It was a tough day to be an American soccer fan. Saturday's 4-2 loss to regional rivals Mexico after holding an early, 2-0 is one of those games that will hurt for awhile. Processing what went right, what went wrong, and what to do about it all is a question for the players, the coach, Sunil Gulati, and the Big Soccer message boards.
A loss to Mexico is always hard to take. As teams and fans we measure ourselves to the performances of our neighbor to the south. Of late things looked pretty good. Chants of "dos a cero", a reminder of eerily similar results the U.S. has racked up against El Tri in some crucial contests, a favorite of supporters.
Now it's Mexico's turn. Consecutive winners of the CONCACAF Gold Cup they now will be booking tickets to the Confederation's Cup as our regional representatives; a tournament the Americans made so magical a short time ago in South Africa.
Our concern today, though, is not the results that took place on the field, but the worrying actions that occurred beyond the edges of the field at the Rose Bowl. By now you've probably read the shocking allegations of American fan treatment in Pasadena (if you haven't it's important for context). The actions of these Mexican fans are nothing short of embarrassing.
In a stadium filled to capacity (93,420) fans of the U.S. National Team were easily outnumbered 90-10 by their continental counterparts. For anyone who's ever been apart of one it's easy to see how "mob mentality" took over many Mexican fans and fueled their actions. From verbal and physical harassment of American fans, to the tossing of various objects (bottles and the like) in a crowd that size and overwhelming numerical superiority, those guilty of such inappropriate behavior mostly likely thought they would get away with their actions. And they did.
It's unfortunately that these actions by individuals who retreated back into the crowd after their acts of cowardice are left to rule the day and fuel the frustrations of American fans already upset by the game's results. For any fan, of any nation, to be treated as such is a disgrace and only inflames the difficult relations between these fan groups.
No one is disputing the fact that the rivalry between the United States and Mexico isn't going to be heated. And certainly American fans aren't without fault. There was our share of off-color stupidity on our side of the fence as well. But rivalries should never disintegrate into racism or worse, violence.
For some the knee-jerk reaction is to respond with the same tired remarks about Mexico and Mexicans and to make an indictment of an entire people. But for every cringing story of abuse from the Rose Bowl came a counter-story of incident-free interactions with the fans of El Tri.
Unfortunately this latest edition of US versus Mexico played out on so many levels. Beyond the soccer pitch is the elephant in the room with the issue of immigration. In recent months several states have enacted (with many more states considering them) several tough measures regarding stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States and political candidates on both sides of the issue have continued to use the issue as a political football (whichever football you prefer). Frustrations from Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and white Americans color the entire scene. As these tensions rise outside the lens of soccer it's not surprising that issues play out in the parking lots and stadiums of our two nations' matches.
What happened on Saturday shouldn't be forgotten, but it also shouldn't be used to justify retribution or continued racism. For those that suffered at the hands of some outrageous fan behavior they have every right to demand answers and changes before future match ups between these two teams.
Before the next edition of U.S. against Mexico whether it be in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, an international friendly, and/or World Cup qualifiers there needs to be a complete overhaul of how the venues of these matches are secured, policed, and rules enforced.
This time the blame for not adequately protecting the fans fell to CONCACAF and officials in charge of the Rose Bowl. Russel Jordan the author of the letter we linked to above wrote that he's already had conversations with the general manager of the stadium who admitted that they had the most security ever at the Rose Bowl it wasn't enough. National soccer columnist Steve Davis (Sports Illustrated) wrote on his own site that if the aging facility, while a huge money maker for CONCACAF, cannot be adequately policed then it shouldn't be used for matches.
U.S. Soccer, the Mexican Federation (FMF) Soccer United Marketing, which helps promote the Mexican National Team in the U.S. are now aware that if incidents like the ones making the rounds become more and more frequent it could put every future U.S.-Mexico fixture at risk. Even though Gold Cup Finals and World Cup qualifiers will remain on the docket, huge revenue streams like international friendlies between the two or further U.S. tours of by Mexico will be under the microscope. Most importantly the spirit of healthy competition between the region's two biggest teams will be lost.
Another concern for U.S. Soccer has to be how many fans or potential fans were lost on that sunny Saturday attending a match they were unprepared to experience. American soccer can ill-afford to alienate its small fan base with experiences and stories of dangerous game conditions and security problems.
Moving beyond Saturday's events common sense will have to be CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer, and the FMF, and any venue hosting these matches' guiding light. It was very clear that they will have to put profits behind protection of fans on either side. Dedicating a separate and/or secure section for U.S. fans (while bizarre as that may be fore a game INSIDE the U.S.) at the expensive of fulling filling it should be on the table. Just like some Major League Soccer teams are struggling in dealing with how to "handle" (for better or worse) soccer crowds security at these types of matches need to be in sufficient numbers and properly trained. Be in front of the problem not behind it.
And while not a solution one of the reasons the stadium was SO disproportionately one-sided was because one team's fans bought Finals tickets in good faith while the other team's fans' dilly-dallied. Support your National Team and have faith!
Lastly, despite these terrible incident alleged we, as American soccer fans, must remain above the fray. The American Outlaws have posted their "Act Above" Code of Conduct that asks its member to avoid similar behaviors that they might experience and we can all take a page from that. It might feel good initially to lash out with some choice words about our southern neighbors or to take matters in our own hands next time, but in the long term none of that pays out.
If there's any silver lining to this past weekend's difficulties it is that American soccer is growing and growing stronger. While outnumbered and out-cheered USMNT supporters were not alone in their struggles. Rather than fans roaming isolated into the crowds of red, white, and green many were together in the AO section or in decent sized groups. Each new fan we make is another stalwart against being singled out at matches and someone to march with us in solidarity again the terrible actions of an angry few bent on ruining our American soccer experience.
It can't and won't be that easy to deter our fandom. Soccer in America and American soccer rises as surely as the sun does and there are no terrible words or actions that can stop that.
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