Hours before the U.S. and Mexico national teams faced off for the CONCACAF Nations League final, the parking lot at Empower at Mile High Stadium was already filling up with tailgaters for the main event. Sure, people were flying American and Honduran flags, but it was mostly a sea of red, white and green here.
A group of rowdy dudes, who waited in line to get in first, shouted along with rancheras as people set up tents and barbecues. Abel Adame, who drove from Salt Lake City to watch the games, strutted around in an Aztec headdress. People were covered in face paint, banners and hats emblazoned with Mexican colors.
Update: The U.S. team won the game.
Fans traveled from around the country to watch Mexico play. They also came from around the corner. Miguel Si Fuentes, who made an enormous banner for the game, grew up in Denver.
“People don’t understand how big this thing is,” he said of the game, not the banner. “It’s something different, man. It’s unbelievable, and I’m just happy to have it in my backyard. I love it. I love it, man.”
It’s not just the long-standing rivalry between the two teams that made the game a big deal. Si Fuentes also saw it as sort of an audition for the World Cup, which the U.S., Canada and Mexico are slated to host together in 2026.
“It’s coming. We’ve got to shine tonight,” he said. “We have a chance man. We’re right in the middle of everything.”
That was a common theme among the crowd.
“It is a thing,” Kana Rodriguez said as she danced with Rigo Spath on the asphalt. “That would be amazing.”
Rodriguez and Spath live in mountain towns, which they said can feel isolating at times. As they danced to the rowdy dudes’ music, they felt something they had been missing.
“It’s nice to come here and get together with people with your same culture and just feel like you’re at home,” Rodriguez said. “It’s good to feel the culture.”
Meanwhile, Raul Gomez was hawking Mexican flags on the side of Federal Boulevard. He’d chosen a spot on the Colfax Avenue overpass, which offers no shoulder where potential customers could pull over. Still, drivers stopped, blocked traffic, and held cash out their windows to get some of his wares.
Mile High Stadium was not at capacity for the event – COVID restrictions still linger – but Gomez said that hasn’t impacted his sales. His trip out from Los Angeles was worth it.
“That’s what I do. I sell. This is the first time I’m traveling because, right now, in L.A. they don’t have a lot of events,” he said. But the other night: “I made about $1,000.”
His flags, headbands and masks, all covered in Mexican colors, are selling just fine.
The pandemic crowd cap impacted some of the camaraderie in the stands, BIanca Lozano said, but not too much. Everyone was compensating for a year’s worth of social distancing.
“Most of all after COVID, let’s get out, let’s finally get together and cheer them on,” she said. “It’s freakin’ amazing.”
Kate Olson, Zoie Holloway and Devaughn Dix were some of the few tailgaters dressed in American colors. Dix said that’s usually the case.
“I’ve been to multiple U.S.A. games, and we get shown out by literally every country that we play, every single time,” he said.
He expected team America fans gathered at their usual bars, anyway.
But Lozano said her team Mexico comrades are compelled to show out when they can.
“Soccer’s our passion. That’s in our blood,” she said.
On a Sunday night, when Federal is usually full of low riders cruising the strip, she said, cheers of “viva México” in the Westside landed just right.