San Diego’s cross-border soccer culture highlighted during World Cup

Soccer wasn’t very popular in San Diego when Daniel Chamberlain was growing up in the 1980s. If he wanted to watch a game, he would have to adjust the rabbit ears on his television to receive a signal from Tijuana.

“I think when you grew up in this town, you knew football because of our location near the border,” said Chamberlain, president of the local chapter of the American Outlaws. “I probably watched more soccer games in Spanish than in English until I was 20.”

Chamberlain’s experience is part of what makes the cross-border soccer culture of the San Diego/Tijuana region stand out.

Estadio Caliente in Tijuana is one of the only soccer stadiums in Mexico where fans install American-style tailgates before every game. And in recent years, Tijuana fans have gone north to support the San Diego Loyal or San Diego Wave soccer teams.

While the US and Mexico are seen as fierce rivals elsewhere, the atmosphere is different here. It’s no wonder fans in San Diego support both teams.

“It’s a heated rivalry, especially on the field,” Chamberlain said. “But it’s interesting. When Mexico wins, American fans take off their shirts and put on Mexico shirts, and I’ve seen it the other way around too. I do not like it; I think you have to pick a side. But I think it drives both teams, which I’ve always liked.”

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The region’s dual fandom will be even more pronounced as the World Cup is played over the next month in Qatar. It’s the first time since 2014 that the US men’s team has qualified for what is arguably the biggest sporting event on the planet.

When the United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, some American soccer fans adopted Mexico as their team. Steve Garcia, co-owner of 3 Punk Ales in Chula Vista and a staunch Mexico supporter, still has video evidence of die-hard USA fans wearing Mexico’s green jersey.

“I have video to prove it,” he said. “I have a video of them cheering and singing the Mexican national anthem.”

3 Punk Ales opened just before the 2018 World Cup and used this tournament to build a loyal customer base. Whenever Mexico played, the brewery was transformed into a sea of ​​green shirts, trumpets, maracas and, of course, beer.

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Neighbors on the block could hear the fans screaming every time Mexico scored a goal.

“The last World Cup was great,” Garcia said. “Everybody came out. Eight o’clock games, six o’clock games, it didn’t matter. We had food trucks posted with breakfast burritos.”

This year, the brewery is hosting watch parties in both the United States and Mexico. Garcia sees nothing wrong with hosting rival groups.

“Football is football,” he said. “You know better than anyone if you’ve been here in Chula Vista, being a border town. Football is football, football is football, the love and passion for the game is second to none.”

When the U.S. played Wales on Monday morning, a couple walked into 3 Punk Ales wearing rival jerseys: the man in an American jersey and the woman in a Mexican jersey. Both declined an interview because they were supposed to be at work.

Other fans agreed to be interviewed but declined to share their last names.

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Juan is a Chula Vista resident and soccer fan whose jersey collection includes kits from the United States and Mexico. He even has a special shirt that is half US and half Mexico.

“In Chula Vista, you have a lot of people who grew up in the United States but have roots in Mexico, and we support both teams,” he said. “Today is the United States and when Mexico plays tomorrow, I will wear a Mexico shirt”

For Steve, another Chula Vista resident, the World Cup is an opportunity to celebrate both of his cultures.

“I love it because I’m black and I’m Mexican, so I’m both,” he said. “I love both nations.”

For his part, Garcia is already looking forward to the 2026 version, which will be co-hosted by the USA, Mexico and Canada.

“Am I excited about that? Yes,” he said. “But I’m more excited about 2026. As soon as we get those North American countries in, it’s going to be bananas.”

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