The latest installment of the USA-Mexico rivalry takes place Friday night, when the CONCACAF foes open the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal against one another in Columbus. Stream the match live via FOX Sports GO at 7:45 p.m. ET.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ryan Youtz is only one guy, and yet he wants to do something different here on Friday before the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier. A 32-year-old social worker from Omaha, Neb., Youtz is going to cheer loudly for the U.S. inside the stadium during the game. But outside the stadium, before the game, he’s going to skip the usual U.S. fan tailgates and walk around introducing himself to fans of Mexico.
“I quite simply want to be human with them,” says Youtz, who flew into town on Wednesday. “I think letting strangers who are likely residents or citizens of my country but who are Mexican national team fans know that they are valued and appreciated is important.”
Passions always run high when the U.S. and Mexico meet twice every four years in World Cup qualifying, once in the U.S. and once in Mexico. But the context around Friday’s game is unique.
Donald Trump has just won the U.S. presidency, which has a huge influence on the U.S. and Mexico as countries. On Tuesday night, the Mexican peso suffered its biggest fall in 22 years. Trump has threatened to deport millions of undocumented Mexican migrants, many of whom he has called rapists and drug runners. He wants to build a wall that will keep out other Mexicans. And the game is taking place in Ohio, which Trump won by nearly nine points.
Nothing that happens on the field or in the stands will affect the facts in the previous paragraph, which are far bigger than anything in sports. Youtz knows that. He’s only one guy. And yet he feels compelled to do something different on Friday.
On Wednesday, Youtz says, one of his teacher friends told him a story about what happened early on the day after the election. A group of seventh-graders at his school started a chant: BUILD THAT WALL! BUILD THAT WALL! Some of the Latino students in the room started crying. And instantly Youtz thought of what might happen in the stadium on Friday night.
He said he’s optimistic there won’t be any chants like that from the American Outlaws, the biggest U.S. fan group, which is addressing concerns with its members ahead of the game. But he’s not naïve. What if a group of four beer-fueled U.S. fans starts chanting BUILD THAT WALL in the stands? If it can happen in a seventh-grade classroom, it can certainly happen in a U.S. sports stadium.
“For every one of these bad experiences, we need about 20 more to make up the positive,” Youtz says. “I’m fearing the worst on Friday. Anything can happen, and that’s what the media will pick up on.”
Youtz has seen firsthand that shared passions for soccer can bring people together, not just divide them. He spent three years working in Uganda as a social worker for a non-profit. There, he attended Ugandan national team games and bonded with fans there over a love for the sport.
He wants to do the same thing with Mexico fans on Friday.
“I’d like to meet some people and get to know them and talk to them for awhile,” he says. “The Mexican fans I talked to in Columbus [in 2013] were pretty friendly in the stadium. When I was in Mexico City [for the 2013 game], I couldn’t believe how welcoming and inviting the Zona Rosa was. The Mexicans were absolutely fantastic outside the stadium. Once you get inside it’s something else. But outside they welcomed me to in their city.”
He’s only one guy, and a sporting event won’t change anything that happened this week. But Ryan Youtz wants to do something.