Mexico soccer fans celebrate team in Arizona against backdrop of Trump visit

Mexico fans cheered loudly throughout Sunday night’s CONCACAF Gold Cup match against Guatemala, which ended in a 0-0 draw. (Photo by Michael Nowels/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – The Valley of the Sun echoed with shouts from those with Mexican heritage last weekend, but the exclamations came from separate sections of the shouters’ psyches.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke Saturday in Phoenix, bringing his controversial immigration sentiments with him. Roughly 4,000 people packed the Phoenix Convention Center, wondering what the multibillionaire would say next, while hundreds of protesters picketed outside.

A day later, across the Valley, roars for Mexico shook Glendale’s University of Phoenix Stadium as more than 60,000 fans filled the venue for Mexico’s 0-0 draw with Guatemala in the group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Lalo Rosales, a Mexico fan at Sunday’s match, took a breath between cheers to speak unprompted about Trump.

“I’d love to sit down with Donald Trump. If Donald Trump shared a taco with me and a beer – well, maybe a couple beers – he would know my perception,” he said. “He might not agree but he’d know it.”

In a speech last month announcing his intention to run for president, Trump made some incendiary remarks about immigration from Mexico.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing their problems with us,” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people.”

Arizona state Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Phoenix, was among the protesters outside the Phoenix Convention Center for more than three hours Saturday afternoon.

“We shouldn’t have to defend ourselves,” Andrade said. “Latinos have contributed greatly to our communities, from serving in the military to now serving in government positions.”

At the match, most of the spectators were more interested in the shared experience within the stadium than the divisive rhetoric of the political arena.

“It was like I was at home because I was with people not only from Mexico but from Latin America all together,” said Phoenix resident Violeta Celaya, noting the smattering of Guatemalan blue in a stadium otherwise painted in Mexico’s tricolor green, white and red.

One blue-clad Guatemala supporter likened his team’s fan support to that of the Phoenix Suns when the Los Angeles Lakers come to the desert, with Lakers gold often appearing to crowd out the home team’s orange in the stands. Still, Guillermo Dighero, a Guatemalan living in Chandler, said he was glad to see his team play so close to his home.

Sunday’s match was a bit of a letdown for Mexico, which was coming off a 6-0 victory over Cuba in the first match of group play. The team earned its fourth point with the tie and is still likely to make the knockout round after facing Group C-leading Trinidad & Tobago Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mexico’s fans were spirited for the full 90 minutes, reveling in the opportunity to see their team play a virtual home game. Most of Mexico’s games in the United States come against the home U.S. men’s national team, a bitter rival on the soccer field.

Rosales drove from Santa Cruz, California, for his chance to watch the team that represents his parents’ native Mexico. He was born in the U.S. and said he was impressed by the support within his own home country.

“It’s nice to feel that the United States welcomes a team from outside the U.S.,” Rosales said.