When the world’s game comes to Seattle, this is what it looks like.
A passionate celebration of what makes us all different and yet a unity, a common love for one sport. A big crowd, top-class play and a craving for more.
Such is the case Wednesday night, when the national teams of Mexico and China meet at Qwest Field.
“It’s going to be a big party,” says Victor Hernandez, who is heavily involved in local Spanish-language media. “Festivities, happy and loud. Well-behaved, but definitely loud.”
There have been two capacity crowds at Qwest, and it’s possible that the Mexico-China attendance could reach 66,000. However, it already promises to surpass the Manchester United and Real Madrid exhibitions in terms of atmosphere.
“This is one of the loudest cities by NFL standards, but soccer fans can get a lot louder,” Hernandez says. “When you have so much passion, people tend to jump up and down, so it may get a little bit noisier.”
In theory this match is a friendly played on neutral ground. In theory.
In reality, we are all getting a one-night trip to one of the world’s most soccer-mad nations, Mexico. Green, red and white. Songs, mariachis and flags. All put into motion, with emotion, everywhere.
Not So Surprised
“I have predicted all along that there would be more than 50,000,” said Jorge Rivera, publisher of La Raza Noroeste. “When you’re living abroad, watching your national team is an obligation. In Latin America soccer, our national teams represent the country more than the president himself.”
“There’s no doubt that the Hispanic population will be out there in full force,” says Tim Wang. “Soccer’s in their culture, their nature. The Asian population–our nature of being more reserved and perhaps not fully expressing ourselves–this is an opportunity to break that stereotype.”
Both Hernandez and Wang, who owns a full-service Asian advertising agency, say that this game’s appeal goes beyond the local Mexican and Chinese communities. “The Hispanic community takes advantage of these rare opportunities, to gather and root for, in this case, Mexico,” says Hernandez. “We did the same when Honduras played the U.S. at Safeco Field.”
“It doesn’t just appeal to Chinese people but to the general Asian population as a whole,” adds Wang. “It’s an international game and it’s definitely a popular sport in many of the Asian countries.”
Mexico plays in the U.S. on a regular basis, although most games are held in border states such as California, Texas and Arizona. Some may be surprised that the Tricolores are coming this far north. Not so Hernandez and Rivera.
“The whole MLS Seattle organization is very aware of the Mexican community here, so it’s logical for them,” Rivera says. “It’s a test to see how they will react to an event of this kind.”
Recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that Washington’s Hispanic population has grown over 30 percent, to at least 580,000, since 2000. Considering that the state also boasts the fifth-largest Asian population, and that people will travel from as far away as Portland and Eastern Washington, this particular matchup seems a natural.
It’s no matter that it is a late kickoff on a weeknight. “It’s like a Monday Night Football game,” Hernandez claims, comparing it to a holiday such as Cinco de Mayo. “It’s a work night but it’s a rare occasion, so it will make no difference.”
Adrian Hanauer, Seattle Sounders FC general manager and part owner, was cautiously optimistic about bidding for the event.
“The ticket sales figure is better than we expected and definitely at the higher end of the range we hoped for,” Hanauer says. “This goes to solidify our hunch that this is a strong soccer market in every ethnic mix.”
Seeing the Future
One of Hanauer’s players could’ve told him so much. Hugo Alcaraz-Cueller, a key midfielder for the USL Sounders club, expected a packed Qwest Field from the outset.
“I bought tickets the day they came out, and I’m going with about 10 friends,” notes Alcaraz-Cueller, a native of Guadalajara who was raised in Santa Barbara. “If you play or are a fan of soccer and want to be part of a great game and atmosphere, then you don’t want to miss it.”
All of this bodes well for the future, for the advent of Major League Soccer in 2009 and bringing all worshipers of the world game under one flag.
“Soccer is starting to gain some steam here,” Wang notes. “By having the Chinese national team here, there will be more recognition of Seattle as a Pacific Rim metropolitan area, and it brings more awareness to other potential relationships with China. It’s good for the community as a whole.”
“With this becoming an MLS stadium next year,” says Hernandez, “this will get everybody going and give everyone an idea of what is to come.”