Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, July 4, 2013 | 1 p.m.
It would have been a knee-jerk reaction to write what I was feeling Wednesday night when leaving Sam Boyd Stadium.
After all, most of us witnessing the chaos before and after an exhibition soccer game between heated Mexican rivals felt cheated. Some of us also felt threatened.
The America-Chivas game was supposed to be a springboard to bigger and better soccer events in Las Vegas, but turned out to be an absolute disaster thanks to idiotic actions from a few groups of fans. They might have ruined any chance of big-time soccer returning.
I would have never written this last night: The group of fans responsible for a pregame and postgame fights that sent at least 10 to the hospital and forced the game to end prematurely isn't a good indication of the Hispanic soccer community in Las Vegas.
Lost in the fights and other unacceptable behavior were the fans who attended the game for the right reasons. Their passion for soccer is unquestioned and, when directed properly, creates a great game-day environment. They sung, chanted, waved flags and had good, clean fun.
There were fathers and sons, families and non-Hispanic fans. That’s the group of people lost in the aftermath — they deserve more opportunities locally to enjoy the world’s most popular game.
But before there are even talks to try this again — yes, I said it, again — security needs to be immediately addressed. If Las Vegas wants to be considered a major league town, we can’t have rookie-level security crews and strategies.
While Wednesday night’s mess is a black eye that won’t soon go away, it might have been the best thing that could happen for Las Vegas in its mission to lure marquee events to our community. Officials needs to use this as a blueprint on how to handle enormous crowds.
A pregame fight in the parking lot involving about 100 fans sent at least six to the hospital and put other innocent fans at risk; a postgame fight spilled onto the field, forcing officials to stop the game with minutes remaining.
If a fan runs onto the field at Sam Boyd during a UNLV football game, the rent-a-cop security guards bring down the usual shirtless and drunken fan within seconds. They love getting the chance to tackle someone into the turf, or at least it looks that way.
But when four fans trickled onto the field Wednesday after Chivas scored the game’s lone goal with about four minutes to play, nobody tried to stop them. They shook hands with players in starting a nasty trend. Soon, more than 100 were on the field and the game was quickly called. One fan got his head kicked in; others had bottles tossed in their direction.
And, get this: With about five minutes remaining in the game, fans sitting near the top of the west part of the stadium set off fireworks. Yes, fans got fireworks into the stadium. I was going to write, fans managed to get fireworks into the stadium, then received a phone call from Vince Garate, a member of U.S. soccer fan club American Outlaws.
As he explains, the security was a joke.
“There was no pat-down or metal detectors to get into the game,” Garate said. “Just show your ticket and you get in. So I walked back to my car and got three glass bottles of liquor, put them in my pocket and walked right back in.”
He wasn’t the only one.
“Sam Boyd Stadium is to blame for everything that happened. Even the people behind me noticed and brought in bottles of beer without being searched.”
There’s no excuse for that lack of security entering a venue, especially months after the Boston Marathon bombing. I assumed thorough searching of belongings before entering a stadium was the norm. That lack of planning put thousands of innocent people in harm's way, especially Chivas midfielder Giovani Casillas. After scoring the winning goal, he had to dodge bottles flying onto the field from the stands. I wonder how fans got bottles to throw?
We’re lucky the night only included a few trips to the hospital — it could have been worse.
The on-field security provided wasn’t from professionals, it was game-day workers with little training. They were given a yellow shirt, and judging by the events of the night, few directions. Moving forward, organizers need to realize the crowd expected to attend their events — America-Chivas is one of sports' ugliest rivalries, and their fans hate each other. They likely have little remorse for fighting and would do it again if they could.
Maybe organizers should have reached out to Herculez Gomez, the Mexican-American who grew up playing in Las Vegas youth league and is one of top strikers in Mexico professional soccer. He’s also part of the United States national team.
“Can happen when people (promoters) don’t take the correct measures to ensure public safety,” he tweeted. “Maybe some homework on the teams you bring … and the fans they attract … No excuse for the idiots that caused the ruckus and ruined it for the rest. These people don’t belong in the game.”
But how do we keep them out? Or under control?
That’s a challenge promoters will have in bringing mega-events back to our town. Don’t let what happened Wednesday curb your enthusiasm for soccer — it could thrive in our town if done right. If done safely.