The World Cup is the only good thing happening in the world right now.
That’s an exaggeration, but it’s also kind of not. Every day in America there’s something crazy going on from assembling space forces to separating kids that look a hell of a lot like I did when I was a kid from their families as they look for asylum in this country. The only good thing is that for the last 6 days I’ve woken up early and watched soccer games.
I have the benefit of being first generation American. I am of Mexican descent. I grew up on the border in El Paso, Texas and grew up watching and cheering for the Mexican National Soccer team. The first world cup in my memory is the 1994 World Cup. The loss of Mexico and the refusal of then coach Miguel Mejia Baron to sub in Hugo Sanchez despite the crowd chanting for him by name to be subbed in. To be completely honest I’m not sure if that actually happened, I was 6 at the time and I’d rather keep my memory this way than be proven wrong. Next came France 98 which produced some of the greatest goals I’d seen in my life with both Cuahtemoc Blanco and Luis ‘El Matador’ Hernandez scoring in heroic fashion. Korea/Japan 2002 was responsible for the biggest heartbreak in my life up until that point when Mexico lost to the United States in the round of 16. Germany 06 was some of the best soccer I’d ever seen and my heart was ripped out by Argentina in the round of 16. The Argentinians did the same thing again in ‘10, and who can forget the #NoEraPenal debacle that befell the team at the hands of The Dutch, again in the round of 16.
The Mexican National team has been mostly heartbreaking in World Cups.
On Sunday however, when the Mexican National team faced the defending World Cup champion Germany they were miraculous, magical, perfect. Exactly what I needed.
The magic started in the pregame national anthem ceremony as the Mexican National anthem started playing. When it came time to sing the crowd rang out so loud that it seemed like the game was being played in Mexico. Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez was visibly moved by the booming sound of the crowd singing and his eyes watered as he smiled. The camera panned to the rest of the players and all of them were similarly affected. The crowd had shown up, now the team had to do it.
Mexico played magically. The team was unafraid they had a plan and perhaps more importantly they stuck to it. The first half, Germany maintained the majority of the possession but Mexico was deadly on the counter attack and was frequently in position to score. As the game went on and Mexico kept passing up scoring opportunities, a familiar dread crept up on me. Mexico would fail to score and Germany would eventually score, and Mexico would lose. Right as that thought was about to firmly plant itself in my cynical brain there was a miraculous counter.
In the 34th minute of the first half Chicharito receives a long pass from the defense. He immediately touches back to Andres Guardado, a midfielder and streaks up the field as Guardado touches back to him. Hirving ‘Chuky’ Lozano sprints up the left side behind the German defender and Chicharito spots him passing the ball to him in stride. Lozano cuts inside and with a right foot places the ball perfectly in the back of the net. The world erupts. I jumped up to my feet and shouted as if I had scored the goal myself. A miracle.
For the second half of the game, the Germans came back and attacked with fury. The Mexican national team held on for dear life. Or rather, I held on for dear life as the team on the field was calm and collected, disciplined blocking any attack and swarming any German that had the ball. Goalkeeper Memo Ochoa once again was elevated to hero status as he blocked anything that went near the net including a beautifully placed freekick by Germany Real Madrid star Toni Kroos.
The whistle blew and Mexico won.
It was a dream. There’s no other way to put it. For months now no one expected Mexico to win. I hoped Mexico would win, but knew it was a near impossibility. Yet here I was staring at the score on the screen, and Mexico had won.
The post game interview with 22 year old Hirving Lozano was my favorite moment of the entire game. The reporter asked Chuky if this result proved that Mexico can go toe to toe with any team in the world and if they can “disrespect” any soccer powerhouse in the world to which he answered, “There’s no disrespect, but of course we can compete with any team. We have a lot of potential. We have great players and we’ve just shown it.” The reporter followed up asking ‘What kind of results can Mexico deliver with this team” and Lozano once again responded in a fantastic way; “I’ve always said, this is a great team, we all work incredibly hard and all we can do is continue in the same way we have.”
I loved this response. I loved his mindset. But I loved it more in Spanish because he said “Nos partimos la madre todos”. While it does mean “we worked really hard”, it’s a lot more brash, it’s a lot more slang, it’s a lot more real. It’s a lot more Mexican. The Mexican team is not the most talented, the federation is not the wealthiest, the team is not the best in the world pero nos partimos la madre todos. What Chuky said though transcends soccer. It’s what being a Mexican is like in every aspect of life. Every Mexican you know is partiendose la madre out there,. Working hard, raising good kids, being the first one of their family to go to college, being the “token” software developer in their majority white and asian teams. The “diversity” hire who has to prove he’s a lot more than just that. Just working hard, it’s what we do. I found solace in the fact that even at the highest levels of Mexican excellence, here having just felled the biggest soccer giant in the world, it’s STILL the same quality we all share that has allowed the team to achieve this. It gave me hope.
I know it may seem ridiculous to extract that much out of a game, but as Billy Beane once said in Moneyball (the movie) “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball soccer” . The Mexican National Team is the most popular team in the United States. It’s the team of many Mexican Americans like me and it represents us in ways like the one mentioned above. In a time where our very existence, or our parents and culture is being vilified as an infestation. The world was seeing Mexican excellence and it couldn’t be denied. No matter what the voices say, we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to keep partiendonos la madre and making this country run, all of us.
A couple of days before this game Chicharito had an interview with a Mexican reporter who is kinda like the Skip Bayless of Mexico who insisted that it’s ridiculous for Mexico to think it can win the World Cup. Chicharito responded that despite knowing all of the team’s shortcomings “Let’s imagine awesome things, why can’t we imagine awesome things?” In this day and age that’s about as hopeful as we can be. When faced with fear about the future state of our people in this country, Let’s imagine awesome things and let’s continue to partirnos la madre and we will overcome.