Unless you’re Mexican, you don’t understand.
You don’t understand the passion for the Mexican national soccer team, a team so popular that its match against Paraguay Tuesday night was too big for Sporting Park and will be played at Arrowhead Stadium. You don’t understand the reverence, the loyalty and the love.
But if you are Mexican? Then you know, fans say. You were born into the madness. It stirs in your soul. Boils in your blood.
And perhaps nowhere does it boil any hotter than in the heart of Hector Manuel Solorio.
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That is why the 38-year-old Gladstone man is going to the game in a caravan of more than 3,000 people.
Solorio, who owns an auto repair shop, has gone to more than a thousand soccer games. Maybe you’ve seen him. As the leader of La Barra KC, a Sporting Kansas City fan club, he is at every match. As a proud Mexican Indian, he wears his signature headdress, leading cheers, singing songs or ripping off his shirt. He still plays in a local league, even after breaking his pelvis two years ago in an auto accident that kept him in a hospital for nearly nine months.
Hard to get back on the field? You bet.
But when you’re Mexican …
He taps his chest.
“When you have the passion for the game?” he says. “There’s nothing can stop you. The feeling is in your heart.”
Solorio has the passion. He loves the Mexican national team, which won the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, in a way he cannot fully express in words. He breaks into a popular soccer chant.
“O-le, ole ole ole,” he sings as he dances and smiles. “Ole, ole, ole, ole. Mex-i-co! Mex-i-co! Mex-i-co!”
While the Mexican national team plays plenty of games in the U.S., it has never played in Kansas City. Its game vs. Paraguay is an exhibition.
Solorio hopes one of his two oldest boys, now playing in Sporting Kansas City’s soccer academy, will one day be called up to the Mexican national team, known as El Tri.
Solorio is such a fan he is even bringing a band to the game. It will play when fans sing “Cielito Lindo” (Beautiful Sky) or chant “Si se puede” (roughly “Yes we can”).
“You’re going to feel it real, real, real loud!” he says. “And when you hear that song, you will feel the passion, and you will start dancing with us.”
He goes to his computer to show a video of a soccer game at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City and cranks up up the volume. The stadium vibrates as 110,000 fans sing at the top of their lungs.
“Every Saturday,” he says. “So you understand why we have the passion?”
Solorio is urging everyone he sees to come to the game at Arrowhead, helping them get good seats, doing whatever he can.
“Our goal is to bring (more than) 55,000 people to the game,” he says, which is within 20,000 of a Chiefs sellout. “After that, Kansas City is going to be in the eyes (of those) who might bring more games to the city.”
Raul Villegas, Solorios’ friend, explains the passion.
“We have two things in Mexico,” he says. “Religion and soccer. “For us (seeing the Mexican national team) is like the Super Bowl, because they’re the best of the best. They’re bringing in European players that have actually played in the World Cup. That’s why it’s such a big thing.”
Villegas, 36, owns a soccer store in Wyandotte County and runs one of Kansas City’s largest soccer leagues.
For true fans, he said, the game is like a holiday.
“A lot of people won’t be working that day,” he says. “A lot of people will be calling off the next day. And there’s going to be a big fiesta right before the game from 4 to 8 outside in the parking lot. It’s going to be huge.”
And not just for fans in Kansas City.
“People will be traveling from Chicago, Oklahoma and Texas to come and see this game,” he says. “I got a call from Arizona. There’s a family of maybe 20 people coming to see the game.”
Like Solorio, Villegas was born in Mexico. He played soccer every day after school.
“There was a lot of poverty there,” he says. “But it wasn’t expensive. All you needed was a ball and two rocks for the goal. We played in parking lots. We played in the streets. We even played inside the house and broke a lot of lamps. We got a lot of beatings for that, but we still played.”
He still remembers when he got his first pair of soccer cleats.
“I used to sleep with them because I was afraid somebody was going to steal them,” he says. “They meant that much to me.”
Ozzy Orlanzzini, a Kansas Citian who owns a car dealership, said soccer is like a religion in Mexico.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, or what is happening. When Mexico is playing, everything stops,” he says. “Teachers will stop classes. That’s the only thing you do. You’re going to watch the game. That’s it!”
Zenaida Mendez, a 24-year-old patient-care assistant from Independence, wasn’t born in Mexico. But soccer love still burns in her heart.
Mendez, who is half Mexican, played goalie at East High School in the Northeast area. Two of her three sisters also played goalie.
“We got it from my dad, she says. “He was a goalie as well. When he first got here he would pass time by playing soccer.”
She just returned from visiting her father’s side of the family in Mexico. And she understands exactly how much the game means.
“We don’t have a lot of Mexico events here,” she says. “So to see the famous Mexico team come by? It’s just a huge fan base. It’s like bringing the home team home.”
The Mexican national soccer team plays Paraguay at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Arrowhead Stadium. Remaining tickets range from $34 to $104. Parking costs $30 at the gate. Lots open at 3:30 p.m. A free pregame party, Futbol Fiesta, will begin in Lot M at 4 p.m. Stadium gates open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets, go to Ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000.