I happened upon a tent that said Memphis Tigers on it (I live in the Memphis area) so I stopped in to say hello and introduce myself. It was a divided group: Several folks wore USA and several folks were wearing Mexico. It turns out they were from Jackson, Tennessee (located on I-40 between Memphis and Nashville). I asked them about several things but the thing that stood out to me the most was this: When I asked about their thoughts on the rivalry, one guy said, “It’s a big rivalry for sure and it’s great when it’s super intense out on the field, but it doesn’t have to be that way between the fans. I mean, look at us in this tent. It’s half and half. We’re throwing down and having a great time but it’s not ugly or violent. Just people enjoying themselves.”
At about that time, a full tent of all US fans a few rows over caught my eye, so I bid goodbye to the folks from Jackson and headed that way. I was welcomed with open arms. This crew was from Nashville and they were fantastic. We talked about a variety of things ranging from youth soccer tournaments (I referee a bunch of them and so did one of the guys, so we traded war stories and agreed that the parents at youth games are the absolute worst), to the most recent USA appearance in Nashville (they did not get to make it to the Gold Cup last year, but were glad they hadn’t when they heard how hot it was and how boring the game was) to the players we wanted to see that night (Tim Weah was the favorite amongst those in the tent), to who should be the next US coach (everybody would love Tata Martino, but they all also think it’s going to be Gregg Berhalter.
Somebody said they were worried that they might just give it to Sarachan full-time, but that was rebutted by another person saying that he would be a good hire to coach the U-23 team). The thing that everybody agreed on was the ticket prices were obscenely high for a Tuesday night friendly, which led my referee compatriot to say, “Mexico and us have both gotten a lot of crowds over 40,000 people here so you would think that against each other we could sell the place out but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen because people don’t want to spend $100 for a friendly on a weeknight to watch a team that didn’t go to the World Cup.” Somebody else in the tent floated the idea that maybe sales were low because neither team had a lot of their big names, which led to spirited debate that I was able to extricate myself from.