When Deportivo Cali last played in South Florida, the Colombian team came away with a 5-2 win over the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny in Pompano.
Julian Duque, 35, has waited 18 years to see his beloved Cali make a return trip.
On Wednesday, the Broward County resident finally got that chance, as Cali battled Deportivo Independiente de Medellín in the first match of a doubleheader between Colombian teams at FIU Stadium.
“You don’t even know,” said Duque of his reaction when he found out Cali was coming to Miami. “You can’t even begin to imagine. You can’t even begin to imagine.”
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Cali, which played much of the second half with 10 men, survived a second-half push from Medellín to salvage a 0-0 draw. Atlético Nacional used two early goals to earn a 2-0 win over America in the evening’s second contest
Duque, who is from Cali, Colombia but was raised in the U.S., said he foresees more matches such as this in the future. In addition to the revenue possibilities, Duque said events like “Los Clásicos” help bring Colombian fans of all teams closer.
“If this was in Colombia,” Duque said before the match, “it would be a little different. More security. Here, everybody is more friendly.”
Wednesday’s first match reflected that statement, as the fans appeared to treat the game as a celebration of the Colombian teams’ trip to Miami. Even after Medellín’s Dani Torres skied a penalty kick in the 63rd minute, the red-clad cheering section of about 60 people broke into an even louder Vamos Medellín cheer.
And when a 90th-minute chance for Medellín to break the tie went rocketing off the crossbar, the players looked more dejected than the fans, who continued to wave flags and bang on a pair of drums.
That’s not to suggest the game was entirely unimportant. As Gaitan said before the match, a game against a rival always matters.
“It sets the tone for the rest of the season,” Gaitan said. “The rivalry is there regardless of whether it’s regular season or preseason.”
That competitive spirit intensified early in the second match, as Atlético and America each made statements, albeit in different ways.
The game’s start was delayed several minutes after several America fans detonated what appeared to be red smoke bombs. The acrid smoke clouded up a quarter of the field and obstructed all vision. Nearly 20 police officers surrounded four America fans, who were soon escorted from the America section of the crowd.
Atlético’s Alejandro Guerra responded to the raucous America fans by burying a shot in the back of the net in only the second minute. A few minutes later, Sebastián Pérez pushed the Atlético lead to 2-0. Though America would have several opportunities in the second half to narrow the gap, neither team tacked on a goal after the break as Atlético finished off its 2-0 win.
Both the America and Atlético sections were substantially larger than either team in the first match. Nearly two dozen red-and-white-striped flags swayed among the fans in the America section, while the hundred-plus Atlético fans jumped around in either green, yellow or the team’s striped uniforms.
Though Wednesday’s matches lacked the sellout, wild atmosphere that Saturday’s “Los Clásicos” will provide, those in attendance made the most of a long-awaited return.
Their teams were back, and for fans such as Duque, that was more than enough.