Monday, October 27, 2008

Chivas-America: Recap

Editor's note: I'm writing on a deadline, trying to get a full report of the game out while it's still fresh. Please forgive the inevitable typos of my rush.

For the last few weeks now I’ve been bantering with my host family dad about Mexican soccer. He’s a taxista (taxi driver), and I’m pretty sure he’s a Cruz Azul fan, from the little decorations hanging from his taxi’s rearview mirror. He was surprised we had been to a couple of Pumas games already. I commented on how the América-Pumas game was sold out a few weeks back. “Oh, of course,” he said (or I think he said – I’m doing my best with the Spanish here), “and that game is muy peligroso – very dangerous.” But the most dangerous game of all, he said, is the Chivas-América game. “Muy, muy peligroso...”

So you can guess how much fun it was to reveal to him that I was going to the Chivas-América game yesterday. My host mom put her head in her hands and lamented our plans. “Mateo, Mateo…” she said pitifully, shaking her head, as if I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But my host dad seemed impressed. On my way out Saturday afternoon, he called out to “enjoy the Chivas-América game!” “Si, si,” I said. “Y vamanos Chivas…o América?” I put my hands in the air, as if to weigh which team I ought to root for, seeing if he would give away his loyalties. “Oh, Chivas,” he said, grinning. “América es muy fresa.”

Fresa, which literally means “strawberry,” is a bit of Mexican slang used to describe sort of young rich Mexican kids, yuppies, that sort of thing. (It's kind of like how White Sox fans might describe Cubs fans.) Anyway, I’m already a fledgling Chivas fan (we’re moving to Guadalajara in 2 months!), so I’ve been repeating this América es muy fresa thing ad nauseum. See, I am learning Spanish, one slang word at a time...


On Sunday we met the other game attendees not far from our neighborhood and caught a charter bus south to lunch, then to the stadium. There were at least 30 of us gringos, nearly all of us Fulbright awardees, accompanied by a couple of kids and a few freeloading spouses like me. Most weren’t talking about the game – these are graduate students, after all – but there was one dude decked out in a bright yellow América jersey. (Coolest thing about América jerseys – one of the sleeves has the outlines of a wing on it, showing that they’re the Aguilas, Eagles.) Transport felt a lot like a grade school field trip, actually – pile onto a charter bus that drops you off in front of wherever you’re going.

And of course, where we were going was Estadio Azteca. Now, I love the Pumas stadium because it’s close and has a cool Diego Rivera mural and looks kind of like a volcano. But Estadio Azteca dwarfs it by far, towering into the air in concave steel, looking like smoke coming out of the volcano. (Plus, Estadio Azteca features an Alexander Calder scultpure outside it!) We walk over the bridge to the stadium – like walking the bridge to Miller Park in Milwaukee – and are, of course, patted down by riot police. Oddly, the security pat-down is not nearly as intense as at the last Pumas game…maybe it’s the section we’re sitting in. We file into the stadium, and it’s true, we’re not in the crazy fan section. Instead they file us into the 10th row from the field, just to the left of the goalie box. INCREDIBLE.

We’re an hour early for the game, but the stadium is already filling up. From the inside Estadio Azteca is even bigger. It’s at least three times the size of Estadio Olimpico Universitario, where the Pumas play. Look, I’m used to Wrigley Field, alright? I haven’t been to many American football games outside of East Lansing, Michigan. So I am impressed. I’m really impressed. It’s like we’re at the bottom of this huge towering steel bowl; it is nothing short of overwhelming. The noise level is already incredible, and it’s increasing as more fans continue filling the stadium. I love it.

The players come out to begin warming up, and the crowd erupts for the first time. The goalie for América is doing drills, lying down on the ground and rolling from side to side, blocking practice shots his teammates kick at him. I clap my free applaudadores – thundersticks – together, to burn off some excitement.

