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The unique case of American fandom
by Mike Woitalla, February 8th, 2008 8:30AM
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Mike Woitalla reports from Houston
Of the more than 40 national team games played across the world on Wednesday, only England's game at Wembley drew a larger crowd than the USA's 2-2 tie with Mexico in Houston, where a sellout crowd of 70,103 set a U.S. national team record for ticket sales income. Soccer America's Mike Woitalla checked out the fans in Texas.

Loren Tedder is the manager of the Soccer 4 All store in Rice Village, a few miles north of Reliant Stadium. In the days before the USA-Mexico game, replica jerseys of both teams, at $70 a pop, sold briskly.

"Usually the sales are 70-30 in favor of the Mexican shirts," says Tedder. "But I'd say the requests were almost 50-50 in the last few days. The problem was we had fewer of the new U.S. jerseys, which we just got last week, and sold out."

Tedder is going to the game. He thinks the crowd split will be about 70-30 in support of the visiting team.

Red-white-and-blue clad Kyle Nowotny is more optimistic. He's down the road at the Ginger Man pub with fellow members of the Houston Dynamo's Texian Army fan club, which has mobilized to support the USA.

"I think it will be just 60-40 in favor of the Mexican fans," he says.

The day before the game, Coach Bob Bradley said he hopes that younger generations of Mexican-Americans will start supporting the United States.

"We get some families in who buy both jerseys," says Tedder. "It's like the UT-Texas A&M rivalry, where you have split households."

Nowotny said he saw that when he attended a previous USA-Mexico game, the scoreless tie at Reliant Stadium in front of 69,582 in 2003.

"I saw kids with U.S. hats and Mexican shirts who cheered when Mexico did something good and cheered when the U.S. did something," he says.

Esteban Apraez, of The Vidal Partnership marketing communications group, is overseeing the Jose Cuervo booth outside Reliant Stadium.

"We've done research," he says. "And it shows that the later generations of immigrants support U.S. teams."

He's a busy man, because he has to keep children away from the display that gives fans a chance to stick their heads into wooden cutouts of Mexican national team players to pose for photos that make them look like El Tri stars. The kids can't get photos because it's part of a tequila promotion. Apraez doesn't have to guard the U.S. player prop, because that's being ignored by the Latino fans.

Andres, a 14-year-old who was born and raised in Texas, wears a Mexican shirt with a Mexican flag draped over it. He says, though, he'd root for the USA against teams other than Mexico.

Joachim Schaupp is a German-born fan of the U.S. national team and a member of the Texian Army fan club. He points out that the Houston Dynamo's attendance was at least half Latino even though it doesn't field Hispanic players.

With a population of more than 2.1 million, Houston is the fourth largest U.S. city and is at least one-third Hispanic.

"The other fan club, El Batallon, is Latino," he says. "Its members are from every Latin American country there is. It doesn't matter where anyone is from, we all support the same team."

But it's a little different with national teams. When Joachim sees a Latina named Katy, who wears a U.S. fan T-shirt, he tells her, "I thought you'd be for Mexico."

"I'm Salvadoran!" says Katy.

Even though she's U.S.-born, Katy says she roots for El Salvador when it plays the USA.

"But it's a very difficult situation," she says, "because otherwise I want the U.S."

Sergio Loredo, who immigrated from Acapulco, took his 10-year-old son Sergio and 15-year-old daughter Michelle, to the game. Both children were born in the USA.

Sergio Sr. is "100 percent for Mexico." Michelle also supports El Tri. Sergio Jr. wears a Mexico jersey but says, "I like them both."

Arcadio, 19, drove to the game from San Antonio with a couple of buddies and wears a Mexico jersey. He was born and raised in Texas, but supports Mexico.

"It's just a soccer thing," says Arcadio. "I like everything about the United States, but I support Mexico when it comes to soccer, and always will."

The U.S. players have gotten used to playing in front of pro-Mexico crowds on their own soil. They appreciate the growing contingent of U.S. fans, even though they're often drown out by Mexico's fans.

"It was as it always is," U.S. forward Clint Dempsey said after the game, which takes the U.S. undefeated streak at home against Mexico to 10 games. "Pro-Mexican crowd. Nothing new. No surprises."

A few hours after the game, Vance Lawrence, a U.S. fan of Jamaican descent, says it felt like the Reliant Stadium crowd was "95 percent" pro-Mexico.

In the minority of the U.S. supporters is 51-year-old Oscar and his wife, Dora, who immigrated to the USA from Matamores, Mexico, in their early teens and wear U.S. replica jerseys to the game.

They both explain they cheer for the USA because, "This is where we live. This is our country."

But they are clearly the exception among the immigrant fans at the game.

Oscar's friend, who immigrated in his early 20s, is pro-Mexico "all the way." He and Oscar bet on the game. They each hand a $100 bill to Richard, Oscar's son-in-law, an Argentine-American wearing a Barcelona jersey who says he's neutral today but would cheer for Argentina against the USA.

So what happens if the game ends in a tie?

"The Argentine keeps the money," says Richard with a grin.

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