That local favorite, Mexico, last night gave the New Meadowlands Stadium its first sellout crowd and, in the process, may have boosted the United States' chances to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup tournament by demonstrating what a soccer hotbed the New York area is.
With 77,507, almost all of them wearing Mexico's traditional green, filling the massive $1.6 billion joint that will house both the Giants and Jets, the Mexican team (dressed, oddly, in black) began a sort of popularity tour of the States in its buildup to this year's World Cup, which begins next month in South Africa.
Following Friday night's 0-0 draw with Ecuador, a second sellout on a three-game swing North of its border awaits Mexico in Chicago on Monday, vs. Senegal, before a Thursday match in Houston against Angola. Sunil Gulati, the Columbia University professor who serves as U.S. Soccer Federation president and leads the U.S. bid for a future World Cup, pointed to the huge turnout as a "sign of enormous growth of the sport in the United States."
In fact, last night's full debut of New Meadowlands - last month, for a lacrosse triple-header, only the lower bowl was opened and drew 25,710-was the second time an international soccer event provided the atmospherics breaking in a major U.S. stadium. In July of 2009, the first sporting event in the Dallas Cowboys enormous new palace was a Costa Rica-Guadeloupe/Mexico-Haiti doubleheader attended by 82,252.
Both New Meadowlands and Cowboys Stadium are part of the U.S. bid package that will be presented to soccer international governing body on Friday. The United States-which included now-demolished Giants Stadium among its nine venues during the 1994 World Cup-is one of six nations under consideration to stage either the 2018 or 2022 tournament. Three other countries are bidding only for 2022. Both host nations will be named next Dec. 2.
As for last night's game, seven key players for Mexico, based professionally in Europe, were not available, and it wasn't until the second half that the Mexicans showed much cohesiveness or aggression. A leaping one-handed save by Ecuadorean goalie Marcelo Elizaga on Jorge Nilo Torres' searing 20-yard left-footed shot in the 51st minute was the closest either side came to scoring, though the action tilted heavily in Mexico's favor.
Mexican Captain Gerardo Torrado called it "a privilege inaugurating this stadium" and, before the game, Justino Compean, president of the Mexican soccer federation, announced that his organization would back the U.S. World Cup bids and recommended that the other members of the North America, Central America and Caribbean region do the same. Compean said that was "no comparison" in the region to U.S. stadiums and infrastructure.
Besides, Mexico historically feels right at home in U.S. stadiums.