Editor’s Note: Immigration is transforming the United States in countless ways. Sports is one social arena where the influence of immigrants is making a change in society. In today’s story, New Mexico State University graduate student Nicolás Cabrera takes us to one recent event in New Mexico that illustrated how fútbol, or soccer, is sowing common ground.
Fútbol, or soccer as it is known in the United States, is the most popular sport across Latin America. For four years preceding the FIFA World Cup, millions of fans across the globe watch their national teams vie for a coveted spot at the world’s premiere sporting event.
While soccer is not the most popular sport in the U.S., its fan base is growing in large part by immigrants who bring the passion of the game with them. Mirroring national trends, soccer in New Mexico has been growing in popularity, too.
This was unmistakable when hundreds of soccer fans gathered in Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza on October 10 to watch the U.S. and Mexico national teams play on a jumbotron. The Albuquerque Sol Football Club sponsored the free viewing party. It had a live feed of U.S. and Mexico competing in Pasadena for a bid to the 2017 Confederation’s Cup.
“The event was organized because we’re trying to grow the soccer culture,” said Larry Espinosa, one of the organizers with Albuquerque Sol F.C. “There will be the fans from both sides. This is a cool event and it’s a cool group of people coming together to watch the beautiful game.”
The giant screen and chairs were placed at the north end of the downtown plaza. Soccer fans supporting both countries started arriving in the early evening to enjoy food and refreshments. Kick-off was at 7:30 pm and the crowd was a sea of red, white, and blue Team USA jerseys intermingled with Mexico’s red, white, and green tricolor.
Ron Tucker came to watch the soccer game and have some dinner at the food trucks. He and his friends were supporting Team USA. He said soccer was a unique sport because of the role it plays in bringing people together.
“Soccer is universal because it’s so common in other countries,” said the former soccer player. “Not every country has baseball or softball or those kinds of things. I think that’s why it’s universal, it’s just popular everywhere.”
Anna Karina Romero supported Mexico and agrees with Tucker. She came with her friends and said the event created a sense of community across cultures and borders.
“Soccer brings people from all around the world together regardless of their race, ethnicity, or nationality,” she said. “It’s a game where people don’t judge. They just socialize and enjoy the sport by either watching or playing it.”
Despite having to compete with other professional sports, soccer in the U.S. has steadily grown in popularity since hosting the FIFA World Cup in 1994. In other countries, including many Latin American countries, fútbol is the most popular sport. It is played everywhere, from dusty alleys to state-of-the-art stadiums that hold tens of thousands of spectators.
Espinosa added, “It’s a game that the world can relate to. You don’t need expensive gear to play it. At the end of the day it’s a person, a ball and their feet. The rules don’t change from country to country and you don’t have to speak the same language to play on the same team.”
He said that the Albuquerque Sol organizers were expecting more than a thousand New Mexican soccer fans to come together to watch the game.
HéctorGrijalva, who is from Chihuahua, is one of those fans. He attended the viewing party with a group of friends. They were supporting the Mexican national team. “Hanging out in Civic Plaza with my friends was great, especially because Mexico won,” Grijalva said beaming.
El Tri went on to beat Team USA 3–2 in extra time. With their victory, Mexico earned a Confederations Cup bid and the national team is one step closer to the 2018 World Cup. Both tournaments are being hosted by Russia.