Commentary

Sea of green at the New Meadowlands

Swamp II gets test run as soccer fans pack stadium for Mexico's match with Ecuador

Updated: May 7, 2010, 10:57 PM ET
By Jane McManus | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just outside the entrance to the Pepsi Gate at the New Meadowlands, as thousands waited to enter, there was a digital billboard that flashed an ad for the Jets. Amid the green and white of the team uniform was the explanation: "Futbol Americano."

When Mexico readied to play Ecuador, football meant soccer. On this night, green jerseys signified Mexico, which was a large part of the reason this game was a sellout with 75,000 tickets sold. Tricolor sombreros and flags filled all three tiers of the new stadium, which will be the home of the NFL's Jets and Giants in just a few months.

The Mexican national soccer team sells out stadiums across the country whenever it undertakes a U.S. tour. This game was an exhibition, as Mexico prepares for the World Cup later this summer in South Africa. When the Cowboys were looking for a way to open their new stadium last summer, Mexico versus Haiti drew 82,252 fans to Cowboys Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMexico fans
Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER/US PresswireFans of Mexico's soccer team, not Jets fans, turn the New Meadowlands green on Friday.

In many ways, the crowd is like any you might see at a Jets or a Giants game. The meats may look a little different, but barbecues are fired up across the parking lots for a tailgate. Instead of throwing footballs, fans kick soccer balls.

And there's more intensity. On Friday, impromptu marching bands made their way around the parking lot, fans like Ivan Gonzalez wore massive Aztec-inspired headgear complete with peacock feathers, and the ubiquitous plastic horns made the stadium sound like a traffic jam in midtown.

Omar Zuniga has been to Giants games with his father, but the 17-year-old from Passaic, N.J., wanted to see what a game was like when you're rooting for a nation. Half Puerto Rican and half Mexican, Zuniga painted his face green, white and red.

"It's something I want to experience before I go into the National Guard," Zuniga said.

The digital advertising strips lining the soccer field fed Spanish-language slogans from American companies like Home Depot and Allstate. The big-scale additions like the JumboTrons worked smoothly.

If this was a test run for the stadium, the New Meadowlands might want to install a few more elevators. There were plenty of helpful people around to direct fans in English and Spanish, but a few times they just weren't sure where something was. Despite the newness, fans made it to the seats for a 9 p.m. start.

Those are the same fans the Jets would like to court back here in the fall. The team has a Spanish-language broadcast it touted on a billboard, "en vivo y en tu idioma," which means "live and in your language."

Sports fans willing to spend $40 a ticket and paint their faces for a favorite team? Whatever the language, that means green.

Jane McManus is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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Jane McManus has covered New York sports since 1998 and began covering football just before Brett Favre's stint with the Jets. Her work has appeared in Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News and The New York Times. Follow Jane on Twitter.

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