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 thesacklunchblog@gmail.com 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

7 comments:

Greg Seltzer said...

Well, to be fair, it wasn't US Soccer's fault. It was CONCACAF's show.

angler23 said...

Was there with my wife and 11 year old and his buddy - both draped in the Stars and Stripes. It was a sea of green, but the banter was all good natured, with lots of the El Tri crowd wanting to take pictures with the boys. I'm sure my anecdotal experience was impacted by my presence as a dad versus an AO, but we didn't witness much by way of hostile exchanges with other groups of Yanks.

I was at a US/Mexico friendly in 2000 at the LA Coliseum where we pulled out a 2-0 win and that one was ugly before and after. Obviously had we held up that 2-0 score line, getting out may have been a bit hairier at the Rose Bowl, but it didn't have that same feeling of the match 11 years ago.

Still bizarre that I could be at matches 10,000 miles away in South Africa last summer with fantastic US support, and in my own back yard my team can't get no love.

Brian Zygo said...

Assumed risk.

over there said...

This is an entirely pragmatic suggestion with no malice or racism behind it (ok, maybe a little malice, I despise el Tri). For an event like this, particularly in the LA area, having a strong ICE/Border Patrol presence supporting local police outside the stadium is the best way to keep an unruly pro-Mexican crowd, presumably with a huge percentage of illegal immigrants, in line. Act up, get drunk and violent, risk deportation. I can't think of a better way to intimidate that group into acting according acceptable US standards for a sporting event than by holding real consequences over their head.

The Rose Bowl is NOT the Azteca. Act how you want in your own country, with its own culture and laws, but behave with civility in ours. (oh wait, CONCACAF and US Soccer can't hear US fans over the sound of the cash register)

Or we could just put Kraft's TeamOps thugs in charge of security, in which case they'd play in front of an empty stadium.

Greg Seltzer said...

O_O

I suppose "pragmatic" is one way of potentially describing it, yeah. I'd probably go with a few others adjectives.

Really, I'm not sure quite how to react as I'm not sure how much you are kidding.

Greg Seltzer said...

I'll say this much: political matters can stay THE HELL out of soccer. By policy. Funk that.

That's what I'll say about that.

tabahiko said...

Hi. I cheer US soccer.
I hope MLS become stronger.

I performed dance”AKB48”. I succeed to reduce my weight.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5McGB552Dc
Thank you.