After awhile there are some pregame presentations. They bring out Guillermo Perez, one of the Mexican Olympic gold medalists in jujitsu this year – two of Mexico’s three 2008 gold medals were in martial arts. They give him a weird framed poster featuring pictures of him and Club América logos in a checkerboard design, and a Club América jersey. Everyone claps politely, even the Chivas fans. Then they bring out Pelé. Yes, that Pelé. I told you this was the Superclasico, right? Pelé says something about how some of his favorite soccer moments were here in Mexico (the Estadio Azteca has hosted two World Cups, in 1970 and 1986) and wishes both teams luck. No Club América jersey this time – way to remain neutral, Pelé! (Also, I would like to take this moment to remind myself that I have now seen Pelé in person. Nope, still can’t believe it.)

Finally it is time for the game to start. By now the stadium is full its brim, and the sun is beginning to go down. First the Club América players run out through giant inflatable loaves of bread. Sigh. Both teams are sponsored by Bimbo, the biggest bread company in Mexico, and feature big Bimbo logos on the front of their jerseys. I hate Bimbo because of its insufferable mascot, an overly cutesy teddy bear with eyelashes, and because its bread is uber-processed and really not very good. But I digress.

As I was saying, the Club América players run out through the inflatable loaves of bread, and there are huge, HUGE cheers. The stadium is awash in the bright yellow of Club América.

But then the Chivas run out of their giant loaf of bread. The roar from the crowd is deafening. Are these cheers actually louder? This is Club América’s home turf! We look around at the crowd. The stadium is awash in bright yellow, to be sure, but there is a hearty sprinkling of red and white stripes – the classic Chivas jersey – everywhere. And the Chivas fan section, at one end of the stadium, is nothing but red and white, not a spot of yellow anywhere. Chivas fans, I am impressed. (I think this is what it must be like to go to a Cubs game at Miller Park…)

But, lest you think the Chivas fans will drown out the América fans, Estadio Azteca has a secret weapon – their sound system. Anytime Chivas fans begin to get loud, the stadium begins blaring the Club América theme song. This theme song is hilariously bad. It begins like the White Stripes’ “The Hardest Button to Button,” with an awesome beat so you think it’s going to be good, and then suddenly someone who sounds uncannily like Neal Diamond begins singing a song that sounds a lot like that Neil Diamond song “they’re coming to America…” The loudspeaker plays the chorus: “AaaaameRIca” and the fans respond with a shout: “Aguilas!” You can listen to an excerpt from the song here.

Play begins. It is dazzling. I remember watching a Chicago Fire game earlier this year in which Cuauhtemoc Blanco (who actually played his whole career with Club América – there are still a lot of #10 Blanco jerseys in the stadium today) did this sick move with his feet, spinning around a defender like no one else on the field did, or could. It was easily the best play of that game. But this game was like two teams made up of Cuauhtemoc Blancos. There were sweet moves everywhere, the speed was incredible, players flying by each other, stealing the ball back and forth. Now, I should be clear: both Guadalajara and Club América are not exactly at the top of the Mexican leagues this year. And in the global soccer world, the Mexican leagues are not considered as good as European ones. So maybe it was our closeness to the action, maybe it was the intensity of El Superclasico, with a deafening crowd cheering both sides on, maybe I’m just not used to really good soccer. But I was dazzled. This is when soccer is fun to watch.

The Chivas score first. The red-and-white fans erupt, and their players jump all over each other in celebration. The yellow-clad América fans sit down, arms folded, in disgust. Momentum gained, the Chivas turn up the aggressiveness. They seem to be everywhere. By contrast, América looks sluggish.

Soon, though, América revives, and puts the Chivas on the ropes. They score, sending both teams to halftime at a 1-1 tie.

