Soccer: For a Night, Sandy Becomes Mexico City.

Rio Tinto Stadium is usually home to the claret and cobalt, Real Salt Lake. But Tuesday night, the “RioT” opened its doors to the Liga MX as Monarcas Morelia and Las Àguiles of Club América took to the pitch for stop number three of Tour Àguila (América’s tour of the United States). What transpired was 90 minutes of exciting football culminating in a 2-0 win for the Monarcas.

Sandy, Utah, is perhaps the last place in the world where you’d expect to find the booming energy of Mexican culture. But in the waning hours of Free Slurpee Day, Rio Tinto became the vortex of Utah’s proud Latino community.

The pitch was surrounded fans displaying the traditions of the teams and of Mexico itself. Spanish became Rio Tinto’s first language. Vendors were prowling the pregame tailgate lot, selling Morelia and América merchandise. Aztec warriors, with faces painted Mexico’s red, white, and green and topped with peacock-feather headdresses, and, of course, painted head-to-toe in gold.

At concession stands, American popcorn took second place to duros, a popular Mexican snack made of puffed wheat, flavored with hot sauce and lime. The spectacle gave me a rush of nostalgia for the time I spent in Mexico City. But as hard as I looked around the concourse, I couldn’t find lime-and-salt-seasoned grasshoppers.

The host team, América, is one of four Mexico City teams and a perennial powerhouse with 12 Liga MX titles. Morelia is struggling to regain its past success, a single league title 36 years ago. As the match developed, it became obvious how important this matchup was for fans of both clubs. It was more than just bragging rights between friends—this was a rare opportunity for Hispanic Utahns to support and cheer favorite Mexican clubs from a seat in Salt Lake. It was an opportunity to show players and staff: The love was here, so far from Mexico.

My friend Victor Cortez has two tattoos on his chest. One is his mother’s name, the other is Club América’s crest, the North American and South American continents with the letters “C” and “A” on either side. Victor had watched América play many times, but this night stood alone—it was the first match he had seen in person.

Victor, draped with América’s yellow flag like a cape from his back, could be seen with his cousin Izac Ponce, beers in hand, heckling refs, players and coaches.

Even though Club América’s 2-0 loss was tough to swallow at first, it was quickly forgotten. “Still pretty awesome, even though they lost?” I asked Victor later.

Yeah, man. I enjoyed it even after the loss,”Victor responded. “It was dope, definitely something I’ll never forget.”

When the final whistles blew, the players and staff of both teams traded applause with the enthusiastic crowd. And when we all filed out of Rio Tinto Stadium and began the trip home, flags could be seen, waving through car sun roofs all along State Street. It was clear, that night, Salt Lake City soccer belonged to the Mexican League, and its passionate fans.

—Sam Mullen Warchol

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