La Raza's edge
The best fans in America don't root for an American team
This story appears in the June 27, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
They're doing the wave in Seattle, and whether you think the classic exercise in fanimation originated here, as every Washington native does, or in Mexico, as most of the rest of the world believes, this one really is a Mexican Wave. Fifty thousand supporters of Mexico's national soccer team -- in sombreros, Aztec headdresses, wrestling masks and insect costumes -- have brought their unique shade of green to the Emerald City. The Pacific Northwest isn't typically a Mexican tour stop, so for many who have gathered at Qwest Field for the team's Gold Cup warmup with Ecuador, it's the first chance to see their beloved "El Tricolor" in person. The team struggles to an uninspired 1-1 draw, but the El Tri crowd is in form. Then again, it always is.
Joyous, spontaneous, disorganized yet perfectly in unison -- the Mexican Wave is the perfect metaphor for the millions of north-of-the-border followers of El Tri. "Soccer is our main sport, and the Mexican team is our team," says Oscar Quiroz of Vancouver, Wash., as he marches outside the stadium before the match alongside a mélange of fans similarly draped in Mexican flags. "We support it 100 percent."
Likewise, we will take this opportunity to champion Mexico's displaced faithful as the best fans in America. If the scenes in Seattle are any indication, there's no such thing as a casual Mexico fan. All across the country, El Tri devotees like Quiroz flock to U.S. football stadiums at least five times a year to support an annual tour of friendlies managed by Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the marketing arm of Major League Soccer. These exhibitions generate the sports-festival atmosphere of a Final Four, the prideful party vibe of a big-city ethnic parade and the celeb idolatry of a Justin Bieber concert. Where else in the world could you find a national team's fans selling out stadiums in the country of its No. 1 rival?
Yet no matter how many hotel rooms it fills or cities it marches through, the massive Mexican-American fan base is almost always invisible to the U.S. public. Other than stadium owners, that is. Whom did Jerry Jones book to headline the inaugural sporting event at Cowboys Stadium? Mexico, which set a soccer attendance record in Texas in its 2009 Gold Cup quarterfinal against Haiti. And guess who kicked off the first full event at New Meadowlands Stadium the following year? Mexico again, in a friendly against Ecuador that was attended by 77,705 fans.
If you book El Tricolor, they will come.
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ESPN The Magazine: June 27, 2011