For one exhibition game tomorrow night in Laredo, Texas, teams play for more than just fine-tuning their skills while getting ready for the regular season. It is a match with historical significance for both sides. The exhibition breaks down borders, both literally and figuratively. This is definitely not just another exhibition game.
In a PDL exhibition game pitting the USL Laredo Heat (2007 PDL champions) versus the Nuevo Laredo Bravos of the Mexican minor leagues, soccer is the impetus for communities coming together. In this case, the communities are from separate countries caught up in a border war involving drugs, cartels, and politics.
Nuevo Laredo was a violent border city for a long time. Violence has tapered off since 2006, as rival gangs have issued a truce. This game represents some normalcy among the two communities. Soccer is proving to be part of the healing process.
The two organizations plan on alternating sites for an exhibition game every year. Next year, the Heat will travel a few minutes through the border crossing over to the home stadium of the Bravos. A press release on the Laredo Heat’s site desribes the event and gives more details on the two teams. They are looking to turn it into a Copa Laredo type of thing.
One of the pleasures USL brings is the potential for these kinds of breakthroughs. There are so many stories to be found among the more than 100 teams from Canada, the Caribbean and middle America. It’s interesting to go to a team’s website and see what promotions they are doing and what kind of stadium they are playing in.
Through the dedication of the players, the organizational efforts of management for the various teams and the schedule that brings in neighboring cities, soccer becomes a catharsis for the fans, as it should be.