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Futbol Diaries, Part 5: Mexico Seeks ‘Total Destruction’

June 14th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

Another installment in the 2005 Tijuana-to-Mexico City road trip report on a 2006 World Cup qualifying match pitting the United States against Mexico.

I had forgotten about spending time, the previous night, in steamy San Blas watching the festivities for Holy Week. It was Mexico at its most festive and friendly.

The 425 miles to Guadalajara were not difficult, once we got past the one-lane-in-each-direction portion and back on the toll road that made a left-hand turn about halfway and sent us into the mountains.

It was a Friday, and more and more people clearly were thinking about the match, two days away, in massive Estadio Azteca.

I also had forgotten that this was the day that news broke that Landon Donovan, already the star of the U.S. national team, at age 23, was apparently headed home from Leverkusen of Germany’s top division in a deal that landed the Redlands native with the LA Galaxy. As we know that turned out well for all parties: Leverkusen got paid, the Galaxy got the best-known American player; Donovan led them to four MLS championships in 10 seasons.

Let’s return now to the Wayback Machine:

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — As a half-dozen brass bands tooted and blatted for thousands of smiling and dancing citizens in the San Blas plaza late into Thursday night, it was hard to imagine Mexicans capable of animosity toward anyone or anything.

Another cerveza or three, a bit more ear-battering sinfonia, and maybe back to the beach. That is what life here is about. Or so it seemed to a couple of Yanks sipping Dos Equis from a torta stand across the street.

“Football and politics don’t mix,” San Blas native Jorge Banuelos had said only hours earlier, downplaying how much Mexico wants/needs to defeat the U.S. in a World Cup soccer qualifying match on Sunday. “One has nothing to do with the other.”

He was being polite to an American visitor.

Kicking around Uncle Sam on Sunday is Job 1 for Mexico sports fans. And maybe Mexican nationalists, too.

“It’s not just a win that the fans are looking for,” said Alejandro Asmitia, a sport editor at the Mexico City daily El Universal. “They want a humiliation, a total destruction. They want revenge.”

Ah, that’s not such a sweet-as-pan-dulce concept, is it?

All over Mexico this weekend, people are gathering for Semana Santa (Holy Week) fiestas. In seaside San Blas, the first was Thursday night.

We wondered what was going on when we found the beach empty at 8 p.m. and the dozen palapas nearly deserted or closed. We barely had time to get a pizza at Stoners Surf Club and Restaurant.

Yes, Stoners. “It has a double meaning,” the Argentine waitress confided.

No kidding. We could see some locals firing up some fat ones a few tables away, perhaps channeling Cheech & Chong.

So, off to the fiesta back in town, where everyone was merry. Perhaps because they were not thinking of how the U.S. is catching Mexico in soccer. Mexico’s national game; our way-down-the-list game.

Mexico hasn’t scored against the U.S. in 434 consecutive minutes of play, including a 2-0 U.S. victory in the 2002 World Cup.

Not that they think of that very often.

Said Asmitia, of El Universal: “The 2002 loss was a major blow for us. Before that, it was the only sport where we could beat the U.S. If we had played them in basketball, baseball, American football, they would have beaten us badly.

“But it’s not only that. It’s also that we know that soccer doesn’t matter that much to Americans. They didn’t even care that they had a team in the World Cup! But in Mexico, it means everything. I mean, for years, (the U.S.) didn’t even have a (pro) league.”

The emotions begin to boil. Perhaps beneath the surface.

On Friday, we rolled over the Sierra Madre Occidental and into mile-high Guadalajara, population 4 million and sometimes considered the “most Mexican” of its major cities.

Guadalajara, after all, calls itself the home of tequila, mariachis, the sombrero and the Chivas soccer club — which permits only Mexican citizens on its roster.

Imagine our surprise when we spotted Xavier Lopez, 26, wearing a U.S. national team jersey while strolling with his wife and daughter in the enormous and upscale Plaza del Sol mall.

“Oh, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said in Spanish. “It’s just fashion. My friends wear Argentina and England and Brazil jerseys.”

On Sunday, he said, he would have his Mexico jersey on, and fully expects the home team to handle the Yanks. By a 2-1 score, actually.

And what if Mexico should lose?

“Not possible,” he said.

Jonathan Clark, an editor for the English-language Mexico Herald, who translated editor Asmitia’s comments (above) said not all Mexicans are so broad-minded about the concept of U.S. soccer jerseys.

Clark said Mexico jerseys were selling as fast as they could be stocked at a sports apparel shop named Marti, in Mexico City. He said a clerk, Salvador Vidal, noted: “We probably could sell a lot of American ones, too, but the manager won’t allow it — on principle.”

So, the bottom line, south of the border? We’re friendly as can be to our visitors from El Norte, but don’t expect sweetness and light — or even mercy — on Sunday.

Next: From Guadalajara to Mexico City.



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