Just three days after Tuesday’s presidential election, in one of the key states that propelled Donald Trump to victory, the United States squared off against Mexico — in soccer.
Politics, however, formed an awkward backdrop for one of the sport’s fiercest rivalries on Friday in Columbus, Ohio. Starting in 1934, the U.S. and Mexico have faced off 66 times, and the enmity between the two squads and their fanbases has always been higher than it is for any other opponent.
But after Trump, whose controversial statements on Mexicans and illegal immigrants has drawn widespread condemnation in both countries, swept into the White House on Tuesday, the tone of Friday’s World Cup qualifying match suddenly became a topic of intense interest for non-soccer fans.
Given the wave of hate crimes and racist incidents that have been reported since Trump’s election, many feared the typically rowdy atmosphere in the stands Friday might spill over into actual violence.
And in the pregame, there was certainly an awkwardness, as fans made numerous references to Trump’s proposal to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Some fans, however, expressed a desire to set aside any political undertones and simply focus on the sport.
And it seems that for the most part, those fans got their wish. In the tunnel before processing out for the beginning of the game, several U.S. and Mexican players exchanged pleasantries and shook hands on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. The Mexican national anthem played without incident, and social media reported that there seemed to be no harassment of Mexican fans or offensive signs.
Indeed, several fans went out of their way to make it clear to Mexican fans that they were welcome and the presidential election doesn’t mean the rivalry would turn nasty. Fox Sports reported that Ryan Youtz, a Nebraska fan, spent the pregame festivities speaking with Mexican fans, while another fan used a national broadcast to thank an immigrant.
The game itself went to Mexico, 2-1, in a thrilling match that turned physical at times but never crossed over into anarchy. The referees ending up handing out eight yellow cards, ejecting one player at the very end of the game as the U.S. desperately tried to rally.
In America, the sport of soccer has typically had a younger fanbase, with 40 percent of fans below the age of 35, per NBC News. The majority of voters in that age range supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, while less than 40 percent backed Trump, per USA Today.
NBC News reports that 56 percent of Latinos and African-Americans report following the sport, while 34 percent of Major League Soccer’s fanbase identifies as Latino.