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San Diego’s cross-border soccer culture highlighted during the World Cup

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Soccer wasn’t very popular in San Diego when Daniel Chamberlain was growing up in the 1980s. If he wanted to watch a game, he’d have to adjust his television’s rabbit ears to get a signal from Tijuana.

“I think when you grew up in this town, you knew about soccer because of our location near the border,” said Chamberlain, president of the local chapter of the American Outlaws. “I probably watched more soccer games in Spanish than in English until I was 20.”

Chamberlain’s experience is part of what makes the San Diego/Tijuana region’s cross-border soccer culture stand out.

Tijuana’s Estadio Caliente is one of the only soccer stadiums in Mexico where fans set up American-style tailgates before each game. And in recent years, fans from Tijuana have driven north to support the San Diego Loyal or San Diego Wave soccer teams.

While the US and Mexico are seen as fierce rivals elsewhere, the vibe is different here. It’s not uncommon for fans in San Diego to support both teams.

“It’s a heated rivalry, especially on the field,” Chamberlain said. “But it’s interesting. When Mexico wins, US fans take their jerseys off and wear Mexico jerseys, and I’ve seen it the other way around too. I don’t like it; I think you need to choose a side. But I think it drives both teams, which I’ve always enjoyed.”

The region’s twofold fandom will be even more pronounced as the World Cup plays out over the next month in Qatar. It’s the first time since 2014 that the US men’s team has qualified for what is arguably the planet’s most important sporting event.

When the United States did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup, some American soccer fans adopted Mexico as their team. Steve Garcia, co-owner of 3 Punk Ales in Chula Vista and a loyal Mexico supporter, still has video evidence of die-hard USA fans wearing Mexico’s green jersey.

“I got a video to prove it,” he said. “I have video of them cheering and singing the Mexican national anthem.”

3 Punk Ales opened just before the 2018 World Cup and used that tournament to build a loyal customer base. Whenever Mexico played, the brewery would transform into a sea of ​​green jerseys, trumpets, maracas and, of course, beer.

Neighbors down the block could hear fans screaming whenever Mexico scored a goal.

“Last World Cup was awesome,” Garcia said. “Everybody came out. Eight in the morning games, six in the morning games, it didn’t matter. We had food trucks posted up with breakfast burritos.”

This year, the brewery is hosting watch parties for both the US and Mexico. Garcia doesn’t see anything wrong with hosting rival supporters’ groups.

“Football is football,” he said. “You know more than anyone else if you’ve been here in Chula Vista, being a border town. Football is football, soccer is soccer, the love and passion for the game is second to none.”

When the US played Wales Monday morning, one couple walked into 3 Punk Ales with rival jerseys — the man had a US jersey, and the woman had a Mexico jersey. They both declined an interview because they were supposed to be at work.

Other fans agreed to be interviewed but declined to share their last names.

Juan is a Chula Vista resident and soccer fan whose jersey collection includes US and Mexico kits. He even has a special jersey that is half US and half Mexico.

“In Chula Vista, you have a lot of people who grew up in the United States but have roots in Mexico and we support both teams,” he said. “Today is USA and when Mexico plays tomorrow, I’ll have a Mexico jersey on”

For Steve, another Chula Vista resident, the World Cup is a chance to celebrate both of his cultures.

“I love it because I’m Black and I’m Mexican, so I’m both,” he said. “I love both nations.”

For his part, Garcia is already looking forward to the 2026 version, which will be co-hosted by the US, Mexico and Canada.

“Am I excited for this?” Yes,” he said. “But I’m more excited about 2026. As soon as we get those North American countries involved, it’s going to be bananas.”

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