Anyone who has attended an international soccer match involving Mexico in the United States knows that fans of El Tri are going to almost always make up the majority. That was certainly the case on Sunday night in Glendale, Arizona, where Mexico took a 3-1 win over Uruguay, but I wanted to find out more about a few of the people in attendance, specifically, where the supporters come from, since no one experience tells the whole tale.
Venturing boldly into the throngs on the main concourse of the stadium an hour before kickoff, I was immediately struck by an intrepid band of Uruguay supporters. The group was at the center of what reminded me of a good old-fashioned dance-off (or schoolyard fight). You know. A hundred or so onlookers in a tight circle around the point of interest, with loud and often synchronized chants of approval, or in this case, good-natured derision.
The Uruguayans were apparently attempting to sing a song about their team, and were absolutely surrounded by Mexico fans who, at the conclusion of the Uruguay song, booed loudly and firmly, before breaking into an ear-splitting song of their own. (This tune became familiar to me by the end of the night, but do not ask me to transcribe the words in these pages.)
After both sides had had their fun and many fans had moved on in search of seats and refreshments, I knew I had to shake the hands of these brave Uruguay supporters, who were extremely excited to get their picture taken by someone wearing an official-looking lanyard.
I only noticed later the Argentina scarf and kits, which struck me as both odd (aren't those countries rivals akin to the US and Mexico?) and kind of awesome. Perhaps this was some sort of brothers-in-arms approach to countering the Mexico support. I'll never know.
I ran into some rare fans in neutral colors and had a great chat with them. This father-son duo lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is taking in as much Copa America Centenario as possible in part because of their support for the Chilean national team. The younger of the two, Javier, told me, "having this tournament in Phoenix and Glendale is a big opportunity for us." His father, Cristian, added, "I love soccer; I've loved it for all my life, so just being here, the opportunity to watch a game like this, in the (Copa) America Centenario is just awesome, so this is why I'm here." They are apparently also traveling to see Chile play in California. That's dedication.
I was having a blast at this point, and decided to meet some Mexico supporters. So, I refocused and went in search of another unsuspecting interview candidate.
Near a large promotional banner that was being used as a backdrop for a steady stream of fans, I offered to take a picture of a father and son in Mexico kits who had been taking turns snapping photos of each other. I felt like I was on one of my many family vacations taking a picture of that couple from Helsinki marveling at the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, knowing they would pay it forward. After getting a decent shot of the gentlemen, I swooped for a chat. I would have been fine doing this minimalist interview in Spanish (minimalist being an excellent word to describe my abilities in the language), but the father, Manny, offered his English. Great guy.
Manny let me know that he has lived in Phoenix for 16 years, and he and his son Antonio are particularly big fans of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. I asked if he had enjoyed the atmosphere around the stadium and the whole Copa experience, and he responded by telling me that Mexico has probably the second or third best team in the tournament, but could win it all. Fair enough. I agree.
I then ran into a sharp-looking family of Uruguay supporters who had flown into Phoenix from Raleigh, North Carolina, where they have lived for 15 years. Antonella and her brother Max agreed that it's much too hot in Phoenix to do anything outside - which is correct - but they were excited for the game, which their dad rightly pointed out is the most important one in the group. Asked about the experience of being a traveling supporter, Antonella simply said, "It's been pretty amazing; I think it sucks that there are so many more Mexico (supporters) than there is Uruguay." I assured her that matches between Mexico and the US at University of Phoenix Stadium have had similar turnouts. It didn't help.
Looking at the clock and coming dangerously close to kickoff, I decided that I'd better not let my press area meal ticket go to waste (who knows what they do with the food if I don't eat it?), so I made my way back towards the stairs. It was then that I noticed Armando. "This is the guy," I thought. Standing alone near a railing that overlooks the field, texting furiously in his green Mexico jersey and three-foot wide sombrero, was my last interview of the night - no, I didn't get to talk to Chicharito, and yes, I'm sad.
I sallied up to Armando who, probably sensing that I was not here to sell him beer, discreetly looked around and let me know that he didn't speak English. "No problem," I soothed, in perfect Spanish. Armando sighed, and agreed to my interview. He traveled to Phoenix with friends, from Sinaloa in Mexico. Finally, I had met someone who had made the trip from a country on the field! We chatted briefly about his visit to Arizona (no plans outside the match except drinking, that's honest), and the fact that he is a lonely Club America supporter in a state where Dorados are the draw. Understandable, Armando. Totally understandable.
Making my way up to my seat, I was glad to have a slightly better understanding of the types of fans in attendance, but it in no way made up for the shower of beer I would later suffer following the Rafa Marquez goal. Oh well. It's all part of the experience.