For this 1 vs 1 we turn to fans. More specifically, we pair a hard-core USMNT fan vs a hard-core fan of El Tri; a colleague from Fresno State and a homie from graduate school. As far as I know neither of them can play. I don’t want to throw shade, but i’m pretty sure my six year old kid will be able to ball them up in one, two years max.
Israel Pastrana: A proud pocho and prolific hater, Izzy teaches History, Humanities, and Social Justice at Portland Community College.
Brad Jones: My soccer career peaked in 6th grade when I led the Oxford, Ohio rec league in assists and was second in goals (not that I was counting). Most of my success had to do with these really awesome MacGregor cleats I got at KMart that had what felt like a steel toe. Perfect for toe-bashing the ball. My soccer fandom began during the ‘94 World Cup when a friend and I borrowed my parents car and drove 15 hours to NYC for the Germany v. Bulgaria quarterfinal match. Bulgaria won in an upset and I got to watch belligerent drunk German fans try to fight anyone who made eye contact. I was hooked.
RG: Let’s start with credibility. I want my readers to believe me when I say you are a hard-core fan of the Mexican national team.
Izzy: Devotion is a strong word and it doesn’t sit well with my atheist sensibilities. How about passionate? I’d pass that test—I’m passionate in my support for the Mexican national team. I follow the team closely, I read all the think pieces, I complain loudly about the substitutions and given the opportunity, I’ll spend irresponsible amounts of money to watch them play live. Like that time we saw them take on New Zealand at the Azteca in the first leg of the qualification playoff for the 2014 World Cup. There must have been 100,000 people packed into the stadium that day and most of them were seated above us. El Tri scored five goals in that game and every time the ball hit the back of the net it felt like 98,000 beers were raining down on us. So, how’s that for devotion? I’d fly two thousand miles and spend two thousand pesos to have 98,000 beers spilled on me five times over the course of ninety minutes to watch the national team take a final step towards qualifying for a World Cup.
RG: Has growing up in TJ/San Diego shaped how or why you root for Mexico?
Izzy: Absolutely. The ability to cross back-and-forth across the border—at times daily—meant that I could participate in scales of soccer fandom that would not have been available to me had I grown up in, say, Portland, Oregon. For instance, frequent trips across the border meant that I could engage in the kinds of consumerist rituals that fashion Mexican schoolchildren into devoted subjects of the cult of El Tri. I wore the pirated jerseys hawked by fayuqueros at the border crossing, traded bottle caps for bobble heads, and collected greasy trading cards found at the bottom of bags of sabritas. The experience of rooting for the Mexican national team in the borderlands became for me a lived example of what the literary scholar Brent Hayes Edwards has described as “the practice of diaspora;” the daily rituals, interactions, and collaborations that give meaning to the transnational space of Greater Mexico.
RG: Have you ever played?
Izzy: I’ll put it this way: I’ve never played a game of soccer that involved a whistle or a ref. As the kids in Tijuana used to say, si no hay sangre, no hay falta.
RG: What would be a highlight of your time as a fan for the Mexican team?
Izzy: I have a beautiful memory of watching Mexico draw 2-2 against the Netherlands on Match Day 3 of the 1998 World Cup. I was 14 and it was the last summer that I would spend on the Mexicali farm belonging to my great-grandfather, Victoriano Gomez. Victoriano lived a very interesting life, part of which is chronicled in Victor Villaseñor’s classic of Chicano literature, Rain of Gold. Mexico had come from behind 0-2 to tie Belgium only five days earlier and now faced a stacked Netherlands side that would eventually take fourth place at the tournament. Down two-nil at halftime and with no guarantee that they would advance to the knockout stage, Mexico scored two goals in the last fifteen minutes of the game to tie the Netherlands and advance to the Round of 16. And they did it wearing those sick jerseys with the Aztec calendar on them.
RG: Lowest moment as a fan?
Izzy: Dos a Cero is the easy answer, right? But that game was in 2002, when I was 18 and had just dropped out of high school. Those were dark times for me and, honestly, I couldn’t tell you if I watched that game or not. But I can tell you exactly how I was feeling twelve years later when Arjen Robben burglarized our collective aspirations in the 94th minute of the sixth consecutive Round of 16 match Mexico has played at the World Cup without advancing. My best friend got married that summer and at his engagement party guests were invited to decorate a plate for the couple’s new home. My contribution depicted Robben diving like the dude from Baywatch.
RG: Turning to the U.S. Have you ever rooted for the USMNT team? Wished them well against an opponent?
Izzy: Never. As Mao once said, “all countries subjected to U.S. aggression, control, intervention or bullying should unite, and so form the broadest united front to oppose U.S. imperialistic policies of aggression and war and to defend world peace.” Can’t say for sure, but my guess is that he was talking about the World Cup.
RG: What would have to happen for you to become a U.S. Fan?
