The US/Mexico World Cup Qualifier in Columbus is a bucket list item for every US Soccer fan, no matter when the game is or what form the teams are in. But with the recent election results threatening to hang a low cloud over what should be a festival of the sport in this country, would the atmosphere of what otherwise is such a fun occasion be changed for the worst? There were rightfully concerns about what some fans might do in such a charged atmosphere, but thankfully, the story of the game was about just that: the game.
There were plenty of Mexican fans that made the trip to Ohio's chilly capital for the festivities, and they certainly made their presence known. Mariachi bands and Mexican music were ever-present all throughout the Ohio State Fairgrounds, and they all felt like a natural part of the spectacle. The only common chant from American fans to Mexican fans was, predictably, "Dos A Cero" and nothing more.
Inside, fans wearing red, white and blue mingled with those wearing red, white and green as if the election hadn't happened. Outside of the usual friendly banter, more people were focused on tactics, formations, and whose manager is more likely to be sacked first rather than the news cycle. It really felt like the old saying: "There's soccer, and then there's everything else".
How would the Supporter's groups tackle the possibly thorny issue of chants? The American Outlaws made their stance known early on, and their chants were their usual fare, and even amidst rumors their tifo had to be changed due to the election results, for them it seemed like every other US home game. When the US was behind, Mexican fans celebrated and US fans stayed more shocked than anything else, and when Bobby Wood leveled the match, wild celebrations ensued without anything negative to spoil the moment.
Maybe the worst of some would come out after Rafa Marquez's winner after the initial shock and pain of the goal had worn off. Thankfully, and as a testament to most US fans, the worst never did come. My most striking moment came as I was walking out of the stadium. Two fans, one American and one Mexican were ahead of me and the Mexican fan said something to the effect of "Dos A Uno, gano en Columbus", and the American fan responded by saying "I want to make fun of you, but you guys won so I can't". Most US fans were reflecting on the failings of Jurgen Klinsmann's aborted 5-3-2 formation, or lack of discipline on a corner kick rather than anything negative or political.
While it was hard for politics to not be in the spotlight during the build up to the game, by the time Friday had come, most had put their thoughts on the week that had come and gone on the backburner, and used the chance to focus on soccer to do just that, even considering the game and the stakes. While the US and Mexico have one of the most heated rivalries in international soccer, the rivalry has always been friendly, fun and even sometimes self-loathing and almost never vicious or politically charged. Despite what the world tried to throw at Columbus this weekend, soccer's bubble wasn't popped or even remotely pierced, to everyone's credit.
The powerful message of the picture from above shows what makes this rivalry, and this sport so special, and the atmosphere at MAPFRE Stadium certainly helped add to that. Despite the legitimate fears, when the US and Mexico played soccer, everyone thankfully focused on soccer, and left the politics at home. And even after the game, politics remain miniscule compared to Jurgen Klinsmann's tactical screw-up.