Beneath a painted mural of the Oklahoma City skyline, Oscar Chavez shifts in his chair with nervous energy. His knees bounce beneath the bar top. He waits for the national anthem to begin.
He and the dozens of people that surround him have been waiting for this World Cup match for four years, a chance for revenge against a familiar foe, and the possibility to shock the world with a win.
On a big screen, amid neon signs advertising Tecate, Corona and Pacifico beers, Chavez watches as players line up. The music begins.
“Mexicanos, al grito de guerra,” “Mexicans, at the cry of war ...”
While a large number of Oklahoma City soccer fans poured into Bricktown and crammed into local watering holes Monday to watch the U.S. National Team’s 2-1 win over Ghana, another segment of the city bided their time until Tuesday afternoon, waiting for the Mexico versus Brazil match and a chance to cheer on their home countries as they competed in the world’s premier soccer tournament.
At Medio Tiempo Sports Cantina and Grill at 2035 S Meridian, more than 100 people dressed in green and red Mexico jerseys and a handful wearing the bright yellow jerseys of Brazil filled the room, screaming their team’s chants and expressing a seemingly universal hate for soccer referees.
“I was raised watching Mexico futbol,” Chavez said over the roar of the crowd. “There is a huge part of Oklahoma City that cheers for Mexico. It’s just part of who we are and where we came from.”
Popularity of soccer
Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in Oklahoma and Oklahoma County now is home to more than 108,000 people with origins based in Mexico, according to the Pew Research Center.
That Hispanic growth has coincided with a boom in the popularity of soccer in Oklahoma City that some enthusiasts say has reached an all-time high. Crowds have packed games for the Oklahoma City Energy FC professional soccer team in its first year of play, prompting talk of a downtown soccer stadium. In Bricktown on Monday, more than a thousand people stood in the blazing heat to watch an outdoor broadcast of the USA-Ghana game.
Chavez, 25, said he’d hoped to be in Brazil to watch Mexico play in person, but couldn’t get time off from his job as a car salesman. He said he still identifies himself as a Mexico team supporter despite having been born and raised in the U.S.
Outside of Medio Tiempo on Tuesday, kids kicked soccer balls into a giant inflatable goal and met Energy players Adda Djeziri and Samir Badr.
“We really had no idea how big of a deal soccer would be here in Oklahoma,” said Djeziri, who hails from Denmark. “To see this many people on a Tuesday afternoon to watch Mexico and Brazil is just crazy.”
Medio Tiempo owner Joe Gutierrez said his bar has been packed with fans for every game, but that he didn’t realize how many Mexican fans live in Oklahoma City.
“It’s a really great show of country pride and we are seeing it from many different countries, but Mexico supporters have been out in force,” Gutierrez said.
It’s not as if all Mexico fans root against the U.S. Several people cheering for Mexico on Tuesday said they also support their new country, except when they play Mexico.
Oklahoma City native Sam Gascon, 25, is a member of the American Outlaws supporters group. Monday, at the Bricktown watch party, he sang the U.S. national anthem at the top of his lungs.
Tuesday, Gascon, who is of Mexican heritage, stood underneath a television at Medio Tiempo, a Mexican flag draped around his shoulders. He cheered along with Mexico supporters as Mexico’s goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa, blocked shot attempt after shot attempt from Brazil players.
“I’ve gone to games and sung the U.S. national anthem and then turned around and sung the Mexico one,” he said. “I’m a U.S. citizen, I love it here. I just love cheering for Mexico in soccer. It’s my home and these teams are some of the last ties I have to it.”
American Outlaws President Colin Mall, 36, from Edmond, said relations between U.S. and Mexico soccer fans can sometimes be tense, especially after the U.S. beat Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, last September to clinch a berth in the World Cup. But Mall also said the game also can break down cultural barriers.
“I met four people from Ghana before our match on Monday,” he said. “That’s part of the beauty of the World Cup. Everyone can be excited about the country they have roots in. Who would want to stifle that?”
With time winding down Tuesday in what would end in a 0-0 draw, chants from Mexico supporters filled the bar. “Si, se puede,” “Yes, we can.”
When the game ends, Chavez and others celebrate the draw like it’s a win. They’ll be back Monday to cheer on Mexico again.
“I know some probably think it’s weird we still cheer for Mexico while we are born and raised here,” he said. “But this team has been part of my life since I was a kid and will be a part of my kid’s life. I can’t imagine not being a fan.”