Wednesday, July 3, 2013 | 2 a.m.
They chanted the entire game, straddling the line between confident and cocky with the assumption their soccer team was better than mine.
They drank beer after beer, becoming louder as the game wore on. It was only a matter of time before their passion would be rewarded with a goal.
Then, Landon Donovan silenced the crowd. Well, except for me.
As soon as Donovan scored for the Americans, I jumped on the top of my seat in the ballroom at the Orleans to celebrate. The United States was minutes away from making history in the 2002 World Cup and I, sick of those loud-and-proud fans, could finally make some noise of my own.
Almost immediately, I felt threatened. Seconds later, beer was headed in my direction.
The ballroom was packed that early morning with thousands of Mexican soccer fans — there were just a few of us cheering for the red, white and blue.
I was instructed by casino officials that it would be safer to watch the remainder of game in another part of the property, which seemed like a great alternative to the beer shower I narrowly avoided. The United States went on to win 2-0 in one of the national team’s most significant wins, advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals and creating a funeral-like mood with the Mexican fans at the casino.
As the game painfully ended, flocks of fans sadly headed home, the Mexican flags draped over their shoulders, in overwhelming disappointment. They were crushed.
I knew Mexicans were passionate about their soccer, but didn’t realize how important the sport was to them, especially those living in Las Vegas. The valley is home to many Mexican immigrants who desperately miss their country. Soccer is one way to feel like they are back home, making those obnoxious chants and threatening looks almost acceptable.
Being homesick is an awful feeling. Escaping the pain, even if it’s only for a two-hour soccer game, is one of the beautiful things about soccer.
On Wednesday, the same group of fans will be treated to a soccer game of much significance in their adoptive hometown. "El Super Clasico" at Sam Boyd Stadium will feature two of Mexico’s most popular club teams when Club America of Mexico City takes on Club Deportivo Guadalajara, or Chivas. Organizers expect nearly 30,000 fans for a rivalry game of much importance — on the field and in the stands.
Sure, this is a preseason game for the upcoming Apertura 2013 season, but whenever America and Chivas square off, it’s a battle. Think Yankees-Red Sox or Ohio State-Michigan — the one game each season, no matter where each team is in the standings, that can make or break the year. It’s a game that’s circled on the calender when the schedule is released.
That’s how local Mexicans feel about "El Super Clasico," which is what games between the two are referred to. For some, their immigration status won’t allow them to travel back to Mexico, meaning an appearance by their beloved fútbol team in Las Vegas is that rare occurrence worth dipping into their savings to be part of. Tickets range from $28 to $128, and there’s really not a bad seat at Sam Boyd Stadium, unlike the 105,000-seat Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
The night will resemble one of those midweek evenings in Mexico — street vendors selling authentic food, fans drinking more than their share of Corona and Budweiser, everyone wearing gear from their team, and plenty of memories to be made.
I’ll be there to get a new sports experience, soaking in one of sport’s great rivalries and seeing a group of people so prevalent in my community experiencing their culture. This time, I’ll avoid getting involved in the not-so-friendly chanting.