Loud silence permeates Soldier Field before Gold Cup final

July 28th, 2013

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Photo: Jamie Trecker/FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker, FOXSoccer.com

CHICAGO

The Lakeshore Segway riders caromed through Soldier Field’s plaza. They wobbled and weaved, but didn’t hit anyone. There was almost no one to run in to.

This was the Gold Cup final at Soldier Field, an event CONCACAF and the city of Chicago both hoped would fill the lakefront on this unusually chilly July afternoon. Instead, both were to confront the reality that this soccer game was to be a quiet one.

Two hours before kickoff, the sponsor’s tents sat vacant; the speakers at 7UP’s pavilion were turned down so as not to deafen. A group of Panamanian fans posed for the local Univision channel, a rare splash of color on an otherwise quiet afternoon day. Tickets were freely available for $30 – the scalpers that showed up didn’t even make an effort – and some sponsors were simply passing them out to early arrivers.

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Photo: Jamie Trecker/FOX Soccer

The reason? Mexico didn’t make the final, and that killed whatever walkup crowd might have showed up. Chicago has an enormous Latino population, and it is overwhelmingly Mexican in origin. One of the biggest communities of Mexican emigrants sits just twenty blocks west of Soldier Field, with Pilsen and Little Village comprising the largest concentration of Mexican ex-pats outside of Mexico City itself.

This has had a perverse effect on the attendance for this game. So many expected it to be a USA-Mexico final that some simply assumed the game was sold-out long ago. (One couple, out for a jog on the lakefront in matching Liverpool warm-ups, were stunned to find tickets available). Mexican fans, aware that their side was riven by injuries and, well, not very good, held back from buying tickets until the last possible moment. When they were ousted by Panama, that decision looked smart – for everyone save CONCACAF and Soldier Field, of course.

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Photo: Jamie Trecker/FOX Soccer

But it also plays up a weakness in the USA’s domestic market. Soccer House, the headquarters of the US Soccer Federation, sits a stone’s throw from Soldier, a turn-of-the-century edifice on a leafy and quiet street. Chicago has historically been a soccer hotbed: The NPSL, NASL, and MLS have all prospered here and the game has been a mainstay of colleges and high schools across the region. And yet, the Americans are frequently outdrawn here by their rivals. Mexico can sell Soldier Field out. Poland, thanks to a huge emigrant population to the North and West here, can come close. The Americans? Not without help, and certainly not in games that are perceived to be second-tier.

This year’s Gold Cup has struggled with that perception. Everyone knows this is an American “B” team, and everyone knows the real game takes place on Sept. 10, when the USA takes on Mexico in Columbus in a pivotal World Cup qualifier. But had Mexico made this game, Chicago’s streets would have been full of green-clad fans and celebration.

Instead, it’s quiet. The security guards are able to lean back and rest. It’s a shame. This is expected to be a fairly decent game.

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