Cups flying through the air after either teams score, a match finishing with both teams down a man, skirmishes in the stands and the most enjoyable match of soccer in several months. Welcome to the Americas.
The global audience saw Mexico’s 3-1 win against Uruguay as “absolutely mad.” We saw it as another day of soccer in the Americas.
An on-fire @miseleccionmx beat @Uruguay in dominant fashion in the @CA2016: https://t.co/wcScZ2DGwv pic.twitter.com/VS1g5Q9DvC
In the United States, the number of Mexican-Americans who are passionate about their team – and willing to pay the ticket prices set by tournament organizers – will outnumber that of any other group of fans. Add in the Mexicans who have a short trip to Mexico’s group stage matches from states like Chihuahua, Sonora and Baja California, and there’s no doubt El Tri are the home team this summer.
It happens nearly every match that Mexico plays. The fact that websites like this one devote significant space to covering the Mexico team in English speaks to both how tightly Mexico fans grab on to their team and to how many supporters of the side grew up in the U.S., learning to read in English, not Spanish, and preferring their content arrive packaged in that language. Despite the criticism for “partidos moleros” pitting an under-strength Mexico against a national team side seemingly picked by spinning the globe and pointing the finger (who could forget this year’s classic against Senegal? Oh, you had?), fans continue to buy tickets in droves.
And at those matches, there is some bad behavior. There are the showers given to opposing players after a goal or when they’re attempting a corner kick. There are chants of a word that LGBT groups say is offensive and have asked fans to stop yelling. There is the occasional macho man who takes it upon himself to try and remove an opposing fan from his section, or sometimes even instigate a fight with a fellow Mexican fan.
There’s no excuse for these actions, and while the winds of change are blowing, they’re more of a gentle breeze than a gust.
The Mexican federation, organized fan groups and national team sponsors were late to the game but are beginning campaigns to eradicate the chant. The cup throwing at players is unacceptable, but is not always cast in the right light. Often visiting journalists complain that they’ve been targeted by a cup of beer during a U.S. national team match in Mexico’s famed Estadio Azteca. The truth is, fans in the Azteca – and in other Mexican stadiums – launch their beverages in the air to celebrate any time their side scores a goal, whether its a midweek Club America game or the most important qualifier Mexico can play. Security at the University of Phoenix Stadium responded quickly and had several men in handcuffs after one fight that happened just after Uruguay’s equalizer Sunday.
Is it a little different than the Euros? Absolutely. But homophobia, violence and racism aren’t exactly unheard of across the Atlantic either. The organization is where things are a bit lacking. Even after groups seen as more regimented took over, there were plenty of issues with Sunday’s match. Namely, the wrong national anthem was played for Uruguay – an embarrassing gaffe in an era where you can type “Uruguay national anthem” into Spotify or Youtube and get the proper song. Media regulations have been unclear, prompting some of the region’s most prominent reporters to explain to their audience why they weren’t getting the coverage they’ve become accustomed to. Schedules are more of a suggestion than something locked in stone.
The soccer itself? Well, as we saw Sunday, it’s not bad at all.
Tabarez admits @miseleccionmx deserved win: https://t.co/wv46rkIaQ8 pic.twitter.com/dwfV9krTJ6
Plenty of matches in the Americas, whether it be in the Copa Libertadores or CONCACAF Champions League on down to the Costa Rican or Honduran domestic leagues, end with players getting sent off. Sometimes it’s down to a referee not wanting to lose control of the game, and in the process making a mockery of it.
Sunday it looked like it could be attributed to the intensity of the match. Usually level-headed Andres Guardado was lucky to stay on the field after his 25th-minute late tackle earned him a yellow card instead of a red. Matias Vecino put his team in a hole with his sending off before the half, though Uruguay came out stronger after the break.
Aside from all the madness, we had the best match of the Copa thus far, with both teams playing wide open soccer. Both Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio and Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez are students of the game. The tactics were fascinating as each manager adjusted to the other’s quirky decisions. Mexico’s wing play was excellent to watch, with quick, technical wingers getting forward and putting life into Osorio’s attack. Tabarez had to do something despite being down a man and found a way to neutralize Mexico and Diego Godin got on the board with a header. In the end, a wily veteran and an up and comer made the difference, and Mexico escaped with its long unbeaten streak in tact.
We escaped with a thrilling night of soccer, one that at times looked like it would be marred by incidents off the pitch but ended up being about the game. Soccer in the Americas – and specifically has its warts, but it still has so much beauty. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours.
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