Along with the International Space Station, global competitions such as the Olympics and the World Cup hold a special place in my heart, holding up my hope that humanity can occasionally collaborate on something that isn’t actively destructive to all participants.
The sport which I will heretofore refer to as “soccer” (because history will record me as an American whether I like it or not) is by far the world’s most popular game, but is much more tepidly embraced in the United States, where sports fans typically prefer more thrilling contests like baseball.
Under normal circumstances I’m not the world’s biggest soccer fan–like I said, grew up a Yank–but there’s something about being in a room full of people who care about the same thing that can engulf your conscious mind and make you a part of the moment. Seeking out this heady experience for the world’s biggest tournament, I took a tip from a friend and dragged myself out of bed just after sunrise to commune with true believers.
The Vibes: I drowsily ambled into the popular sports bar on the northwest side of Macroplaza at 9:03am and was immediately vivified by the now-familiar buzz of the assembled as they intently monitored the screens placed around the bar. This was my third visit to El Guamuchilito in as many weeks, and so admittedly showing up just a few minutes late was gambling with the availability of seating.
Fortunately, a few buddies of mine had shown up beforehand to claim a table, so all I had to do was park my festively adorned self in a chair, grab a beer from the bucket, and plug in to the electric atmosphere. The thatched roof provided ample shielding from the strengthening sunlight as fans placed their breakfast orders or opted for liquid sustanance to start the day.
Mexico’s opponent on the day was Brazil, the historically dominant side that had claimed several World Cups in the past and was poised for another deep run in the tournament with some of the top players in the world. Various noisemakers clacked, clanked, and cursed through the early minutes of the match…the Mexican team was certainly outgunned, but maybe, just maybe, not outmanned.
The Vices: Humble Mexico had just a week or two ago taken down reigning world champion Germany in a true shocker, and hopes were high for El Tri. I nervously chewed through my birria tacos as the undersized Mexican team competed gamely for headers and strived to match stride with the much more athletic Brazilian players.
El Tri competed with passion and pride, as is required by their official logo badge, and when elite scorer and skilled community theater actor Neymar of Brazil punched a short shot into the Mexican net, it only seemed to strengthen the conviction of the fans. Many phrases I can’t repeat in this space ricocheted off the walls like Nerf darts in a delightful display of enduring enthuiasm. If I had clacked my clackers any more, they would have taken them from me.
Still, as the back of the net bulged for the bad guys a second time, ending all reasonable hope for another huge upset, the bar, where I had once spent 5 minutes yelling “Korea” repeatedly and first heard the manly motivational chant of “huevos!” in support of the Mexican goaltender during a critical penalty kick, fell silent. The palpable ebb and flow of the game crested on the rocks of reality as the better team proved itself on the pitch.
In this colorful courtyard I once felt elation as the football faithful exploded with delight while the clock ticked down on the Cup’s biggest upset, leading me to my most well recieved bit of Spanish smack talk yet. (“ADIOS ALEMANIA!!!”)
I equally felt the deflation as the last grains slipped through the hourglass of Mexico’s run in Russia…I couldn’t name five players on the team at gunpoint, but the emotion of the event flowed through me like a current. Indeed, for those two hours or so, all of us were connected.
As for soccer’s limited visibility in the United States, I now firmly believe it’s due to a misunderstanding about what the game actually is. Sure, it’s not an action-packed extravaganza like a TV boxing card or the eleven minutes of active play in a three-hour NFL broadcast, but it can tap into our emotions much more closely.
The incendiary excitement of a pressure-packed offensive assault on an opposing goaltender, the cooling rush of relief on another heroic Ochoa save, the effervescent anticipation as a long pass is reeled in with the tip of a toe on an attacking rush, the serendipitous shock of unexpected victory…I felt it all spending Mexico’s World Cup run at El Guamuchilito, and it was amazing. Food’s pretty good too.
The Verdict: Although Mexico’s World Cup story is over, I recently learned that this sport is actually played all year. The bar is known as a gathering point for fans of Jalisco’s Chivas side and for showcasing other high-profile matches, so maybe I’ll finally start consistently supporting that Premier League team I selected as a favorite. I don’t always watch soccer, but when I do, more often than not it will be at El Guamuchilito. Maybe I’ll catch you there.