Once again, it's fútbol, not football, at Soldier Field | Bleader

Once again, it's fútbol, not football, at Soldier Field

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Mexico plays Bosnia at Soldier Field May 31, 2012
  • Asher Klein
  • "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of smoke bomb stays these couriers . . . "
It struck me on my way to the friendly soccer match between Mexico and Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday that, for a city that's more than a quarter Latino, outside of Pilsen and Little Village, I rarely see a lot of them just hanging out together. There are the guys who shoot the shit at the back of the bus I take to work, and I'll run into a group of Latino kids here and there, but never looking as natural as the white inhabitants of the neighborhoods I tend to frequent. I guess that's Chicago's chronic segregation for you, but it was profound to me how big a change it was to run with this crowd.

I saw a larger Mexican family on the Red Line yesterday than I'd ever seen take that train in my five years living here, and that was just at Grand. When I got off at Roosevelt, I joined a whole mess of Mexicans and Bosnians plodding through a light rain to Soldier Field, using their nation's flags as capes for the cold. No one spoke any English, everyone wore a jersey, and no one misunderstood when the two nationalities began chanting ME-xi-CO and BOS-ni-A in perfect rhythm at each other in a tunnel leading to the stadium. Besides me, there weren't any neutrals to catch the fun.

After the Chicago Tribune published another in a string of hyperbolic articles equating soccer to religion ahead of the 2006 World Cup, Michael Miner argued that it's time to quit asking why Americans hadn't converted:

"I think Americans have a good enough grasp of soccer that a paper can get away with covering the World Cup as a sports event. [snip] In the U.S. it's been decided that baseball reveals the nation's pastoral history, football its industrial history, and basketball its racial history. But each is a game, only a game. Soccer surely has something to tell us about our history as a nation of immigrants, but it too is a game."

He's right about an awful lot of that: We're no longer so backward when it comes to the World's Game that we need breathless reporters explaining why soccer matters. It certainly can teach us a lot about immigration—gauging from their jerseys, I saw people from Mexico City (Club America and Tigres), Guadalajara (Chivas and Atlas), and Chicago as well (Fire and Bulls). And, yes, it is only a game, but it's not just the same regionalism that stokes these fans than at a Cubs-Sox game or a Chicago Fire-LA Galaxy game. Bosnia and Herzegovina may have been the "visitors," but each fan base tried to make the stadium feel like home.

The game offered old-world traditions you don't find in America, like the Mexican practice of booming "¡Puto!" (it translates roughly to "rent boy") every time their opponent's goalkeeper clears the ball. Verbally, the Bosnians had no match for that—their homey touch was chucking blue smoke bombs and eventually a flare onto the pitch. It's a great time.

Security seemed more lax than if it were a major league match. At halftime, a Bosnia fan jumped the fence and ran all the way across the field, milking the adoring cheers from his half of the crowd. I think he thought he'd be stopped by a security person, but no one made a move for him, so he just hopped another fence, climbed into the stands, and walked away. All this while 28 stadium staffers sat on an Allstate logo at center field to keep it from blowing away in the wind.

Oh, the result? The game wasn't too tense, played in low gear since Bosnia was practicing ahead of the European soccer championship, probably paying Mexico an honorarium for the chance.

Still, it was tight—nothing comes easy on a cold, wet night—and Mexico was the better of the two sides early on. Chasing a ball in deep, a Mexican attacker deked away from his defender and took a short-angle shot at goal, perhaps expecting the slippery ball to squirm away from the keeper for Dos Santos to poke home. It did, and with six minutes gone, Mexico was ahead. Thirty seconds later, the first bag of what looked like peanuts was thrown onto the pitch by Bosnia's fans, after a bad call by the linesman.

Mexico looked more incisive but Bosnia more competent, especially when a fake from the Bosnian captain caught the Mexican defense napping and sent star striker Edin Džeko alone on goal to round the keeper and tap the ball in. The Bosnian fans throw more foodstuffs when they're happy than when they're mad, but everyone threw everything when Mexico's own star scored a garbage goal in the game's last minute.

The homerism reached the pressroom, too. After Bosnia's goal, a press wrangler walked into the room: "As a professional and neutral press box, there is no cheering when either team scores a goal." A Bosnian reporter asked for lenience, pointing out, "It's the second time in 20 years that our team is here." After the climactic goal, some rowdy, well-lubricated fans shook the elevator going down from the press and VIP level with more chanting. But it was all in good fun, and one Bosnian fan allowed a concession. "I like tacos!" The elevator cheered.

Regardless, America wasn't far from anyone's mind. You could still make out the end zone and "CHICAGO" painted in Bears orange under the pitch.

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