Crowd trouble at the U.S.-Mexico final

A Mexican fan, before Saturday's match in Pasadena.

We’ve always known that a U.S. national team game on U.S. soil conjures a strange world, indeed.

On the one hand, I always appreciated what it meant in the bigger picture. People come from other lands to share in the opportunities of our great country, and I personally have zero issue with that. Chances to see the national team of their heritage is a way to celebrate both lands; they love the United States for giving them a better life, but they love their homeland, too.

So, the United States national teamers and their supporters frequently feel like visitors, labeled only nominally as the “home side.” This is nothing new.

It has gotten better. U.S. fans contingents have grown and U.S. Soccer has developed better sales tools that help ensure a pro-U.S. crowd. Wiser venue selection has abetted the process, helping establish a true home-field advantage with more frequency.

Saturday’s match inside the Rose Bowl was a different jar of pickles. CONCACAF selected the venue, not U.S. Soccer.  The regional fed was also responsible for game management and security, not U.S. Soccer.

All that said, there were apparently problems that have to be addressed. Read on …

All the issues are spelled out quite well here. This isn’t the only complaint I saw (this one was sent to me and other U.S. soccer writers via Facebook.) But as it’s signed and filled with detail, I think there’s a good chance that the factor of exaggeration and emotional overreach is likely well in check.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

As the blog post says, there are lots of good fans that come to watch Mexico and other lands when they play here. Before last week’s semifinal in Houston, I had this exact thought as I walked the stadium’s outer grounds about an hour before the match. “Where are all those rowdy troublemakers I always hear about? They must direct  them to a special entrance, because all I see are good mix of soccer fans (younger, older, men, women, etc.) who are enjoying the night and hardly looking to cause trouble.”

Now, I understand that a Wednesday evening match is different than a Saturday night contest, mostly because fans have more  time to get, uh, “ready” for the kickoff.

I will also say that a match in Pasadena is a challenge. The stadium sits in a valley, so routes in are always tricky, even for the New Year’s day bowl game, where officials have literally decades of experience. The stadium is old, so load-in and egress (fancy words for “gettin’ in and gettin’ out”) can be a bear, too.

I’ve been to the Rose Bowl maybe 10 times, mostly for bigger soccer events. I was lucky enough to be there for the U.S. upset over Colombia in 1994, for the World Cup final three weeks later and for the Women’s World Cup final in 1999.

More instructive, however, was a trip to the Rose Bowl 18 months ago for college football’s national championship. There I was just a fan – and getting into those pitifully small entry portals was a maddening experience.  

I can also see where providing proper security for tailgating is a challenge, considering the vast area that would require supervision.

All that said, if proper security and crowd management mechanisms cannot be established, then the Rose Bowl needs to be crossed off everybody’s list of venues – not matter how much cash the crowds of 90,000-plus may generate for CONCACAF.

This is something that everybody needs to examine. Answers won’t come easily, but the efforts need to be made.

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