Izzy: A lot, man. Frankly, I don’t think that being a fan of the USMNT is in the cards for me. Maybe that has something to do with growing up in the borderlands and the physical and cultural proximity to Mexico that I’ve enjoyed. Or maybe it has more to do with what James Baldwin described as that moment when you first discover “that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.” As long we live in a country where elected officials pursue and defend policies that separate immigrant children from their parents and cage them in concentration camps, it shouldn’t be surprising to us that more than 70% of Mexico fans in the U.S. are second generation and beyond. So until Tommie Smith and John Carlos take the midfield for the USMNT, you won’t catch me rooting for the team in red, white and blue.
RG: Brad, I’m a committed Mexican fan and have no desire to root for the USMNT. Convince me that I should become a fan?
Brad: Where do I begin? First, you need to separate your rightful disdain for US imperialism from a soccer team that almost always plays the role of an underdog. We aren’t good (though usually better than Mexico in the past decade or so), and we’re never favored to win in meaningful matches. But we almost always find ways to compete, and it’s fun to root for the underdog. Our team – especially in recent years – is also the antithesis of Trump’s America. It’s made up of guys from all kinds of backgrounds, and supportive of an inclusive set of values. Our former captain – Michael Bradley – spoke out against the Muslim travel ban and argued in the most recent Sports Illustrated that Americans should embrace a soccer culture that includes support for Latin American nations. He also reached out to Gio Dos Santos before their WCQ match just days after Trump’s election to ask if he’d get the Mexican team to pose for a pre-game photo with the US team as symbol of their opposition to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. They did, and here’s a link to that photo. The team has also worn jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community, most recently in the friendlies against Ireland and France this month. (Compare that to what Mexican fans like to shout after goal kicks.) The team itself also embodies the great diversity of this country. In our last meaningful match (which ended our WC dreams), we fielded players from the following national backgrounds: Japanese, Haitian, Liberian, Dominican-Latvian, Brazilian, Colombian, and Mexican. And check out this tweet featuring sixteen of the top youngsters in the men’s national team fold. Raises questions about the “US soccer ignores minorities” argument raised during the Jonathan Gonzalez saga.
Finally, you should root for the US because we are STACKED with amazing talent under the age of 23. Everyone knows Christian Pulisic, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re loaded with kids on the rosters of the some of the biggest clubs in the world: Chelsea, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint Germain, Schalke 04, Everton, Benfica, and I could go on. Much was made of Jonathan Gonzalez’s decision to play for Mexico. I’ll say this: we don’t need him. He couldn’t get a game in the next generation midfield. Come 2022, we are going to be team to reckon with, while Mexico starts a 45 year old Rafa Marquez, and a 35 year old Chicharito. Mark my words.
RG: How long have you supported the U.S. National Team?
Brad: Since the 1994 World Cup, like most Americans. I’m not sure I even knew we had a national team before then.
RG: Can not going to the World Cup help the U.S?
Brad: I’m not going to lie, I’m still devastated we won’t be playing this month. But yes, it is going to end up being a blessing in disguise. It’s a chance to wash the system of old, and not very good players, and give these young kids a shot. We drew 1-1 with France’s world cup team last week. Our starting 11’s average age was 22, and the team averaged 6 caps. These kids can play, and now we can let them. Pay attention to next summer’s Gold Cup, which should feature everyone’s A team. This will be the first test of this new generation.
RG: I have memories of US commentators regularly predicting that the USMNT would win the World Cup in 16, 20 years, etc? Do you think that the U.S. will win a World Cup? Would you put a date on it?
Brad: In light of today’s news, this is an easy question: We’ll hoist the trophy in July 2026 at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey.
RG: What is the future of Mexican players born or raised in the U.S?
Brad: I think you mean Mexicans. “Mexican players” suggested they’ve decided to play for our rivals. For those born here, if they’re good enough, I hope they play for the US. The decision’s theirs though, and I don’t fault them at all for choosing to play for Mexico instead. But I think the growth of professional soccer in this country, which includes both the MLS and USL leagues, is creating the sort of infrastructure needed to identify talent and give these kids opportunities to play at a young age. Just look at the LA Galaxy reserve squad, which features several 15-17 year old rising stars, including one – Efrain Alvarez – who chose to play for Mexico over the US.
RG: Will you be rooting for Mexico this World Cup?
Brad: Hell no. I don’t like them. Rafa’s a cheat, the dos Santos brothers are overrated, Fabian dives a lot, Vela’s like Landon – he couldn’t cut it in Europe, and Chucky’s no Pulisic, that’s for sure. I’ve always had a soft spot for Chicharito, but I take joy in seeing the rest of the lot getting beaten. I’ll say this too: much of the media sees them as the dark horse in this year’s cup, with some suggesting they’ll beat Germany in their opening match, and a few idiots saying they’ll beat Brazil in the knockout stage. They won’t make it out of their group. They’ll lose to Germany (my favorite to win the cup) 3-1, draw with Korea, and lose to Denmark.