Rivalry between USMNT and Mexico is about family, food and fun for players with divided allegiances


It’s been a decade, but David Ochoa can still imagine the details of the scene in his mind.

“I remember it perfectly,” said Ochoa, a 20-year-old goalkeeper from Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer. “It’s a carne asada and all my cousins ​​are there, all my aunts and uncles are there. My aunts cook the beans and rice in the kitchen while my uncles are on the grill. “

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His family members have already gathered for a game between the United States and Mexico: the 2011 Gold Cup final. The game begins with Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan giving the Americans a two-goal lead, but El Tri is tied at half-time and advances in the 50th minute. “When he scores that goal everyone gets up and starts screaming and celebrating,” Ochoa continues. “It’s just total joy.”

Of course, “that goal” is the chip from Giovani dos Santos, one of the best goals in the history of CONCACAF’s best rivalry, putting a nice icing on the 4-2 victory.

The scene painted by Ochoa is familiar to thousands of Mexican-Americans, with players like him with roots in both countries remembering the family reuniting, putting meat on the grill and commenting in Spanish from Enrique “Perro” Bermudez or Pablo Ramirez providing the soundtrack most weekends. Games between the United States and Mexico, like Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Cincinnati – LIVE broadcast, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN + – were always special occasions.

“When I was growing up it wasn’t like now, where you can watch all the games you want on TV or streamed. Back then we only had a certain number of games,” said Rodrigo Lopez, midfielder of the USL Rio Grande Valley FC Championship team, who was born in Guadalajara and raised in California. “Those Mexico games we would watch them for sure, all meeting at my house or with my dad’s friends to watch the game and have a barbecue.”

Preparation for such an important game “starts early,” said FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, who grew up in a family of Club America supporters in Waco, Texas. “If the game is at 7, people are at our house at noon, and my mother is already preparing things to accompany the [meat].

“We would bring an extension cord and take our TV outside because our living room was very small so we would all watch it in the backyard. Everyone is cheering, eating, the kids watching the game. We always made a big one. case.”

The food offered is similar regardless of the region: players remember their families carne asada together, usually with rice and beans to accompany the beef. One of the most important things is salsa – sometimes store-bought, but best when it’s homemade. The question “is this one spicy?” Determines the amount that is thrown on the meat, garnished with onion and cilantro.

Botanical – snacks to be picked during the game – include peanuts and chicharron. Aunts and uncles drank beer. Afterwards, they remember, there is no rush to get home, especially on weekends with conversations about the game that continue into the late night.

Typically, there is little dissent when choosing a rooting interest, with families choosing Mexico, although this has become complicated as players progress through their careers.

“Before Ricardo made his US debut, we were in a Mexican environment – the way we lived and enjoyed the game was as a Mexican family. The Mexico vs USA games were important growing up, but we have always supported El Tri“said Daniel Pepi, father of 18-year-old American forward Ricardo Pepi, from El Paso who chose to accept a call-up to the United States earlier this year and who has already scored three goals in qualifying. for the World Cup.

“Now it’s totally different. We still support Mexico and see it as a country with great football, but now we support the United States 100% and have put the Mexico jersey away. I can’t tell you. how I’m going to feel (Friday) because it’s new to me. “

While Pepi wears the stars and stripes, Ochoa announced his decision to represent Mexico earlier this year, which means his family will be able to continue to don the green shirt of El Tri sitting in front of the TV, although it’s not always that easy.

The fandom that often surrounds rivalry can shift from friendly to dirty, with frequent accusations of dirty play and gossip, both online and in person, all too often crossing the line. While they still care about their team, Mexican-American players and their families have a rare appreciation not only for the team they play or support, but the other team as well.

“Especially in California there are a lot of people like me, and it’s hard to stay out of the culture,” Ochoa said. “I’m obviously with Mexico and I really want Mexico to win this upcoming game, but at the same time I’m grateful for what the United States has given me, the opportunities they have given me with youth teams on the football side.

“It’s definitely going to be weird for me this time around knowing players from both sides.”

These friendships and an evolving career can begin to send passions in a different direction.

“I was cheering on Mexico, then I got called up to the U-18s and U-20s in the United States, so I started cheering on the United States and fighting my family a bit, but that ‘It’s still a game,’ Lopez said. “I really don’t like anyone now. I’m just trying to enjoy the game. I have friends on both teams, and it’s hard to choose sides.”

In some ways, players told me, it reflects the Mexican-American experience. Family and community members are eager to see the joy and pride in connecting with Mexican roots, while neighbors or teammates may be perplexed when a player who grew up in the United States supports or even represents, the biggest rival of the country.

“You have to be grateful, and I will always love this country – when the two hymns sound, I sing them both. I have love for both countries,” Ochoa said.

No matter what anthem they sing, what jersey the players wear, or how Friday’s game unfolds, the constants remain: For Mexican-American players, games between Mexico and the United States are all about food. , football and, above all, the family.

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