“I think that soccer won today.”
Those were the words of Chicago Red Stars head coach, Chris Petrucelli, following his team’s 5-2 defeat in a friendly match with the senior women’s national team of Mexico. The Red Stars, who were without several key players due to national team duty, could not handle the dynamic attacking technique of the Mexican team, even one that had failed to qualify for this year’s Women’s World Cup.
It wasn’t about the game, though. It was about the spectacle. The Mexican men’s national team, El Tri, has been playing friendlies in the United States for years. They have been able to tap into the population of millions of Mexican-American living across the country, and have packed many stadiums in cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, and Charlotte. Mexico even came to Soldier Field last year for a pre-World Cup friendly with Ecuador, which they drew 0-0.
However, the Mexican women’s team has traditionally not enjoyed that same success. Not only has the team been less prominent, failing to ever pass the World Cup group stage and boasting just one win against the U.S. all-time, but support for the team has also dwindled. As women’s soccer continues to grow worldwide, though, it has also enjoyed tremendous growth south of the border. Recently, FMF has decided to start playing La Tri friendlies in the United States, accessing richer support for the women’s game in America.
This weekend, they came to Chicago. Or Bridgeview, to be precise. Over 6,000 fans were in attendance, higher than the Red Stars’ average, and while most of the crowd was draped in red, white, and green, the support for the home team was also notable. Local 134, the Red Stars’ supporters group, could be heard singing and banging their drums all throughout the match.
There were a few moments, however, where they were drained out by an occasional chant of “México! México!” that engulfed the whole stadium. It was a party atmosphere all around, with Mariachi music audible both before and after the match. There were Mexican flags everywhere, and thousands were wearing the iconic green shirt.
The strong support was rewarded by an excellent performance by the Mexican team. Former Red Star María Sánchez got on the scoresheet in the first half, and 2022 NWSL Rookie of the Year candidate, 21-year-old Mexican-American rising star Diana Ordóñez, left a great impression. The fans in attendance also got to witness an extremely rare feat in soccer – an Olimpico – as the Red Stars’ Brazilian star Julia Bianchi scored directly from a corner kick just before the half.
“We are grateful for the quality and the reception we have had,” Mexico Head Coach Pedro López Ramos told us after the match. “It is incredible to come to the United States and see a crowd that cheers for Mexico. I think we have also tried to be generous with them by offering a great effort and beautiful football.”
Mexico accomplished exactly what they were hoping to do, and came out of the match feeling happy and optimistic about their future. The Red Stars felt less so, and it had nothing to do with the defeat they had suffered at Bridgeview.
Midway through the first half, a whisper began to circulate that Mallory Swanson had been substituted early from the USWNT’s concurrent match. It sounded serious, and she had to be carted off. Since then, U.S. Soccer has confirmed that the injury is a torn patella, which will almost certainly keep her out of the upcoming World Cup and the rest of the NWSL season.
“After the game, I found out,” Petrucelli said after the match Saturday. “We wish her well. Just as I was walking off the field someone mentioned it.”
With a few days to let that news sink in, and now knowing the seriousness of the injury, it can be put into perspective how huge of a loss this is. Not only has Swanson put the team on her back over the last two seasons, but she’s at the top of her game right now. This World Cup was supposed to be her chance to finally live up to the heights predicted of her as a teenager and to lead the USWNT as its star player. Compounded by the reality that she’s among the best players in the world at the moment, this injury is truly heartbreaking for Mal and for both U.S. and Red Stars fans.
Regardless of the unfortunate news out of Austin, it’s safe to say that La Tri’s visit to Chicago was a roaring success. The match was a great opportunity for the Mexican women’s team to both tap into the deeply rooted support for the men’s national team, and reach new audiences to grow women’s soccer in North America, and Bridgeview had the fortune of playing host to a terrific spectacle.
Enjoy this collection of photographs from Saturday’s match, courtesy of Barbara Calabrese! Click on the photo to view the full image.