‘The Mexican 12th Man’

Bryan-College Station community anticipates Mexico-Brazil soccer match at Kyle Field
Texas A&Ms attendance for the Alabama game was at 108,101 fans ranking it at the third largest game in Kyle Field history.(Ishika Samant/The Battalion)
Texas A&M’s attendance for the Alabama game was at 108,101 fans ranking it at the third largest game in Kyle Field history.(Ishika Samant/The Battalion)
Photo by Ishika Samant

Growing up in the hills of Monterrey, Mexico, Pedro and Carlos Luna were surrounded by soccer. 

Clad in the gold and blue of Tigres UANL, the brothers relished trips to the Estadio Universitario to watch their chosen club. They played the sport when they could — and even when they couldn’t, by way of a makeshift ball fashioned out of the lid of a mayonnaise jar for those indoor recess days when a ball was nowhere to be found. 

But nothing matched the excitement of the FIFA World Cup: Pedro can still feel the nervous energy of the 1978 World Cup when he and his middle school classmates found themselves begging their teachers — who were listening to the Mexico-Tunisia group stage match via radio — for constant updates. 

Mexico would go on to lose that day, but over the decades there have been countless opportunities for the brothers to cheer on their home nation — but nothing quite like the match coming up on June 8.

Wavin’ flags

A few decades later, both Luna brothers have found their way to Bryan-College Station: Pedro as the Spanish radio play-by-play voice of Texas A&M football, and Carlos as the head boy’s soccer coach at Bryan High School. 

The Mexican national team has made its way to Aggieland, too: Mexico will face Brazil in a friendly match at Kyle Field on June 8. It’ll be the first-ever soccer match held at the stadium.

“At first I was incredulous,” Pedro said. “Like, ‘No way that’s happening at Kyle.’ We’ve been clamoring for soccer games to be played at Kyle Field. A long time ago there was a rumor of Manchester United coming to play at Kyle, but that never really came to fruition. So I wouldn’t believe it.”

As soon as The Bryan-College Station Eagle broke the news that Mexico was planning on playing a friendly at Kyle Field, Pedro began receiving frantic calls and texts asking when tickets would go on sale — and how many rows of seats folks would be able to buy.

Not seats. Rows. 

“They get to be a part of the Mexican 12th Man, for the soccer team,” Carlos said. “… The Mexican fans are going to be representing the 12th Man at Kyle Field, which is going to be the coolest thing, seeing that sign and seeing that at that match we are actually the 12th Man.”

It’s the same passion and pageantry that got Pedro and Carlos ecstatic for trips to watch Tigres UANL back in Monterrey — but Mexico won’t be the only nation represented at Kyle Field. 

Mexico may have the numbers advantage — the Mexican faithful regularly fill up NRG Stadium in Houston and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and Mexican officials have stated their goal is to break the record for total attendance at a Mexico game in the United States — but it’s hard to match the passion for the game that five-time World Cup winner Brazil brings to the table.

Rafael Della Gracia, like many young Brazilians at the time, fell in love with the national team during Brazil’s 1994 World Cup run. In a period of national mourning after the death of Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, the squad’s journey towards its fourth World Cup title changed a young Gracia’s life. 

“It was when the World Cup started that we got together with the football team so we could alleviate this pain, it was love at first sight,” Gracia said. “[When] Brazil advanced in the competition, the joy in the streets increased; we painted the streets with chalk and sang the anthem loudly. When the goals were scored, we ran to the street to celebrate. At the time I was only nine years old and I remember every detail.”

A youth soccer coach since 2005, Gracia now works with the local Cavalry Youth Soccer club — which is yet another group that Gracia says is eagerly awaiting the match. 

“When the news came out, my cell phone was bombarded with messages asking if I had seen the news,” Gracia said. “My players’ parents were all super excited saying that I had to go and they would too … I believe that at least 90% of Cavalry Youth Soccer’s parents and players will be present at this game, which means that the demand for practicing the sport will increase in the coming months, which will be incredible.”

