LONDON – When you think about the most well-supported sports teams in America, chances are youll think of teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers or even the Dallas Cowboys. One team the average American sports fan wouldnt necessarily think of is one that isnt American at all, yet they're packing stadiums across the country like nobody else. The Mexican national soccer team, El Tri , is in the midst of a jaw-dropping run through the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and as good as the team has looked on the field, the teams fans have been dominating off the field as well, filling up the nations largest stadiums in a display of fan support no American sports team could match.
That support will continue tonight at Reliant Stadium in Houston, where Mexico will face Honduras in the nightcap of a sold out Gold Cup semifinal doubleheader (also featuring the United States and Panama ). The Americans are the home team, as they have been all tournament, but Mexico will once again dominate in the stands. Major support from the nations large Mexican community is nothing new, but this current Mexico team has sparked an even larger and more passionate response because of the teams impressive qualities. Featuring Manchester United star Javier Chicharito Hernandez, Mexico is riding the boost of a loaded generation of talent that could push Mexico to world power status in the upcoming World Cup cycle. The first step in realizing the potential shown by a group whos nucleus won the 2005 FIFA Under-17 World Cup is winning this summers Gold Cup. Mexico won the 2009 edition of the tournament, but that event featured a United States squad missing all of its key players (the United States sent its full-strength team to the Confederations Cup that summer). This summer, Mexico has looked every bit like a team capable of repeating as Gold Cup champions, even after having five players suspended for failing drug tests taken before the tournament. That distraction barely registered a blip as Mexico rolled through the group stages unbeaten, outscoring opponents 14-1. Guatemala gave Mexico a scare in the quarters, but El Tri eventually responded and now heads into tonights semifinal a heavy favorite to defeat Honduras and reach the Gold Cup final, where rematch with the United States seems inevitable.
Mexican fans have been there every step of the way. Filling out stadiums in Dallas, Charlotte, New Jersey and Chicago, El Tri fans will converge on Reliant Stadium tonight for Gold Cup semifinals. The massive 71,000-seat facility will be filled with fans in green who sold out the event a week ago. Such fan support also brings pressure, and given Mexicos dominance, and the early struggles of the US national team , Mexico heads toward Saturdays Gold Cup final as the clear-cut favorite. Tonights opponent, Honduras, has had a surprisingly impressive Gold Cup for a team missing most of its top stars to injury, but the Catrachos havent faced an attack as dynamic and unrelenting as Mexicos. It is that offense, featuring Hernandez, Gio Dos Santos and Andres Guardado, that has overwhelmed opponents this summer and will make Mexico a favorite against the United States in the Gold Cup Final. That is assuming both CONCACAF powers take care of business tonight. The United States is facing a Panama team that handed the Americans a surprising 2-1 loss in group play, but the Americans are playing much better now and a chance to reach a fourth straight Gold Cup final should be motivation enough to help the United States prevail. If Mexico and the USA win tonight, then well have our third straight final between the two, with this years installment a lock to sell out the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday. If so, Mexican fans will have one more chance to flex their collective muscle at the turnstiles and the Mexican national team will have a golden opportunity to show why it is worthy of every bit of that support. Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.