By Aaron Anton, special to The Yanks Are Coming
Move along, nothing to see here…
No, I’m not talking about the USMNT’s performance against Mexico (even though we can add this game to the heap of forgettable appearances over the past couple of years). Rather, I’m talking about the much-ballyhooed buildup of American-Mexican conflict in the wake of the election of U.S. President-elect (and Mexican Offender-in-Chief) Donald Trump.
Arriving in “Fort Columbus” (now the former Mexican house-of-horrors), there were many rumblings over the past week of how American supporters would treat the visiting team’s fans. To that point, three hours before game time, I was listening to the main local radio sports-talk show. On a Friday night before a football game featuring the #5-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, in a city where 100,000 fans fill the Horseshoe on home-game Saturdays, they were talking about…U.S. Soccer.
Normally, I’d take that as a really big step forward for the game we love—and maybe it is. Except, they weren’t discussing the merits of Jurgen Klinsmann putting 37-yr. old hero Tim Howard in goal (turns out he’s not immortal after all). They weren’t talking about 18-yr. old wonder kid Christian Pulisic starting in the first game of the Hex against our archrivals (he proved worthy of the assignment despite being sandwiched by Mexican double-teams). No, they were talking about the perception in the soccer world of Columbus, Ohio, and how a “red” state that voted for Trump (as if all Ohioans did) was perceived as being fertile ground for racist taunts at the Mexicans’ expense. The show’s hosts—to their credit—felt this generalization from the outside was overblown and much ado about nothing.
But there was enough concern for even the likes of Landon Donovan to make a statement through the Twitterverse about it:
— Landon Donovan (@landondonovan) November 11, 2016
And, even Fake Landon Donovan tried to stir the pot…
— Andres Delsol (@adelsolg) November 11, 2016
...which forced a reaction from Real Landon Donovan:
Except that this wasn't me, someone else made it up. I'd appreciate an apology. https://t.co/0xkIosIxn0
— Landon Donovan (@landondonovan) November 11, 2016
And of course, U.S. team captain Michael Bradley pled for fans to keep calm:
It seemed anyone connected to U.S. Soccer shared the same thoughts: Please, for all that is good in the world, don’t start a “Build That Wall!” chant or some other atrocity. Please don’t take out your political frustrations out on opposing fans at a soccer match.
The American Outlaws urged restraint in an email to the U.S. supporters this week.
In fact, they jumped through their arse to encourage a positive vibe by scheduling the singing of “This Land is Your Land” at the start of the game (admittedly, this felt forced as even the AO chant leaders had to read the words from cheat sheets). But hey, at least they tried. And in a world where some fans in Europe still throw bananas at black players (and where such fans are punished for racism by their team having to play meaningful games with no fans allowed in the stands), I commend AO for trying to get in front of it.
In the end, there were no racist chants, at least that I heard, and I was front and center with 4,000 rabid AO supporters.
Sure, the occasional Mexican supporter that decided to stroll through the clearly-delineated AO section got their fair share of boos and jeers, but nothing to write home about. On the flip side, Mexican fans continued to shout homophobic cheers every time their opponent took a goal kick.
No wonder: when the practice started several years ago, their manager at the time pretty much condoned it (Just dropping the link below the text, because this is important).
And despite ever increasing fines, the FMF has done little beyond a weak-hearted statement against the chant. FIFA would do well to ratchet up the punishment, but that’s for another column.
The closest thing to a fight in our section was Outlaw-on-Outlaw violence, when one supporter was going at another because he wasn’t supporting our own team enough.
It’s true that it’s easier for fans to taunt their opponents in victory than in defeat. The “dos a cero” chants got silenced 20 minutes into the game when Mexico scored their first goal. This was replaced by the obligatory “I believe that we will win” chant, even though it had more of a feeling of a Hillary Clinton victory rally after she lost Florida and North Carolina on Tuesday night. Perhaps if the U.S. had repeated its 2-0 triumphs of past encounters with Mexico in Columbus, our decency would have been tested.
I’d like to think we’d have passed the test regardless. Mexico’s victory didn’t seem to have any negative impact on the behavior of American fans, even if it shaded the mood from festive to somber.
As I walked out of the stadium, a group of Mexican fans adorned with their country’s flags and holding a sign that read “Let’s build a peace wall” posed for pictures with some American fans. I’m not entirely sure what a peace wall is, but the sentiment was obvious: we’re just soccer fans enjoying a soccer match; let’s all just get along.
In the end, there just wasn’t much to see here (on or off the pitch).
I’m sure that somewhere in Mapfre Stadium Friday night, someone said something untoward in the direction of a Mexican fan. But on the whole, we could have been playing Switzerland and you wouldn’t have been able to tell a difference.
On an evening where you couldn’t escape the match’s political undertones, it was a joy, even in defeat, to see the crowd firmly on the side of the better angels of our nature.
Aaron Anton is a special contributor to The Yanks Are Coming. Follow him on Twitter @AaronKAnton.