But in an area like Aggieland, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

Soccer City

Bryan-College Station is a year-round soccer town. 

As with most everything in a college town, things get going in August. Texas A&M soccer is one of the nation’s most successful collegiate soccer programs, having qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 28 of the last 29 seasons.

Just when the NCAA Tournament is wrapping up, the UIL high school soccer season begins for the area’s four major programs — several of whom are a regular fixture in the UIL playoffs. 

And just a month or two after the schools finish up, the Twin City Toucans — the area’s local USL2 squad — begin their season at Edible Field. That’ll get a soccer fan through the summer, and soon enough it’s August, and the cycle begins anew — and that’s without including grassroots play and youth clubs like the Cavalry.

The Mexico-Brazil match is an opportunity that all of them can take advantage of.

“It’s a good boost for local soccer here,” A&M soccer coach G Guerreri said. “It’ll be neat that Cavalry, the local youth club, some of those boys are going to be ball boys at the match … This can be something that is a life memory. The first time that you see players of this caliber live for the first time is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

The match will be full of top-tier talent: With the CONMEBOL Copa America less than a month away and each team needing its roster to gel beforehand, both nations are bringing their A-list stars to Kyle Field: Brazil and Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker, Mexico and Feyenoord forward Santiago Giménez, and the Brazil and Real Madrid attacking duo of Vinicius Jr and Rodyrgo along with plenty of others make for an elite grouping. 

That sheer talent on display is enough to attract plenty of soccer fans who don’t have an attachment to either nation — or an attachment to Texas A&M, for that matter.

Cultural connections

Jarrod Southern eats, sleeps and breathes soccer. But when the South African arrived in College Station and set his eyes on Kyle Field for the first time, he immediately asked the person next to him which NFL team played there. 

“I had no idea that it was a freaking college stadium,” Southern said. “I’d never seen a stadium that big in my life. People in Brazil watching this game will be like, ‘That’s a school?’ It’s going to blow peoples’ minds.”

Southern, the head boy’s soccer coach at A&M Consolidated High School, may not have the background of a lifelong Mexico or Brazil fan, but he made sure to secure seats just two rows above the pitch all the same. 

For those A&M fans who have spent countless hours at Kyle Field during football season but are still a bit unsure about this new game coming to town, Southern has a simple message: Why not give it a go?

“Rather than sit at home and be bored, go and have a look,” Southern said. “If you don’t like the sport, at least enjoy a cold beer in the hot sun. You’re welcoming people into our city, go show them some Texas hospitality and go have a good time. And you never know, you might actually enjoy it.” 

The friendly match isn’t just a one-way cultural exchange. There are people headed to Bryan-College Station from across the United States, Mexico and Brazil, and Guerreri believes that’s an opportunity to share what the spirit of Aggieland is all about. 

“Most people when they come here for the first time are really surprised at just the genuine friendliness of the locals,” Guerreri said. “That ‘Howdy’ isn’t just a word written on a couple of buildings, it’s a way of life … The biggest thing is for people to come in and take their time and get here early enough to take in the local culture, enjoy some of the local restaurants, walk around town, walk around campus and get a feel for what our culture is like while they’re getting over to Kyle Field and enjoying the culture of the match.”

Mexico could have easily played this match in Houston, Dallas or any other locale it’s managed to fill with chanting fans in the past. But for a friendly against Brazil, the historical titan of the sport, it picked Kyle Field. 

“I’ve always tried to describe to folks the in-game experience at Kyle Field because, in my mind, it’s still second to none,” Pedro said. “… This is going to be different because it’s going to be a different type of rumble. It’s going to be more of a soccer chant. I cannot wait to hear both national anthems played. Right now I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about hearing them both being sung by the crowd. I can’t wait, it’s going to be amazing.”

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    PonchoJun 8, 2024 at 6:42 pm

    You Mexican Americans are giving more money to the Federation by going to these matches.