By Michelle Ackermann – The latest installment of one of the greatest rivalries in the football world, the U.S. men’s national team vs Mexico, took place last Saturday with El Tri Colores booking their place at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup with a 3-2 win over their northern neighbors.
93,723 fans packed the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles with many more taking in the game on TV or from their favorite bar or restaurant. The Beautiful Game, known for eliminating borders and bringing together fans from all corners of the world, transfixed fans from both nations. And similar to the way players from each team enter the same field, fans of both countries were settling in together to watch.
I made my way downtown to get the fan’s perspective on the US-Mexico rivalry, one that now signifies more than just a border crossing, but one thing that seemed to be on the mind of Mexican fans was the “Trump-movement”. Most people know that there are two ground rules when watching sports, do not talk about religion and more importantly, never talk about politics, but this was inevitable. Prior to the game, a controversial commercial with Trump excerpts aired on television, and the floodgates were opened. Mexicans were quite vocal about their dislike of Trump and with piñatas in the shape of the multi-million dollar mogul; it was surely a topic that I tried to steer clear of.
With more than just pride on the line, fans were expecting a majestic match. The Mexican fans did not know what to expect with interim coach Ricardo Ferretti’s 4-game gig at the helm of El Tri in its 3rd match after conceding a 2-goal lead against Argentina to finish tied 2-2 and requiring a late goal to finish deadlocked with Trinidad and Tobago 3-3. USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann is more settled with a contract through the 2018 FIFA World Cup but with more fans starting to question the methods and results put forward by the former German international.
As kick-off drew closer, the last of the available seats were quickly snatched and as the national anthems began, all music died down as the sound of Himno Nacional de Mexico replaced rock and pop tunes. I found myself highly outnumbered with fans of El Tri all around. After the final note of the Mexican national anthem, I soon learned I was not alone is cheering for the Red, White, and Blue as I heard fans singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ culminating with the final verse, ‘O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!’
At halftime, spirits seemed high as both sides had shown their worth. This was the perfect moment to get to know the fans. One of the men who had belted out the US national anthem was Van, a gentleman from Chicago. Now a Mexican citizen, he still visits the US twice a year.
‘Entertaining’ was the way Van described this showdown. Not a fan of the MLS, Van does enjoy international matchups, and of course the World Cup. “It’s fun to give my friends a hard time”- this in reference to all the Mexicans sitting at his table. He admitted that he didn’t quite think the USMNT has reached their full potential but that they are most definitely getting better.
Tim Howard, who is working to earn back the #1 jersey after taking a yearlong sabbatical from international soccer, is Van’s favorite player. “He just has such a presence and shows absolute control of the game”. No matter whether you are watching such a rivalry on the opposition’s home turf, Van just appreciates the unity that the beautiful game brings to the table.
Sitting next to Van was Guiper, a fan of El Tri hailing from Mexico City. For him, the mere mention of the beautiful game stirred emotions. His first memory was seeing the Mexican national team play was at a very young age while in Canada and remembering a feeling of patriotism washing over him. Thousands of miles away from home, this youngster never felt more proud.
The next recollection was of course World Cup ’86 hosted in Mexico. Guiper’s face lit up as he described a feeling of euphoria that swept the country that summer. But quickly turning back to the game at hand, Guiper was proud that Mexico seemed to play more offensively, and with “mas gusto”, or clearly put, more passion. Proudly wearing his Mexico national jersey, Guiper was ecstatic when Chicharito scored, his absence sorely missed and definitely felt by El Tri fans earlier this year.
A closer look at the crest on the national shirt offers an in-depth look at the roots so deeply engraved in this sport that consumes the nation. Of course, first and foremost the three colors of the flag, red, white and green although the Mexican Football Federation badge on the 2015 black home jersey was monochrome green. In the middle of the crest, one finds an Aztec calendar which is dangling from the feet of an eagle. This dates back to the founding of Mexico City, the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl, told the Aztecs they would see an eagle eating a snake, depicted on the flag, at the location of the future capital city. It turned out this vision would come to be over a lake, which is part of the reason Mexico City experiences earthquakes and the like. The combination of this age-old vision alongside a football gives great insight into a nation that holds its history so dear.
As Mexico secured their spot in the Confederations Cup with a goal in the 118th minute, Mexican fans erupted. At the other end of the spectrum, US fans felt a feeling of desperation and some, even anger.
Post-game, the mood had clearly shifted for American fans. Now, there were many questions that needed to be answered and it all came back to Klinsmann. Decisions old and new, why did he leave Donovan out of the World Cup, Tim Howard not playing against Mexico because he took some time off and now has to earn his way back into the squad; for US fan, Tania, these were just some of her questions. She even joked that some of Klinsmann’s decisions force her to drink.
Another concern was his selection and in her words, “Mexico’s team gelled. It shows in their passing and defense. The USMNT struggled with both.” According to her, this can be blamed on Jurgen’s inconsistent line-ups.
As for the rivalry, Tania, a US citizen, but hailing from Latin America, is an avid fan of this showdown. Sporting her US jersey with pride, she admitted that she felt happy for Mexico while simultaneously sad for the USMNT. She also talked about how the rivalry has become more based on patriotism over the last few years, which can be a great thing as even non-fanatics want to watch a game that offers so much in the way of entertainment and nationalism.
Nick, another US fan had a more analytical approach post-game; US looking rusty, yet another back-four selection that was not synced, Clint Dempsey looking lethargic and Jozy Altidore being ineffective. On the upside, Bobby Wood and DeAndre Yedlin provided energy, pace and drive. Nick seemed a tad frustrated as the question had to be asked, what does this mean for the USMNT and World Cup 2018 qualifications and preparing for Russia 2018? His response, Klinsmann sadly won’t be going anywhere until after 2018 but the biggest loss here is that the US lost a chance to play in a ‘semi-meaningful tournament’ a year before WC 2018. The one thing that Nick took away from this game was just one question; does Klinsmann have too much on his plate?
Kristian, a US citizen of Spanish-Cuban decent, talked about how rivalries tend to draw huge crowds but that the current political environment surely added fuel to the fire. As for Coach Jurgen, his thoughts followed a similar pattern to others; he lacked a system and typical coaching ideas. The game had glimpses of brilliance followed by amateur play. The takeaway: the USMNT should use this as an incentive to be better prepared and use this as a growing period for younger talents and acknowledge that big-hitters like Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and Jermaine Jones will not solve all the problems the team currently faces. According to Kris, the team has tremendous potential to be more than it is, but using figure-head coaches is not the way to go about it.
No matter what side of the border you find yourself on, this is one rivalry sure to keep going as long as the earth keeps spinning…what are your thoughts on the match? Share it with us!