Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Got Stripes

My friend Zach keeps sending me random items like this one and this one having to do with the U.S. vs Mexico soccer match coming up this Wednesday night. No, Zach, I haven't forgotten.

But I am thinking that Zach is the only person living on U.S. soil who actually cares about this match. I went to ESPN.com, clicked "Soccer" - nothing, just Euro teams. Ok, how about "World Cup" - nothing, just a big ol' cover story on Brazil. Really? This is what ESPN USA is offering us? No wonder soccer is less popular in the US than nearly everywhere else in the world.

(I also offer the possibility that I am incapable of navigating ESPN's website, what with its involuntarily-starting videos that never fail to startle and confuse me, but let's leave that aside for the moment.)

By contrast, this match is all over the Mexican papers. There was a slight break this weekend for coverage of Mexican league play, and then today we're back to the green jerseys on the front page of every paper. Not that they valorize their team; the pundits are always criticizing something or somebody. The NYC papers treat the Yankees with kid gloves compared with how the Mexican papers treat futbolistas Mexicanas.

Usually criticism lands on the coach of the team, whose name is Sven-Goran Eriksson. At the moment, all the pundits are angry with him for having called up a high number of naturalized (as in not Mexican born) citizens of Mexico to play for the national team. Chris thinks this debate is ridiculous, and she says there is no way we would have this debate in the U.S.

Poor Eriksson. As you may have guessed, Sr. Sven-Goran is not Mexican - he is from Sweden. Mexican national team coaches are rarely Mexican, though - usually they're Argentine, like Ricardo LaVolpe, who coached El Tri ("the tricolor," a popular nickname for the Mexican team) in the 2006 World Cup.

I only know about LaVolpe because the papers still seek him out for interviews nearly every day. Chris thinks the closest analogy might be Mike Ditka in the first years after he was fired from the Bears. Maybe she's right. But I still don't really get it - if they like this LaVolpe guy so much, why don't they just hire him back? Swedish coach, the papers checking for the old Argentine coach's opinion on every move - the whole thing is nuts.

And yet, and yet: I still find myself in a bit of a pickle for Wednesday's match. It's part of a qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup, so it's kind of a big deal. It'll be on American soil, in Columbus, Ohio. Every time the topic of this match comes up, Chris says: "I can't believe they're playing outside in Columbus in February. That is ridiculous." And without fail I shrug my shoulders and say, "Eh - homefield advantage!"

But let's be honest here: I have a Mexican national team jersey; I don't have a US national team jersey. I have been to two Major League Soccer matches in Chicago, but, as of Saturday, I've more than doubled that by attending a total of six matches (and counting) in the Primera División de México. I am the only person I know who wears a USA Olympics sweatshirt every 4th of July like a big nerd, but I am seriously thinking of - - - - I shouldn't say more, because I want the U.S. government to allow me back in the country someday (and you know they're always listening...)

Anyway, since the topic is futbol, this might be a good time to share photos from our recent Chivas match.

As you may recall, our last attempt to get inside Estadio Jalisco (seen above) was unsuccesful. (The match - a home opener against Cruz Azul, the national runner-up - was sold out.) We were going to try and buy tickets ahead of time for this go-round, but of course we weren't quite that on top of things and ended up at the stadium only about an hour earlier than the last time. But a mere three weeks into the season, the crowds were smaller, the lines were shorter, and we got our trusty cheap seats pretty easy.

Despite being high up in the stands, we had a pretty awesome futbol experience. The crazy section - complete with the loudest drums I've ever heard and near-constant chants from die-hard fans - was right below our section, which meant that we could feel the fun vibrating up through our feet the whole time. The section we sat in was a little less nutso, but it was still packed with fans waving flags and loudly leaping out of their seats at every goal attempt.

As you can see, the Chivas uniform is made up of red-and-white stripes. Because of this, they're known as El Rebaño, which means something like "the Stripes." (I learned this from reading a Mexican futbol magazine a few weeks back. Yep, I read most of a sports magazine en español. This is the real reason I'm learning Spanish.) On t-shirts etc, this gets lengthend to El Rebaño Sagrado - The Sacred Stripes. Yep, they're serious about soccer here.


Anyway, I wore my own Chivas jersey - found in the big downtown market on the cheap - and ended up with a Johnny Cash song in my head all night. You can watch this video to see how the song goes. It has nothing to do with futbol.

Speaking of stripes, the Chivas actually have their own soda, called Chivas Cola, which they serve instead of Coke or Pepsi at all Chivas matches. The cans are, of course, striped.

And just like their ultra-rivals, América of Mexico City, the Chivas have their own theme song. (Actually, if you do a search on youtube or iTunes, you'll find that the Chivas have several dozen theme songs, most of which are pretty funny.) Although we're still learning the words to the Chivas song, it's pretty hard to miss the one line they repeat over and over: ¡Somos puros Mexicanos! // "We're totally Mexican!" This is because the Chivas have historically only fielded Mexican-born players. To my knowledge, they're the only Mexican team with this kind of a policy, but it must be somewhat effective, because the Chivas have won more championships than any other Mexican soccer team.

This year, though, the Chivas are just fighting just to make the playoffs. In the match we attended they staged a dramatic comeback just to tie their opponents, Los Rayos de Necaxa.

But it was still a great time, and we look forward to our next Chivas match. Hopefully by then, Chris will have stripes, too...


From Michigan with Love said...

Pretty snazy uni!

Zach Parris said...


Here's where you can find your US/Mexico coverage. ESPNsoccernet is unfortunately more of an international outlet for espn and you have to click on the us soccer tab to find the coverage from a us perspective.

Playing in Columbus in February is the US equivalent of playing in Azteca, any time of the year.

In Columbus, the stadium is small enough so that us soccer can control all the ticket sales. In a bigger venue (like soldier field, in ny, or la) with all those tickets out on the street the match could become a home match for el tri. And it's cold, in 2005 the wind chill was in the single digits and 'el tri' didn't even come out of the locker room for warm ups, and went down 2-0 in Columbus. The US soccer federation uses this strategy playing in small venues in the cold to create an advantage like Azteca at 26,000 feet above sea level and the smog. Its worked pretty well for both countries. El Tri is 0-8-2 in its last ten matches on us soil, and sam's army has never won in Azteca.

But feel free Matt to put on your green on wednesday night, pero saber que el chupacabre achecha en la oscuridad de el Columbus noche, buscando para el sangre de 'el tri.'

also, what's adam doing up so early? 6:51 AM?