Friday, July 1, 2011
A speck of red in a sea of green
Evan Ream, Russell Jordan and four friends walked into the Rose Bowl parking lot before the Gold Cup final bedecked in USMNT gear. The final was still hours away, but the group of six wanted to get the lay of the land and tour the area before meeting up with some American Outlaws compatriots at a pregame tailgate.
What they found was an area awash in Mexican green. Some fans were openly hostile, sidling up to Ream's group and ostentatiously twirling noisemakers and blowing horns at point blank range. Others shook hands and posed for pictures.
"I guess going into it we knew it was going to be a big game and fans were going to get up to it," said Ream, a 21-year-old student at Southern Oregon University. "We never really expected it to go as far as it did."
Once the group found the AO tailgate, things escalated. Rowdy Mexican fans occasionally taunted the group to in attempts to spark confrontation. At one point, Ream was nearly drilled in the back of the head by a wayward glass beer bottle before it was deflected by a fellow AO member at the last minute.
On their march into the stadium, the confused crush continued. Surrounded by Mexican fans in the line to enter the stadium, nervy push-and-shove moments involving the small, surrounded US contingent continued. In response to a request for security, a stadium attendant offered no physical help but told the group they could "sue the police" if things got out of hand.
Once in the stadium, things were kept to a low boil until around the 80th minute, when the security detail barricading the US fans from the surrounding sea of green uniformly left their posts. Ream heard it was because the security team itself was worried for its safety.
"I was surprised by how far they went," Ream said. "I really thought stuff like that didn't happen in this country, it wouldn't happen in this country. I was surprised by the lack of preparedness by the security and staff there as well."
Ream's experience at the Gold Cup was fairly typical for American fans wading into the madness in Pasadena. Brave US fans who showed were outnumbered about 95-5 by Ream's estimate. Inflamed by the passion of the rivalry and emboldened by a bloated edge in numbers, Mexican fans held every homefield advantage, US soil or not. In the wake of the event on Monday morning, Russell posted this letter on Facebook, in which he decried the poor security conditions and unpreparedness they were met with at the Rose Bowl.
The letter quickly went viral. Alexi Lalas, Jay Demerit, Heath Pearce and Herculez Gomez all re-tweeted it. Ream, the co-creator of TheSackLunchBlog.com, posted it to his site and got 12,000 views and more than 160 comments in a week.
Ream is relatively consigned to the fan reactions. To an extent, most of the abuse was expected, and extrapolated over the years, none of it was a particularly new phenomenon. That an Azteca-like atmosphere of lax security and heightened pro-Mexico passion was farmed out to US shores was the unwelcome surprise.
"I felt pretty disrespected that this could happen," Ream said. "I just kind of wanted to make a point that the security was awful and they laughed in our faces when we asked them to do anything."
The group is encouraging people to email in their personal game accounts to firstname.lastname@example.org or post up support to #ProtectOurFans on Twitter. And if you want to keep up on any updates, be sure to periodically check up on @RussaldoAO, @EvanReam, and @WRobinson91 and, of course, Ream's blog, www.thesacklunchblog.com.
As an addendum, Sunil Gulati came out with this open letter to the fans that at once strikes conciliatory and "it's not our fault!" tones.
- Will Parchman