Halftime is a lot like the Pumas game halftimes, except multiplied a few times. There are the giant inflatable advertisements and giant inflatable costumed mascots (including one of that stupid Bimbo bear!). There are no team marching bands or team cheerleaders; instead there is a Bimbo bread company marching band, and then there are parades of women in either skin-tight wetsuit-like things (think Mystique from the X-Men movies) or in little bikinis, each carrying signs advertising for Corona, or Coca-Cola, or Bimbo, etc, etc, etc. The giant video screens in the stadium continue to show close-ups of them. Chris is horrified.

Finally halftime ends (worst…halftime show…ever) and play begins again. The stadium erupts, of course, with cheers as both teams run out onto the field, through their respective inflatable bread loaves. By this point the sun has gone down completely, and blinding stadium lights illuminate the field.

But now both teams are sluggish. América somehow gets 7 or 8 corner kicks on the Chivas, but can’t score. For about twenty minutes the game gets rather boring. We take turns finding the restroom. I begin to resign myself to the increasingly likely fact that this game is going to end in a 1-1 tie. In futbol, this is possible. (I know it is possible because the Pumas have now tied two weeks in a row, all but killing their chances for the postseason.) I hate ties. When a game ends in a tie, everyone goes home unhappy.

Suddenly bright red flares light up in the Chivas’ fan section, first one, then another, then there are six or seven of them scattered throughout. Then the Chivas fans start shooting off their own fireworks into the air – what?! You brought your own fireworks?? Man, you guys are diehards!! Incredibly, they then start dropping the flares onto the América fans below them. In the distance you see the burning flare make an arc, then drop into a crowd of people who all jump up like a splash of water and then have to stamp out the fire. (Have I mentioned that soccer fans are nuts?)

I don’t know what kind of black magic this is but it works. Within five minutes of the flares lighting up in their fan section, the Chivas score! The ball flies through the goal frame nearest our seats, stretching out the back of the net in triumph. We leap out of our seats involuntarily along with a sea of red-and-white Chivas fans, whose cheers finally drown out the América fans once and for all. The Chivas have their own cheer, which is impossibly simple. You just sing the “Ole, ole, ole, ole” song, but the fifth and sixth ole’s are “Chivas, Chivas!” I sing this over and over and over and over…

The game is nearly over, but now we are suddenly in “extra time.” This is one of the things I have yet to understand about soccer. There is always extra time, I think to make up for any delays in the game due to players lying down injured, etc. There’s a one minute delay at some point, so they add on one minute at the end. But here’s the thing: they don’t actually tell you how much time they are adding on. There’s no game clock during extra time. It’s like overtime, except you don’t know when overtime is going to end. So everyone just plays frantically, I bite my nails hoping the Chivas can hold on, and the extra time just keeps going on and on interminably, with no end in sight…it’s almost too much to take! Finally the horn blares, the Chivas leap into the air, the América players walk to the sidelines, dejected, the Chivas players take a victory lap and a curtain call, the lights come on, it is over. The Chivas have done it: they have won el Superclasico for the first time in five years. You can watch highlights here:

It takes us forever to get out of the stadium – wall-to-wall people funneled over an increasingly narrow bridge – but nobody seems to care. We find our way to the charter bus and collapse in happy exhaustion. We have just seen the quintessential Mexican futbol game, El Superclasico, Chivas versus América, Jalisco versus D.F. And it’s symbolic, too: In two months we move from Mexico City, home of Club América, to Guadalajara, home of the Chivas. What a way to start the move.


Zach Parris said...

I can't even begin to describe my supreme jealousy. All I know is this, Adam and I are gonna talk soon about when we can come down to Mexico. So, you need to hook us up with what would be good for you guys, and when would make for the best soccer/futbol. And lest you forget your hometown team in the midst of your CONCACAF (fifa's north american division) utopia. The Fire play on Thursday night in the first game of a two game playoff against New England in the MLS Cup semifinals. (The winner advances on the cumulative score after two games.)man, i am so jealous.

From Michigan with Love said...

Nice, some nice Miller Park props! I know you loved it!

From Michigan with Love said...
This comment has been removed by the author.