said Aspe. “Before, Mexico dominated and it wasn’t a huge rivalry, but with the growth of support for soccer here and the MLS becoming better, it has made these games better.”
Added Suarez, “Certainly the MLS growing and improving so much has greatly helped this rivalry and has made this rivalry more important. Just because this is a friendly, doesn’t mean you don’t want to win.”
In a city like San Antonio, which has a high Mexican population, it was no surprise that the crowd was overwhelmingly pro Mexico. San Antonio has 473,000 Mexican residents, or 41 percent of the population. Fans of Mexico made up around 60 percent of the crowd on Wednesday. The U.S. fans did show up loud and proud, though, indicating the growth soccer has enjoyed in the United States.
The announced attendance of 64,369 for a friendly made a huge statement for a city hoping for an MLS team. San Antonio already has a professional soccer team, the Scorpions, who play in the lesser-known North American Soccer League. Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman has led the effort to put together a bid to convince MLS to award a team to San Antonio in the near future.
This was an amazing experience that I will never forget: witnessing one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports, in a city crazy for soccer.
Photos: Darren Abate/AP (game, fans), Brian Yancelson (interview)