‘I Love the Rivalry’: Fans Soak Up U.S.-Mexico Soccer Showdown in the Valley

Fans of the U.S. Men's National Team celebrate an equalizing goal by Jesús Ferreira in the 82nd minute of the game.
Fans of the U.S. Men's National Team celebrate an equalizing goal by Jesús Ferreira in the 82nd minute of the game. Elias Weiss
Patriotic tensions flared in Glendale on Wednesday night as the flags of two nations — one spangled with stars, the other adorned with a golden eagle — stood at odds.

In an unprecedented year of high-profile sports events in metro Phoenix, the U.S. Men’s National Team faced off against North American soccer rival, Team Mexico, in the first-ever Allstate Continental Clásico. Slated to become an annual tradition, the Clásico will pit the USMNT against a top-tier opponent from the Americas.

As promised, the game didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was a thriller that ended in a 1-1 draw that left the 55,730 fans State Farm Stadium thirsting for the next match-up. The teams will meet again in less than two months for a showdown in the semifinals of the 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League on June 15 in Las Vegas.

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Mesa resident and Mexico fan Adrian Holguin stands on top of his truck during a tailgate party before the inaugural Allstate Continental Clásico.
Elias Weiss

Going All Out

The asphalt sea of parking spaces surrounding the stadium sizzled like a barbacoa pit as thousands of fans began tailgating hours before the referee sounded the opening whistle.

The infamously repetitive beeping of Hechizeros Band’s El Sonidito echoed throughout the party. Fans of both teams intermingled, danced on top of cars, and cracked open ice-cold Coronas as bedsheet-sized flags billowed in the breeze. Meanwhile, children in green Mexican kits played soccer in the streets near Maryland and 91st avenues.

Fans of Mexico donned lucha libre máscaras, rubber masks of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and oversized sombreros. American fans draped in Old Glory crowned their heads with Lady Liberty spikes and dressed up as Captain America and Wonder Woman.

Arizona soccer fans typically don’t get to enjoy dozens of home games every year like football, basketball, and baseball fans do. So when international play comes to the Valley, fans go all out.

“I love my football, but I just love the atmosphere of a soccer game,” said Adrian Holguin, a Mexico fan from Mesa.

Standing on top of his truck amid a rowdy tailgate party, Holguin told us he was most looking forward to having a good time and doing the wave — the iconic audience diversion that’s rumored to have started during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Michael Gibbons, a U.S. fan from Mesa, said he was most looking forward to drinking and participating in the many electrifying soccer chants.

“I enjoy the vibe. The atmosphere is just different, it’s much more exciting,” Gibbons said. “And to have a whole stadium participating in a chant, that’s epic.
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Marcus Cranston, also known as "Eagleman," is a fan of the U.S. team from Las Vegas who hasn't missed a U.S.-Mexico match since 1998.
Elias Weiss

Just Call Him Eagleman

By day, Marcus Cranston is a physician from Las Vegas. But by night, he dons a feathery bald eagle mascot head, red velvet cape, and golden crown and calls himself “Eagleman.” Cranston who has become a recognizable figure for American soccer fans, also prides himself on wielding a pair of trophies to symbolize the USMNT’s 2017 and 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup victories.

“I’m most excited about the fact that I get to walk around with two trophies in my hands because we own the two trophies,” Cranston told Phoenix New Times just before the game.

Eagleman attended his first U.S.-Mexico match 25 years ago and has made a point to cheer on his countrymen at every subsequent meeting.

“I love the rivalry, the energy, the fans, and the players who care so much about it,” he said. “It’s a better rivalry than anything in the NFL.”

Inside the packed stadium, the chants never stopped. More than 55,000 devotees of the Beautiful Game — a phrase popularized by Pelé to describe soccer — exchanged fire with opposing chants of "U-S-A" and "MÉ-XI-CO." Fan representation from both countries, much like the final score of the game, was equal.

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Defender Walker Zimmerman looks for options up the field.
Elias Weiss

The Rivalry

The USMNT and Mexico, both coming off of 2022 World Cup appearances, painted a new chapter of North American soccer history on a grassy green canvas with a game that had fans on the edge of their seats until the final minute of play. At halftime, the game was tied, but shortly after the second half began, Mexico took a 1-0 lead after a goal by Uriel Antuna.

It wasn’t until the 82nd minute that the Americans started a beautiful counterattack that culminated with an equalizing goal from forward Jesús Ferreira.

“It’s a huge game in front of a massive crowd,” USNMT head coach Anthony Hudson told reporters at a press conference. “These games are so special to be involved in.”

Glendale has been the venue for a showdown between the U.S. and Mexico twice before. The first meeting took place in 2007 and was a friendly match that saw the U.S. triumph 2-0 before a crowd of more than 62,000. The second encounter was in 2014 when the teams faced off again in another friendly match. This time, just over 59,000 fans watched as the game ended in a 2-2 draw.

U.S. Soccer hasn’t yet announced which North, Central, or South American team the USMNT will face in next year’s Continental Clásico, or if the game will be in Arizona or elsewhere.

“The opportunity to build a platform that brings a world-class opponent to the U.S. each year will be another key step toward making soccer the preeminent sport in our country,” Kelly Higgins, U.S. Soccer vice president of partnership marketing, said in a press release. “Kicking off the event with one of the biggest rivalries in international soccer will no doubt present a unique opportunity for us to engage avid, casual, and multicultural soccer fans alike.”
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USMNT Goalie Sean Johnson prepares to clear the ball up the field. The veteran goalkeeper saw his USMNT-record shutout streak end at 814 minutes.
Elias Weiss
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times who covers everything from politics and sports to gambling and electric vehicles. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was managing editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and courts. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide, and in 2021, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Long-Form News Writing and Headline Writing. His Arizona politics coverage has been featured in The Daily Beast.
Contact: Elias Weiss

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