Soccer Scenes from U.S. vs. Mexico Friendly

Signs the sport's getting more popular in Philadelphia

“U-S-A ain’t nuthing ta fuck wit! U-S-A ain’t nuthing to fuck wit!” Fans of Mexico and the United States soccer teams had been chanting back and forth for a while. It was more than two hours before game time, and they’d gathered first for the TV cameras. Those were gone now, but the crowd in the middle of the parking lot grew as tailgaters rushed to join the crowd. Eventually, some inventive U.S. fans decided to rep the Wu-Tang Clan with their chant.

A sporting event can be a pretty scary place. It’s not supposed to be, but people get really into it: Fans get rowdy, they get loud, they drink too much. The parking lot becomes a gauntlet of taunts for a fan of the opposing team.

Last night, there was more of a giant boisterous party before a 1-all draw between Mexico and the U.S. Maybe it was because fans of Mexico outnumbered the U.S. Maybe it was because it was a friendly, a meaningless match coming just over a month after the two teams met in the finals of the Gold Cup. (Mexico won the North American championship, 4-2.) Maybe it was because plenty of Mexico fans were also wearing Phillies caps.

Fans wandered around the parking lot carrying an enormous Mexican flag; when it passed it mostly drew retaliatory cheers from U.S. fans, who seemed to want to show pride in their country rather than put down another. A lot of opposing fans even matched: Ones not wearing national team jerseys were mostly clad in either kits from the Union or of Mexican club Chivas, both of which feature the same Bimbo Bakeries logo on the front.

The chanting at the center of Lot K—even the edited Wu-Tang lyrics—was done in good fun. The fans weren’t chanting invectives at each other. It was closer to a collection of friends boasting before a pick-up game. Sports fans, especially Philadelphia sports fans, tend to get a bad rap. To be sure, there were incidents. Mostly, though, this was everything sports fandom should be.

Philadelphia’s professional soccer team is not yet through two seasons, but already the city is proving itself a soccer hotbed. And almost all of the attention is positive. The Union have been near the top of the Eastern Conference standings all season. The Sons of Ben, the spirited fan club that existed before the team, help pack Chester’s PPL Park every game. Even the criticism makes the city look good: The UK edition of GQ criticized the Union’s fans for not being violent enough. Imagine!

Naysayers will point out the swaths of empty seats at the Linc last night, but the truth is this: They held a meaningless soccer match at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday and 30,138 fans showed up. Not bad. Not that many people showed up back when Phillies games were meaningless.

Maybe, though, last night’s game wasn’t so pointless after all. The new U.S. coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, is German, but he’s lived here 13 years. He fits in perfectly. “It was a special moment already before the game, listening to the anthem and feeling the energy in the stadium and the energy from the players,” Klinsmann said. “Unfortunately, I’m too old to play so the second-best solution is coaching.”

When Robbie Rogers tied the game at 1 in the 73rd minute, hitting the ball into a wide-open net after some impressive U.S. passing, Klinsmann danced like he did when he coached Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup. It was just his first game as the national team coach, but the United States is his country now.

It’s rare that you can come away from a sporting event—a draw, at that—with almost universally positive feelings, but last night’s soccer game at the Linc was just that.