Commentary

Don't judge things on colors alone

Many wore green at the Rose Bowl, but the stories behind the jerseys run deeper

Updated: June 26, 2011, 3:18 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- Ninety-three thousand fans jammed the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for Saturday's Gold Cup final between the United States and Mexico and at least 85 percent of them were cheering for Mexico.

For the U.S. side, it was expected. For fans of the U.S. team watching at home, it must have been a bit jarring; a sea of green in a stadium that has hosted some of America's proudest sporting moments.

But this was no road game for the United States, no home-field disadvantage.

Tim Howard
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesIt was a frustrating day for Tim Howard and the U.S., but a good one for fans of soccer and big events.

This was the best of Los Angeles. And, as it would turn out after Mexico's 4-2 comeback win and Giovani dos Santos' goal for the ages, the best of soccer in this region, no matter which side you were supporting.

A lot of people will misinterpret U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard's criticism of CONCACAF officials for announcing the entire postgame ceremony in Spanish as commentary on the crowd inside the stadium.

A lot more will take what Howard said and misguidedly turn it into a political statement.

That's a shame, because that's neither what Howard meant, nor what this day was about.

For 90 minutes Saturday, the U.S. and Mexico played a wildly entertaining game of soccer. And in the 76th minute, dos Santos rewarded everyone with a special goal.

Howard was on the humiliating end of the goal as he flailed not once, but twice, trying to snatch the ball from Dos Santos' magic boots before the talented striker deftly pulled the ball away from him, dribbled toward the center of the field and sent a perfect left-footed shot over the head of U.S. defender Eric Lichaj.

"It was one of those special goals," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said afterward. "That fourth goal took any of our momentum away."

Howard collapsed to the ground in disgust and despair. Lichaj stayed down on his stomach, motionless.

It was painful for U.S. fans to watch, and yet, beautiful, in the same way it was so heartening to watch the way the crowd behaved Saturday.

To judge the crowd on the jerseys and colors they wore would be superficial. Each fan had a story and the more of them I talked to, the more I heard about American dreams that had been fulfilled.

Hector Herrera attended Saturday's game with his parents Aurelio and Teresa, who were wearing Mexico jerseys, and his sons Jason and Hector Jr., who were wearing U.S. jerseys.

Hector, a real estate agent from Riverside, broke the family tie. He wore green.

"We're proud Americans, but we have Mexican blood," he explained. "This is where we live, this is where we work, this is our life, but we're Mexican blood and we're proud of the fact that Mexico is doing well right now.

"But for me, whoever wins today is good."

He meant it, too.

This country has been good to his family. Aurelio, his father, came here from Guadalajara as a young man in 1967. He worked for a year at La Gloria Tortillas first, then found a job at a mattress factory that allowed him to save enough to bring Teresa here three years later.

For the first 12 years, they lived in an apartment in downtown Los Angeles.

"We used to have to jump over rats to get into our front door," Hector said. "But my dad kept working and here we are now."

In 1979, Aurelio had saved enough to put a down payment on a house in Bell.

"That changed everything," Hector said. "That started everything for us."

[+] EnlargeCouple at the Gold Cup
Ramona Shelburne/ESPNLA.comThere were plenty of fans of both the U.S. and Mexico, including this couple who split their loyalties.

Hector went to Cerritos College for a while, then got his real estate license. His oldest son Jason, 18, attends Riverside Community College and plans to be a physical therapist one day.

I'm sure there are those who will judge Hector Herrera and his family for wearing green and supporting Mexico, instead of the side representing the country that has given them so much. But that's as wrong as interpreting Howard's statement as an indictment of the pro-Mexico crowd, instead of a narrow criticism of the short-sighted CONCACAF officials who failed to offer an English version of the postgame ceremony.

It's possible to love both countries, just as it's possible to love a wildly-entertaining game of soccer in which the home team suffered through an epic collapse and was on the wrong end of an epic goal.

America is a place where everyone was from somewhere else first. It is at its best when that becomes a common ground, not a dividing line.

Saturday afternoon, 93,420 fans came together to watch the biggest even in Los Angeles this summer. They cheered loudly and left peacefully, for the most part. Officials announced there were only 26 arrests, a staggeringly low number for a crowd of this size.

They were treated to a fantastic soccer match. Who cares what colors they were wearing.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

ALSO SEE