‘Happiness’ abounds for Team Mexico, fans
The Georgia Dome’s soccer debut certainly made Atlanta sports officials happy. The announced attendance of 51,115 also made Soccer United Marketing, which organized the event, very, very happy.
Most of the fans who attended the game, overwhelmingly donning Mexico’s Tricolor of green, white and red were extremely happy as they made their way from all around the metro Atlanta area, Georgia and the Southeast.
Several dozen surrounded the Mexico team bus outside the Omni hotel, cheering, snapping photos and incessantly blowing those annoying vuvuzela horns.
(And for those of you complaining about hearing such a racket on your television during the Confederations Cup, try getting an earful of those blasters inside a domed stadium.)
At the pregame Fútbol Fiesta, a monument to blatant, overbearing corporate sponsorship, at least a few young couples enjoyed dancing at the Jose Cuervo tent. If that doesn’t make you happy, what will?
“I expected less people, but they deserved the win,” said Mexico striker Carlos Vela, who scored the first goal of the game. “It was great bringing happiness to them.”
Wednesday’s extravaganza at the Dome went off without a hitch — unless you were among the rare souls sporting Venezuela’s burgundy colors. The specially imported real grass was smooth and playable, especially for the young, dashing Mexican club struggling to gain top playing form. The crowd was well-behaved and organized, basking in the communal experience of celebrating Mexican nationality and heritage. The post-game traffic was a nightmare, but expected.
The immediate verdict — Atlanta is now on the map as a spectator soccer destination — is hard to counter. An untapped market in a part of the world that big-time soccer spectacle has long bypassed figures to get increased consideration for future events.
“You’ll see more of this on a regular basis,” said Atlanta Sports Council president Gary Stokan. “This has a good vibe to it. There’s a pent-up demand for this. I’ve got to give SUM and MLS credit for looking at the future of the [Mexican-American] demographic.”
Even more ecstatic are members of the Latino community who have long awaited a game like this to come to the city.
“I’ve been here 25 years and this is the biggest event for Spanish-speaking people that I’ve ever seen,” said Will Ramirez, director of Estadio Sports, an Atlanta Spanish-language sports media outlet that covers primarily soccer, including many of the metro areas dozens of Hispanic soccer leagues. “They are very happy because this is the first time there has been something like this in this city.”
But Ramirez said that while the Mexican bonanza is nice, next month’s friendly between Club América, and AC Milan, the two most popular club teams in Mexico and Italy, respectively, could draw a more diverse crowd. And a bigger one.
“For as many people as there were here tonight,” he said Wednesday, “there will be more then. You will have Mexican and Latino fans. You will have European and African fans.”
Although AC Milan no longer has Brazilian star Kaká, sold earlier this summer to Real Madrid, it still has a star-studded roster that includes Ronaldinho and stars of Italy’s 2006 World Cup championship team.
The Rossoneri, as AC Milan are called, may not field those all of those players in Atlanta, since the match is during a preseason tour of the United States.
So it might be hard to match the happiness factor that erupted around town this week.
“This is my first trip to Atlanta,” Mexico coach Javier Aguirre said. “And I leave very happy.”
Here are some extensive video highlights of the match from Telemundo, where famed announcer Andrés Cantor also was happy calling mucho goles: