Last Thursday I finally made a decision to pull the trigger on buying a ticket to the U.S. – Mexico World Cup Qualifier in Columbus. I had gone back-and-forth all week and it finally dawned on me that I’d probably regret not going to another ‘dos a cero’ match (oops…), much to the chagrin of my wallet. Friday morning I loaded up the CR-V with my usual superstitious U.S. Soccer gear (sans my American flag socks- a decision I’d come to regret…), my camera, a few beverages, and hit the asphalt east towards Ohio.
Friday’s game was the first U.S. – Mexico World Cup Qualifier I’ve attended in-person and the second time I’ve seen the two countries play each other. The first of which was another momentous occasion – Jurgen Klinsmann’s first at the helm of our country’s national team. A lot has changed since the 1-1 draw on August 10th, 2011, both on the team itself and within the country the players represent. I thought about that a lot on my 5.5-hour drive – mostly because Indiana and Ohio are just so incredibly boring.
I got to MAPFRE Stadium around 3:00pm and drank my beverages while I wandered around the parking lots to get a pulse of the [U.S. Soccer] nation. Mexico fans were scattered around the parking lot and got the friendly and jovial ribbing you’d expect before a matchup of this magnitude between the two rivals. I made my way over to FanHQ to check on sponsor activations. Coca-Cola, Continental Tire, Powerade, and Volpi were all there. Powerade seemed to draw the biggest amount of attention with the robo-keeper. Our robot overlords will be happy to know that their prized robo-keeper was not beat while I was there (we could have used him between the pipes…).
I left FanHQ with a few giveaways in-hand, clear eyes, and a full heart – time to go into the stadium. I’ll skip over talk of the game because you probably know what happened, but what’s usually as much fun as the games themselves are the stories you hear from the people you meet. Riding solo to games gives you a lot of freedom to talk to random people – something I enjoy way more than I should.
In the parking lot I spent an hour or so with a group of 30 people whose local Cincinnati bar sponsored a bus trip to the game. I juggled with Cincinnatians, Lexingtonians (KY), and a Liverpudlian who has all but given up on the English National Team (smart man). In the stadium, the group of guys to my right had driven down from Syracuse that morning and before the game we shared stories about games we’d been to, things we’ve seen, what’s next, etc. The guys to my left traveled in from Raleigh. Floridians were in front of me. Montanans, South Dakotans, Pennsylvanians (woo!), Californians, and the list goes on.
For as much fun and excitement a 90-minute game provides, it’s the memories of what happens outside those 90 minutes that are more meaningful to me. Traveling to games over the years has given me an understanding of American soccer fandom and the best pulse of the nation I could ask for, even more so in the wake of the Presidential election. We may have lost the game on Friday, but when fans from two culturally and politically-connected countries and a million different backgrounds can come together and celebrate and enjoy the beautiful game, we all win.