Print and Go Back ESPN.com: ESPNLosAngeles [Print without images]

Friday, June 11, 2010
Local fans show their colors

By Scott French
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Raul Moreno wanted to share a special day with his children. David Lachman hoped to show his native land support in the face of mass opposition. Both left L.A. Live satisfied after watching Mexico and South Africa play to a 1-1 draw in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup.

They were among more than 2,000 soccer followers to wake at dawn Friday morning so they could stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow fanatics, drink pints of beer hours before it's fashionable, and chant and cheer as the world's biggest sporting event kicked off its monthlong pageant.

"It's a family thing," said Moreno, who had his 7-year-old son, Joel, and 6-year-old daughter, Giselle, in tow. "Once every four years."

The Morenos, from San Gabriel, joined about 1,000 fans at a Univision-sponsored gathering in Staples Center. At least 600 more watched across 11th Street at the ESPN Zone, where the L.A. Galaxy -- led by defender Sean Franklin, midfielder Dema Kovalenko and Miss Galaxy 2010 runner-up Elizabeth Gomez -- were throwing a viewing party. And another 700 watched from the Conga Room, just north of ESPN Zone at the L.A. Live complex.

"It's like a Laker game," an ESPN Zone security guard noted. "At 6 in the morning."

Kickoff was 7 a.m., but that didn't slow the parade of fans, most of them garbed in Mexico green -- and more than a few wearing El Tri's spiffy new black jersey. They were lining up more than an hour before game time.

"Here is hip, hot, the latest," said Roger Monay, 33, of Los Angeles, who brought his family. "A nice place, great people, just a great place to be."

Soccer fans in South Africa
David Lachman, center, a native of South Africa, and his friends were pleased with South Africa's 1-1 tie against Mexico.

It was the place to be for Mexico fans, who found plenty of reason to cheer, were silenced by a South African goal, then finished up with a "Si, se puede!" chant as Mexico rallied for a tie.

Lachman felt a little outnumbered. The 37-year-old Los Feliz resident was born in South Africa, moved to the U.S. as a child and follows Bafana Bafana whenever he gets the chance.

He, too, was wearing green, one of South Africa's colors, which helped him fit in with the crowd.

"This is really a must-win game for South Africa, because even as the host country, they drew a really hard group," Lachman said at halftime. "France and Mexico are no pushovers, and it's going to be a real struggle to get out of the first round."

Rising Mexico star Giovani Dos Santos ran riot over South Africa's defense in the first half -- "I think we're a little bit lucky to be at 0-0 at this point," Lachman said -- but South Africa was much better after halftime, going ahead on Siphiwe Tshabalala's bullet to the upper-right corner.

"I feel a lot more optimistic," Lachman said as ESPN Zone quickly quieted down. "I think we've been given a gift, given how the game is going, but I think that it's very encouraging. I'm sure South Africa is elated."

Mexico's fans were incensed when a first-half Carlos Vela goal -- correctly, as it turned out -- was wiped away by an offside call, and there was dissatisfaction with some of Mexico coach Javier Aguirre's lineup choices.

"The referee didn't help us at all," complained Humberto Guzman, 37, from Palmdale. "He screwed us up. It was a good goal. I feel like we were robbed. I mean, it was clear."

After hearing an explanation of the offside rule, and why Vela was offside, Guzman admitted he was wrong. "I feel bad for that," he said.

His friend, 37-year-old Joan Lara, said he'd liked to have seen Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez starting up top in place of Guillermo Franco.

"I just think Franco is too slow," he said. "He can head it in, but so can 'Chicharito.' He can jump. He's got some hops."

Hernandez's entry for Franco in the 73rd minute helped return command of the game to Mexico.

"He made everybody wonder where he was at," Lara said. "The thing with Franco is he was standing around, so South Africa's defense knew where he was at, and they knew he couldn't run that fast. They knew his only chance to score was on the header.

"When 'Chicharito' came in, they didn't know where he was at. He was moving around. Then [winger Andres] Guardado came around. He moved it around. That makes things dangerous. And Giovani, of course, makes a difference."

Rafael Marquez's goal in the 79th minute pulled Mexico even. The tie wasn't so bad, Moreno, 39, said.

"Mexico came out strong," he said. "It looked like it was going to be lopsided in Mexico's favor, but South Africa seemed to adjust well, and with one quick counterattack, they put everybody nice and quiet in Staples Center. Mexico kept their calm, though. They could have freaked out, and they were able to pull out the tie."

Mexico soccer fans
Raul Moreno and his kids, Joel, 7, and Giselle, 6, watched Friday morning's Mexico-South Africa game but also cheer for the U.S.

Moreno and his children were decked in Mexico jerseys, and he and his son wore sombreros. His daughter waved a Mexico flag.

"They both play, South Pasadena AYSO, Region 214," he said proudly. "He's still doing karate-kick moves and 'Transformers' [on the field], but she's really into it. She'll watch the game. She's more of a student of the game."

Giselle wandered off to watch a group taking shots in Coca-Cola's mini-soccerfest at L.A. Live. Joel's attention was elsewhere.

"See," Moreno said. "She's watching the game, and he's off playing with paper airplanes."

After the game, Lachman rued what might have been: "A couple inches to the right on [Katlego Mphela's late shot off the post], and you have a 2-1 win. ... You know, you hope for maybe a little bit more, but I think it was a just result."

He will leave in 10 days for South Africa, where some of his family still lives, and he has tickets to 10 games, including the July 7 semifinal in Durban. Will he see Bafana Bafana play? "If they get past the first round, yeah, probably."

He'll see Cup favorite Spain and is looking forward to attending the U.S.-Algeria game that will close Group C play. He has spent the vast majority of his life here, and he roots hard for the Yanks and will be closely watching Saturday's U.S.-England showdown.

"The U.S. is a team that has a lot more international experience, a lot of players playing in England," he said, "so we can put up a real fight and come out of there looking good. I have real high hopes for us."

Moreno agrees. His parents are from Mexico City, but he was born in Southern California.

"We're fortunate enough to cheer for two countries," he said. "We'll put these [Mexico jerseys] away today, and then tomorrow we bring our USA gear out. ... You know what? I think [the U.S.] can get into the second round. After that, they can surprise. I think it's time for them to make the next jump."

Scott French writes the Football, Futbol, Soccer blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com.