I immigrated to California from Scotland in the late eighties. Exposure to soccer went behind a cloud. Gridiron and hardball broke the new horizon. I traded abusing the soccer ref for shafting the umpire miscalling a strike. The path to being American was laid.
But on Sundays, the coals of the old love were kept burning. Channel 14 broadcast Mexican soccer. A frenetic feast of Spanish adjectives powered through the tube. I understood everything the commentators said without knowing a word. Who needed translation when the great sportscaster, Andres Cantor, delivered -- Gooooooaaaaaaalllllllllll!
When the World Cup rolled around, I watched it in Spanish, by choice. England played Cameroon in a quarterfinal at the 1990 Finals. Scotland's natural enemy was in trouble, down 2-1, time running out on the clock. The Channel 14 commentator screamed "dramatico, tenso final" depositing this auditory gem into my empty Spanish vocabulary. I uttered it many times afterwards and not just at the end of excitingly tight soccer games. Once, I shouted it during a bar brawl.
Via Channel 14, soccer was a fiesta. The studio sets during the Copa Mundial broadcasts looked more like a bar. Vanished were boring beige pundits sitting at desks pontificating. The hottest girls were tossing balls around, a mariachi band strummed, whoops and cries of Mexico! swept up the fever. It was evangelical. I was converted. I wanted Mexico to win.
In Scotland, the TV taught us the King of the Wild Frontier version of Mexico vs. USA. But when I read the history books, Mexico had been robbed. Its land had been sequestered, conquered, its pride hurt. The narrative felt vaguely Scottish. I threw Davey Crockett's coonskin hat in the bin and started listening to plaintive corridos.
At each World Cup Finals, I wore my Mexico shirt and noticed a pattern. Usually, El Tri made it through to the knockout rounds of the tournament. The gate to the Final lay up ahead. Mexico's destiny at the crossroads as if history was leading up to a point of redemption, a singular capsule of deliverance from the ache of uncertainty, all the historical angst of being the afterthought through the loss of the land and the bullying lust of el otro lado. Mexico was primed to prove to the the Yanqui and the world that it deserved a place at the top table, its history of struggle and ancient pride served up on a futbol platter. Then it lost the game. Mexico was definitely Scottish.
These losses were fat with the doubt of history's carvings. The team imploded. Ill discipline burned on a weary fatalism and it hung heavy. Mexico's fate was to never make it, the endlessness of hopelessness. And to rub salt into the wound, the Gringo started to beat them.
Famously, at the 2002 World Cup, Landon Donovan, a kid from the lost lands of California, sent Mexico home scoring the USA's second goal. Mexican soccer was never darker. The Yanqui had taken what Mexican soccer thought could never be lost -- the one supremacy over the neighbor. The United States had learned to kick and it was easy to see who would it enjoy kicking most.
The rivalry between the two countries continues. On Tuesday, they meet again in World Cup qualifying on the road to Brazil, hosts of the Finals in 2014. Everything will be at stake for 90 minutes in Mexico City at the Azteca Stadium, Mexico's soccer cathedral.
For me, the American road now stretches a quarter century. And I wear the colors of the USA. But when Mexico plays against anyone else, I'm the Scottish guy in the colors of El Tri, yelling Goooooooaaaaaalllllll. Watch the game on ESPN or Univision - I think I'll watch the latter.