Soccer

Arrowhead Stadium plays host to soccer fiesta, but the party gets out of hand

Police and security officers restrain fans that ran onto the playing field at the end of the exhibition soccer match between Mexico and Paraguay on March 31, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Mexico won, 1-0.
Police and security officers restrain fans that ran onto the playing field at the end of the exhibition soccer match between Mexico and Paraguay on March 31, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Mexico won, 1-0. The Kansas City Star

The director of the Mexico men’s national team walked through the tunnels underneath Arrowhead Stadium, a bit of purpose to his steps as he headed toward the locker room to meet with an acquaintance.

A soft-spoken, 58-year-old man in one of the country’s most powerful positions, Hector González Iñárritu spent time this week touring Kansas City, searching for its soccer communities.

Instead, they came to him.

On Monday evening, Mexico’s team hotel was swarmed by fans who chanted and sang in a downtown Kansas City street deep into the night. On Tuesday, as the team drove to Arrowhead Stadium for its match against Paraguay, a legion of backers followed.

“Kansas City, it’s developed into a great place for soccer,” said González Iñárritu, whose previous trip to the city was in 2012. “As we continue to grow, we want to build relationships here on U.S. (soil). That is important for us to find places like this, where we are privileged enough to have Mexican soccer fans.

“Kansas City is one of those places.”

To an extent, of course.

The 38,114 fans in attendance Tuesday who saw a 1-0 Mexican win didn’t come close to matching the 88,409 fans who watched Mexico defeat Ecuador three days earlier in Los Angeles.

But those who came Tuesday made their presence felt — with energy during the match and perhaps a little too much of it after the match, resulting in a scene that produced multiple arrests.

Mexico forward Eduardo Herrera scored fewer than 3 minutes into the match, finishing off a set piece and igniting a firestorm among a near-full lower bowl at Arrowhead Stadium, which played host to its first soccer match since the Kansas City Wizards defeated Manchester United in 2010.

Chiefs president Mark Donovan was among those in attendance Tuesday, sitting in the pro-Mexican crowd with a few Chiefs coaches and players.

“The Mexican national team is different. It’s not your typical crowd,” Donovan said during halftime. “They are exactly what we expected — full of energy and full of passion. The way they sing, the way they enjoy themselves, it’s exactly what we expected.”

The exception came after the final whistle, when multiple fans charged onto the pitch as players departed the field. The fans were tackled by security officers and subsequently handcuffed, prompting some fans to throw beer bottles on the field.

At the conclusion of Tuesday's exhibition soccer match between Mexico and Paraguay at Arrowhead Stadium, fans were seen running onto the field and were tackled and led off by authorities under a shower of beer cans and bottles.

Asked whether that ending marred an otherwise positive experience, González Iñárritu responded, “No. It’s just some fans are too (animated) and want to hold the players. But the security did a very good job.”

Donovan said members of the Mexico national team expressed satisfaction with Tuesday's turnout, and Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said, “the fans made us feel like we were playing at home.”

Moving forward, the hope is to make international soccer at Arrowhead Stadium more of a regularity.

Nearly five years after the Wizards defeated Manchester United in front of 52,424 fans — a match many have credited with starting a soccer boom in Kansas City — Donovan hopes Tuesday can offer similar evidence of international soccer viability at Arrowhead.

On Monday, Kansas City officially submitted its bid to host the 2016 Copa America Centenario. Arrowhead Stadium would serve as the venue. The tournament features six CONCACAF teams, with the United States and Mexico receiving automatic qualification.

“I think when you think of Arrowhead the way that Lamar (Hunt) always thought of it, it’s really meant to be a place to celebrate great sports,” Donovan said. “First and foremost, that’s the Chiefs. But over the years, we’re always looking for great sporting events.

“Hopefully we’ll continue to book more events, more international soccer events and Copa (America).”

To reach Sam McDowell, call 816-234-4869 or send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SamMcDowell11.

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