As a youth, on the streets of the city of San Luis Potosí in central Mexico, Sergio Tristán and his cousins would re-create the play of the stars of the Mexican national team.
He spent most of his summers and breaks from school in the United States visiting his grandparents and other family members in the large city four hours north of Mexico City, and Tristán's love for El Tri — the nickname of the Mexican men’s national team — blossomed on these trips, especially during the 1986 World Cup hosted in the country.
Ever since, Tristán has dedicated a good portion of his free time to the team, traveling all over North America for matches — including using his leave from the U.S. Army while serving in Iraq to fly back for a World Cup qualifier — and creating the supporters’ group Pancho Villa’s Army, which is meant for fans who grew up in the United States to connect to their Mexican roots.
So when Wednesday’s match at Q2 Stadium between Mexico and Chile was announced as part of the Mexican men’s national team’s annual exhibition tour through the United States, meaning that El Tri would be playing in his hometown of Austin, there might not have been anyone happier than Tristán.
“It’s just a feeling of excitement,” he said. “This is the reason why a lot of Mexican fans in the city got behind ‘MLS to ATX,’ because we knew what a new stadium could do for the city and that it could possibly bring the national team here. (Wednesday) will be a crescendo of a lot of work over the last four years, and we’re going to enjoy the heck out of it.”
Supporter groups from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Phoenix will be coming to the match, and even a few people from Los Angeles. While Tristán relishes the opportunity to see his favorite team and show off his club team’s stadium and city, he noted that the event is about so much more than soccer.
“Really, what these games have become is a family reunion,” he said. “You show up and become involved in your food, culture and language, and it all revolves around a 90-minute soccer game.”
Unlike Tristán, Usbaldo Balderas has never seen Mexico play in person.
Growing up in the midsized city of Torreón in northern Mexico, Balderas knew the national team would never come to his town, but soccer was always part of his life, whether playing it or following the local club team, Santos Laguna.
He said he fully realized the importance of the national team to the country during the 1998 World Cup in France.
“That’s a memory that stands out as I was in middle school and when the Mexico matches came on, school basically just stopped,” he said. “We had a player, El Matador (Luis Hernandez), who was a star, and everyone was glued to the matches wherever there was a TV.”
Now that El Tri is coming to Austin, Balderas is taking advantage of something he’s waited more than 30 years to see.
“It should be wild,” he said. “They fact they’re coming here is pretty awesome, and it highlights how Austin is becoming more diverse. Soccer is a big part of that.”
Similar to Balderas, Miguel Gonzalez thinks Mexico’s visit is a sign Austin is becoming a bigger player in the sport.
Born in the southwestern port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, before being raised in Indiana, Gonzalez has been playing soccer as long as he can remember and has attended several Mexico matches in Gold Cup competitions across the United States.
When he bought Austin FC season tickets, Gonzalez hoped events like this would follow, and they’ve happened sooner than he expected.
“We’ve seen the USA come here, so I’m excited to see Mexico come here and see the hype for it,” Gonzalez said. “Austin FC is cool and great, but there’s not a whole lot of Mexican representation on the team. So it’s good to see Mexico in a town where there’s a lot of Mexican representation and culture.”
Though Mexico isn’t bringing its first-team squad, Tristán, Balderas and Gonzalez are all looking forward to watching some of the players who will be on the field.
Tristán — who said he will be in the supporters’ section and plans to “beat the drums like crazy” — noted that Marcelo Flores, an 18-year-old midfielder who is currently with the Arsenal youth academy, received his first call-up to the senior team, while Balderas will be paying attention to goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo, who plays for Santos Laguna.
Gonzalez is also intrigued to see what strategy Mexico coach Gerardo Martino employs in the match.
“It’s getting close to the 2022 World Cup, so we have to think about tactics — and even though some of these players might not be starting, they might make the roster,” he said.
Austin FC has one of the better fan sections in the MLS, but all three men interviewed for this story — who are also all Austin FC season-ticket holders — expect Wednesday’s match to be the loudest and best atmosphere Q2 Stadium has ever seen.
Because whether fans are like Tristán and Gonzalez and have seen El Tri multiple times or will see them live for the first time like Balderas, it’s a special occasion to have Mexico in their hometown.
“I’ve always been a Mexico fan first … and it would be awesome to host them annually,” Tristán said. “Like any Texan, I’m proud of where I’m from and want to show the Texas hospitality to those not from here.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Mexico fans ready for team's game vs Chile at Q2 Stadium Wednesday