Dispatch from México del norte
By Andrew Skola
The crowd outside the bar was growing as more fans wearing green, white and red jerseys huddled in the shade to hide from the 90-plus degree heat. Texas at 8:30 a.m. = sweltering.
But this was a very Dallas World Cup watch party. There was valet parking and a shade tent to wait under.
The well-heeled crowd included couples with a few children and babies in tow, hipsters, and a few late-going-into-work professionals. They all packed into Happiest Hour, a trendy bar on the edge of the Victory Park.
I’m talking high heels. Expensive jeans. Children in sombreros riding in SUV-type strollers. The four women at the table behind me had matching Louis Vuitton bags.
There were other, perhaps less polished joints to down Tecates and cheer on El Tri against Sweden, like the packed Ojo Locos Sports Cantina and other fine establishments on the fringes of Northwest Highway. On a different day, I might have been watching somewhere else, with a different crowd.
There’s no monolithic Mexican population in Texas, or anywhere. There’s money, new and old. Working class. Middle class. First generation, second, third, fourth — who’s still counting?
A green El Tri jersey means the same thing as a jersey anywhere: pride in your team and the inescapable worry that it’s always one kick short of its soccer potential.
On Wednesday, Happiest Hour was packed. The shaded patio and indoor tables and barstools filled up early. Si se puede! We ordered mimosas and cocktails and craft beers and salads and wings, but sadly no brunch, no huevos rancheros.
The TVs were all tuned to the Mexico game. My neighbor at the bar streamed the South Korea-Germany game on his phone, propping it against his girlfriend’s handbag.
El Tri started slow, gave up a few too many chances and picked it up right before halftime. The crowd was cheering but nervous. When Sweden scored first – silencia. After their second, a penalty kick, and their third, an own goal – muerte.
Not all of us were die-hards. This being Dallas, when the game was out of reach, another guy at the bar (he was from Nepal, and wearing a Brazil jersey) started to tell me about some real estate deals — 8 to 11 percent returns! — and the condos he and his partner kept in Las Vegas and Miami for networking with clients. He left when it the score was 2-0.
The bar switched the TVs to the South Korea-Germany game, as that held more interest for those of us concerned about Mexico’s future.
The bar crowd started chanting, low at first, stronger as six minutes of added time was announced: Koh-ree-AH, Koh-ree-AH!
When the South Koreans scored, you would have thought it was Luis Hernandez scoring for Mexico (down to 10 men) to tie the Netherlands in the 94th minute of the final Group E match of the 1998 World Cup.
I got a bear hug from my barmate, who shook me for a good five seconds even before the video assistant referee confirmed the goal counted. When South Korea scored an empty-netter, we all celebrated.
The whole ordeal felt strangely familiar: unexpectedly strong performances against hyped opponents early in the first round, before our heroes stumble badly in a pivotal game against a beatable opponent. But wait — the South Koreans came through.
Yup, it was 2002 all over again, but this time America’s team was wearing green. Concacaf owes a debt of gratitude to South Korea.