This story has been updated.
The final score in Saturday’s “friendly” between Liga MX soccer teams Club América and Tigres UANL was 1-0 in a match with no league or tournament significance. Many left the match believing, as I did, that the final tally was 1-1.
That’s how the friendly was originally reported. Arturo Maldonaldo, project coordinator for Los Angeles-based Primetime Sports, the event organizer, said Sunday that a misunderstanding caused the match to be played without a statistician or media stat reports. The Alamodome scoreboards displayed the score as a 1-1 tie.
It was the one serious glitch in an otherwise extraordinary sequence of events that brought first-division pro soccer from Mexico to San Antonio, with the promise of future events in the planning.
A scoreless first half was riddled with takedowns, trips, and other assorted fouls as a lax referee Ernie Constante appeared to have left his yellow card at home. This escalated into an on-field confrontation between players on both teams that required Constante to stop play at minute 41.
Tigres appeared to hold the edge in ball possession and shots on goal, but no official stats were available.
Neither team seemed to play with great urgency, but the match came alive in minute 73 when Tigres used a corner kick to muscle the ball into the box. Francisco Meza, a substitute defender, took a rebound off a header stopped by América goalkeeper Oscar Jiménez and drove it into the net, but the goal apparently was chalked off for offside even as it was reported as a standing goal on the scoreboard.
Three minutes later América defender Salvador Reyes went on a run with the ball and beat two Tigres defenders to send a beautifully struck ball into the corner of the net past Nahuel Guzmán.
Smoke bombs in team colors were set off at both ends of the field and a hazy, sulfuric cloud hung over the pitch for the rest of the afternoon.
The key statistic, however, was not the score. It was the attendance at the Alamodome, with 27,160 fans braving a pregame downpour to root on las Águilas, based in Mexico City, and los Tigres, whose home is the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in the city of San Nicolás de los Garza in the Monterrey metro area. If crowd noise was any measure, América had more fans in San Antonio this day.
That crowd count is not unlike what the clubs draw in Mexico, where the average attendance at a Liga MX game is 25,500. No soccer league, not U.S.-based Major League Soccer, not England’s Premier League, not the major leagues of Europe, draw as many television viewers as Spanish-language broadcasts of the Liga MX in San Antonio.
Kudos to Primetime Sports and local officials for recognizing the power of the San Antonio market and organizing what was billed as the inaugural Pretemporada MX, which has brought six of the Liga MX teams to San Antonio for the event. A second match played Sunday afternoon between two northern Mexican teams saw los Rayados de Monterrey defeat Chivas de Guadalajara 1-0.
The games are the first of what Primetime partner Fernando Orvananos said will be many more. “We want to make the city a destination for soccer every year — that when you think of preseason Mexican soccer, you think of San Antonio and Alamodome.”
In an unrelated pair of games, San Antonio FC, which competes in the second-tier USL Championship league at Toyota Field on the city’s far Northeast Side, lost 4-2 to Pumas UNAM on Friday. The hometown team led for most of the match but gave up three goals in the closing 14 minutes. The minor league club also lost 4-2 to Querétaro on Tuesday.
Once again Saturday, an overwhelmingly bilingual Mexican American fan base in San Antonio demonstrated its passion for first division professional fútbol, even if the only options are, in effect, exhibition matches. The loudest cheers for Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who took to the field to welcome the crowd, came when he delivered a few well-pronounced lines in Spanish.
The market potential in San Antonio for top-level professional soccer is hardly news, which makes it all the more bitter for the way MLS officials treated San Antonio after leading officials with the city, county, and Spurs Sports & Entertainment (San Antonio FC’s owners) to believe the city was under consideration for an expansion franchise. Instead, that opportunity went to Austin two years ago with the creation of Austin FC, even though that city never formally applied for an expansion team.
That setback has been treated as a final blow to San Antonio’s chances for an MLS franchise, although MLS Commissioner Don Garber would be wise to envision the great Interstate 35 rivalry that surely would develop between Austin and San Antonio clubs, and the broader value of having franchises in Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, with the state’s ever-growing population of people of Mexican descent.
Not that there is any shortage of San Antonians, like myself, who are not of Mexican descent but are equally fevered about soccer. This weekend is proving to be a San Antonio soccer fan’s dream with consecutive day matches at the Alamodome, Saturday’s 7 p.m. Copa America championship game between Brazil and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, and Sunday’s 2 p.m. Euro Cup final between England and Italy in London’s Wembley Stadium.
Of course, not everyone in the Alamodome Saturday calls San Antonio home.
“We come to all the major matches when the U.S. or Mexico play in San Antonio,” said Luis Fernandez, who drove here with his wife Maricella from outside Corpus Christi for the weekend, both sporting Tigres jerseys. “At first we were not going to come because we hadn’t been here since the pandemic hit, but then we thought, ‘Hey, we are vaccinated. Let’s go!'”
San Antonio should look south in making its case for MLS soccer, which places Toyota Field in the wrong part of the city along the I-35 corridor, a decision presumably made on the assumption that a potential fan base would be found between here and Austin. The arrival of Austin FC proves that approach wrong. The real regional fan base can be found from Corpus Christi, the Rio Grande Valley, and over to Laredo.
Liga MX is a welcome alternative. Showing the teams strong support on the field and warm official welcomes to the city should only make the advent of Pretemporada MX an even better event next year and beyond.