USMNT, Mexico rivalry is about family, food and fun for players with shared fidelity

It’s a decade ago, 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 for Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake. “It is a roast and all my cousins ​​are there, all my uncles and aunts are there. My aunts are putting beans and rice up in the kitchen while my uncles are at the grill. “

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

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

The scene that Ochoa paints is familiar to thousands of Mexican-Americans, and players like him who have roots in both countries remember the family reunion, put meat on the grill and the Spanish-language commentary by Enrique “Perro” Bermudez or Pablo Ramirez. soundtrack for most weekends. Matches between the USA and Mexico, such as Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Cincinnati – stream LIVE, 21:00 ET, ESPN + – were always special occasions.

“When I was growing up, it was not like it is now where you can watch every single game you want, on TV or streaming. Back then, we would only get a certain amount of games,” Rodrigo Lopez said. a midfielder for the USL Championship team Rio Grande Valley FC, who was born in Guadalajara and grew up in California. “Those Mexico matches we would definitely watch, all at my home or with my dad’s friends to watch the match and grill.”

Preparing for a game of great importance “starts early,” said FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, who grew up in a household of Club America fans in Waco, Texas. “If the match is at 7 o’clock, people are at our house at noon, and my mother is already doing some things [meat].

“We took an extension cord with us and took our TV outside because our living room was very small, so we all saw it in the yard. Everyone cheers, eats, the kids are around and watching the match. We always made it a Big Deal. “

The food on offer is the same regardless of region: Players remember their families roast together, typically with rice and beans for the beef. One of the most important elements is the salsa – sometimes bought in the store, but better when it is homemade. The question “is this spicy?” determines how much is thrown on the meat, garnished with onions and cilantro.

Snack snacks to choose from during the game – includes peanuts and pork rind. Aunts and uncles drank beer. After, they remember, there is no hurry to go home, especially on the weekends, when conversations about the game continue well into the night.

Typically, there is little disagreement when choosing a rooted interest, with families choosing Mexico, though it has become complicated as players develop in their careers.

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

“Now it’s completely different. We still support Mexico and see it as a country with great football, but now we support the USA 100% and have put the Mexico jersey away. I can not tell you how I will feel (Friday)) , because this is new to me. “

While Pepi is wearing Stars and Stripes, Ochoa announced his decision to represent Mexico earlier this year, meaning his family will be able to keep putting on the green shirt. The Tri as they sit in front of the television, though it is not always that simple.

The fandom that often surrounds rivalry can spill over from friendly to dirty, with accusations of frequent dirty play and trash talk, both online and in person, all too often crossing the line. While still keeping their team close to their hearts, Mexican-American players and their families have a rare appreciation of not only the team they play or support, but the other side as well.

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

“It’s definitely going to be a strange one for me this time with the fact that I know players from both sides.”

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

“I wanted to cheer on Mexico, and then I was called into the United States U-18 and U-20, so I started cheering on the United States and going a little bit against my family, but it’s always a fight,” Lopez said. “I’m not really going for anyone now. I’m just trying to enjoy the game. I have friends on both teams and it’s hard to pick a side.”

In some ways, players told me, it reflects the Mexican-American experience. Family members and the local community are eager to see the joy and pride of the Mexican roots, while neighbors or teammates can get confused when a player who has developed in the United States supports, or even represents, the country’s biggest rival.

“You must be grateful and I will always love this country – when both hymns come on, I sing them both. I have love for both countries,” Ochoa said.

No matter what anthem they sing, what jersey players wear, or how Friday’s game plays out, the constants remain: For Mexican-American players, Mexico-USA matches are about food, football, and most of all, family.

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