The atmosphere and aura surrounding Mexico’s quadrennial trip to Columbus for World Cup qualifying are storied among American soccer fans.
Columbus has been considered a fortress by US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who on Friday devoted a Players’ Tribune piece to describe just how much mystique surrounds the place when it comes to soccer.
The qualifiers in Columbus come with a mystique of their own, as each of the games – before Friday’s 2-1 win by Mexico, that is – had an identical 2-0 scoreline in favor of the US, prompting American fans to adopt the phrase Dos a Cero whenever they played Mexico.
That Dos a Cero chant was audible on the way to the stadium as the American Outlaws marched through the narrow Columbus streets on the way to the stadium, banged on cars and got people to come out of their houses. That excitement carried on in the parking lot, where dozens of tailgates started up. Everyone seemed to be getting along.
Despite the obvious disagreements over the election of Donald Trump, the mood inside and out of the stadium was carefree. American fans welcomed Mexican fans and took pictures with them. One Mexican family began randomly passing a ball with Americans fans they had just met.
Vicente Tlahuextl, who said he traveled five hours from Indiana to watch the game, said the game was about soccer, not politics. “This is my first time in Columbus, first time here – I hope it’s a warm welcome by everyone,” he said. “Everyone loves each other, they call it the beautiful game for a reason.”
Inside Mapfre Stadium there was good-natured joking among both sets of fans, but nothing of the kind that has popped up on previous occasions between these two teams. When Rafa Marquez buried the game-winning header, the groupings of Mexican fans quickly let the Americans know it.
But instead of hate or fighting breaking out, the stadium mostly just fell silente. No arrests, no incidents, just a meeting of two devout fan bases supporting their teams.
Most Americans waded out of the stadium crestfallen after the loss but a few stuck around in the parking lot trying to wait out the traffic or just trying to take a little more in. Joe Crawford and his friend Chris, Columbus Crew season-ticket holders, have been to every incarnation of Dos a Cero in Columbus, but neither was impressed with Friday’s atmosphere.
“This is the worst atmosphere I’ve ever been here for. It was terrible. It was bad,” Chris said. “This is the biggest sporting event in America in four years and you’re just going to sit here and golf clap? It’s unbelievable, and I don’t understand it.”
Crawford criticized the lottery system, and how Crew season-ticket holders were promised tickets to the USA-Mexico game at the beginning of the season – but it only entered them in lottery for tickets, which he believes made tickets easier to get for non-hardcore fans. He also said that hardcore fans should have an advantage for games like this in order to provide a proper atmosphere for the team to be played in.
“Clearly we are USA fans, we’re soccer fans. We’re Columbus Crew fans. We don’t have priority over these tickets?” Crawford said. “We get out in some sort of lottery? OK, we understand that, whatever.”
Most fans in attendance seemed to enjoy themselves despite the result and no violence has been reported. Perhaps the most telling moment came before the game, when the announcer gave the crowd the usual message of tolerance and acceptance, and no one person stood up to object. At least in the realm of this rivalry, acceptance and unity are truly being understood.