What does it take to get one to watch a football league? Apparently quite a lot. Despite being one of two countries that borders my home country of the United States this intrepid reporter is finally getting into Mexican soccer.
It might seem like I might be getting into Mexican soccer a bit late. After all, Mexican soccer matches have been shown on Spanish language television and radio for decades in the United States and Mexican soccer players have made their impact on local club teams such as former Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire goalkeeper Jorge Campos and former Chicago Fire Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Although many young goalkeepers in the United States tried to emulate Campos by wearing fuchsia jerseys (may those pictures never get out) and make endeavors on the attack, very few became followers of Liga MX to the extent they do with other foreign leagues.
Strictly from a football perspective – and not to tie this article in with any repugnant political views – the disconnect seems to stem from two issues.
Firstly, the United States-Mexico on the pitch is perhaps one of the fiercest rivalries in all of football. While many countries have rivalries on an international level, very few have rivalries that are so tense that they spill over to the club scene. Mexican club sides have traditionally thrashed American sides in the CONCACAF Champions League and are quite vociferous in victory of their superiority in all things football. Meanwhile, the battle over nationalizing players with dual American and Mexican citizenship rages on with both sides claiming victories – Jesse Gonzalez for Mexico and William Yarbrough for the United States being the most recent examples.
Secondly, the language issue also seems to pose an issue. Part of the reason why football has skyrocketed so much here in the United States is because of its accessibility. On a given Saturday or Sunday morning, supporters can watch matches from England, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, and Italy. Supporters can even casually dip in to matches from Australia, China, Portugal, and Japan. Crucially, all matches are available at clear times and all available in English.
That is not necessarily the case with Liga MX matches. Much in the same way a person will not watch a foreign language film because they do not understand the language it appears that there are those who will tune out games simply because of the lack of commentary. Soccer can break through that barrier but for newer fans it can be difficult to grasp what is going on when does not speak their language. Although, Interestingly enough, the Spanish language coverage of Major League Soccer on Univision is more often than not higher than that of their English language coverage.
The lack of English media coverage in both print and online of Liga MX does not help improve the issue of exposure. Having spent the past three months covering Liga MX on Twitter what is interesting is to watch the positive response from viewers who are looking for a place to talk about Liga MX in English.
Shows like the Mexican Soccer Show and writers like Tom Marshall of ESPN have broken through specifically because they cater to an audience that is underserved. ESPN, also to their credit, has tried to show English language Liga MX matches and Fox just signed a multi-million dollar to carry Mexican national team matches over the next five years. But overall the amount of English-language coverage for not just Mexican soccer, but also Central American soccer has been quite poor.
So what turned me on to Mexican soccer? Paradoxically enough it was the 2014 Round of 16 match between Mexico and the Netherlands. The enemy imagery that had developed within my own mind of what Mexican soccer was evaporated watching a team somehow attempt a shock result against one of the leading candidates to win the World Cup. Their “never say die” attitude and their impressive Group Stage effort certainly helped, but it was the play of Oribe Peralta and Guillermo Ochoa, and the utter heartbreak of the announcers on Univision that changed my attitude on the side. Who knew that an announcer can make an American feel sympathy for Rafa Marquez?
That match changed changed the philosophy of twenty eight year old kid who grew up loving everything United States Men’s National Team and whose club side, D.C. United, identified more with Central America more-so than Mexican soccer. Rather than seeing Mexican soccer as the enemy it made me realize that beneath the national team rivalry that there is a wealth of interesting football being played south of the border and that it is certainly worth investing time – and beers – into.
The style of play is also quite appealing. Although it would be difficult pigeonhole all of Liga MX into one or two specific styles it is apparent that Mexican football likes to play with a quick pace and to deliver fast counter-attacks. At times, such as in the thrilling 3-1 victory for U.A.N.L. over Leon in late January, it feels as if one is watching a basketball match with two teams going at each other’s throats for 15 to 20 minutes with no stoppage.
The skill especially on the attacking end is something to see. When watching a side like Club America work their magic on the attack it makes one remember why they watch football in the first place. It is the small things like seeing a series of connected passes lead to a goal scoring opportunity or watching Peralta and Dario Benedetto find each other in space without even one missed step. After having watched a Saturday of negative football in Europe, Club America’s 3-0 win over Dorados re-affirmed my faith that there was still some beauty left in the beautiful game.
Having players that one can identify with also helps. Aside from their Mexican National Team players, Liga MX also hosts many United States Men’s National Team players There is also a bit of international flair in Liga MX brought in by shrewd signings from Europe and South America. Of course, the talk of the league right is French international Andres-Pierre Gignac who has 21 goals in 21 matches for U.A.N.L. But players like Mauro Boselli of Argentina who plays for Leon and Darwin Quintero of Colombia who play for America have also brought in different elements of South American football to make their clubs much more more dangerous.
So with football becoming more important here in the United States will Liga MX and Mexican football find a home beyond their traditional boundaries? At least on a club level it seems likely. While the likelihood of a U.S. Men’s National Team supporter putting on an El Tri or Chivas Guadalajara jersey – due to the club only playing Mexican players – is highly unlikely there may be a chance down the road for them to wear a Cruz Azul or Pachuca jersey.
Much of it depends upon the accessibility issue. American soccer supporters have shown a willingness to watch any league provided that the competition is good and is easy to digest. Perhaps with Fox’s deal more Americans will become interested in Mexican soccer. Let’s hope so, they’re missing out.