Heavy pro-Mexico crowd helps push team past Haiti and into Gold Cup final

GLENDALE – Before the match, Mexican coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said he was expecting a lot of support in Arizona.

“We feel like we’re at home,” he said via a translator. “We’re locals.”

His side wasn’t let down as they faced Haiti in a Gold Cup semifinal clash at State Farm Stadium Tuesday night. Over 60,000 fans, decked out in green, red and white, showed up to cheer on El Tri, the Mexican national team’s nickname, as they took a 1-0 victory in extra time.

The support is not surprising. The Hispanic population in Arizona was more than two million in 2014, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, with 90 percent of Mexican origin.

“It’s true that at times it works in their favor,” Haitian coach Marc Collat said in French after the game. “Unfortunately, it worked against us. But that’s soccer, you have to accept it.”

Collat said it just fits into the context of playing games in the United States, especially in areas with a large population of Mexican descent.

Despite the partisan crowd being against them, the atmosphere of the big occasion served to inspire the Haitian players.

“It’s just exciting because you don’t play games like this every weekend,” Haiti’s captain Johny Placide said in French. “As a professional player, you love playing games like this.”

While players of both sides may have enjoyed the spectacle of the game, the crowd was certainly energized as Raúl Jiménez went to ground in the Haitian penalty area during the opening minutes of extra time.

Asked whether the crowd influenced the Qatari referee’s decision to award a penalty to Mexico, Placide said, “I think they influenced it, yes.”

The controversial spot kick gave Mexico the win, leaving the Haitian players frustrated, Placide said.

“In a Gold Cup semifinal in extra time, I think whistling for a penalty like that is shameful,” he said.

Although his coach wasn’t in a good position to comment on the decision, he said that he didn’t know “if Haiti would have had a penalty in that situation.”

This was the third successive Gold Cup that State Farm Stadium hosted a Mexican match, and Mexico hasn’t conceded a single goal in those matches.

“They are constantly supporting and screaming,” Mexican assistant coach Jorge Theiler said via a translator, “and for us, it’s been a wonderful surprise. I think that’s something that doesn’t happen all over the world. It happens here in the United States, with the Mexican people, and in Mexico, of course.”

The next stop for El Tri is Chicago, where they will face either Jamaica or the United States on Sunday.

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