Mexico’s match in Charlotte provided a glimpse of MLS games to come, and fans feel...

·4 min read

In a sea of green, red and white, there was some yellow, and even some Charlotte FC blue. Flags and apparel representing Mexico and Ecuador filled Bank of America Stadium as the men’s national soccer teams from the two countries faced off in the arena that will soon host the latest team joining Major League Soccer.

“This is like once in a lifetime,” said Oscar Robles, one of the many fans who attended Wednesday’s match with Mexico’s flag draped over his shoulders.

Robles, 23, watched the game with his sister Rubi Robles, 24, along with their father, who is from Ecuador, and their mother, who is from Mexico. That’s why the match was special, they said. It represented a rare opportunity to see the two teams play each other in Charlotte. Rubi wore Ecuador’s flag painted on her face.

The Robles family was among the crowd of nearly 40,000 fans that attended the #MexTour match between Mexico and Ecuador at Bank of America Stadium on Oct. 28.
The Robles family was among the crowd of nearly 40,000 fans that attended the #MexTour match between Mexico and Ecuador at Bank of America Stadium on Oct. 28.

The family was among the 39,887 fans that attended the late night #MexTour game that ended in a 3-2 win for Ecuador. It was Mexico’s fifth stop on its U.S. tour after earlier visits to Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta and Arlington, Texas, ahead of a World Cup Qualifying match against the U.S. in November. Despite the “friendly” nature of the latest event, both teams scrapped through slightly over 90 minutes of high-intensity soccer in front of vocal fan bases.

After a goal apiece in the first five minutes, midfielder Janner Corozo rolled a shot to the far post to put Ecuador up 2-1. Mexico’s Osvaldo Rodriguez later fired the ball from outside the box to equalize the score at 2-2 after the half, but Ecuador’s offense was electric. Walter Chala scored the final goal of the night for La Tri.

Many supporters stood for the whole match, many dressed up and it sounded like all cheered in an atmosphere that exuded energy and excitement for soccer in the city. But the game was just one played by Mexico’s national team in Charlotte, which typically generates a crowd. Will the same fans continue to show up for MLS soccer games in the city?

“There’s a new (team) coming up,” Rubi said. “I saw it in the email we got about this game.”

Other fans, some of whom only spoke Spanish, expressed similar knowledge about Charlotte FC: A general awareness and slight interest in the club that’s set to start competition in 2022. Charlotte FC is looking to grow its Hispanic fan base ahead of kickoff, and the MexTour match provided an opportunity to promote the team to a packed house of Mexico’s supporters.

Some fans said that they’re already bought in.

“We’re soccer fans and I’ve got my season tickets already, so I’m really excited,” Roberto Paredes, 39, said. “I can’t wait.”

Paredes is Peruvian and his wife is Mexican, and he said that he’s lived in North Carolina for more than 20 years. Unlike most of the crowd in attendance, Paredes wore a Charlotte FC baseball cap.

“I used to do Panthers and Hornets games but now that soccer is here, I can’t wait,” Paredes said. “I’m telling you.”

Charlotte FC has outlined ambitious attendance goals for its first season, aiming to host at least 74,000 fans at a single match and to consistently fill the lower bowl of the stadium, which means averaging around 30,000 fans at home games.

The atmosphere will look different come game day for MLS play, with fans outfitted in the team’s blue and black, and the club exploring the use of digital signage on its broadcasts to cover the upper deck. Soccer-specific stadium renovations, which include a new center tunnel for player entrance and new locker rooms, are also expected to be completed by then.

A fan cheers before an international friendly soccer match between Mexico and Ecuador in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.
A fan cheers before an international friendly soccer match between Mexico and Ecuador in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

So far, the team has eight players, two of whom are from South America. Charlotte FC most recently added 22-year-old central midfielder Jordy Alcívar to its roster. Alcívar is from Manta, Ecuador and he was a potential call-up for Wednesday’s national team match, but head coach Gustavo Alfaro said that other “technical bodies” prevented Alcívar from getting the nod.

Although Alcívar wasn’t on site, Charlotte FC defender Guzmán Corujo from Rodríguez, Uruguay was present on Wednesday, although he didn’t suit up. Corujo arrived in Charlotte within the last few days in preparation for Charlotte FC’s inaugural season, similar to head coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez, a Spanish coach who formerly coached Ecuadorian club Independiente del Valle.

Charlotte FC central midfielder Sergio Ruiz is also from Spain, but so far no player from Central America has been signed to the team. A player from Mexico could bring new fans out, a few who attended Wednesday’s match said.

Others said that they’re content to watch games regardless because there will finally be soccer — Major League Soccer — at Bank of America Stadium for more than one night.

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