Thursday, July 4, 2013

La Maquina Roja - Bridgeview, Illinois

Yesterday I took my kids and my parents to everyone's very first Major League Soccer (MLS) game. The Chicago Fire was playing the San Jose Earthquakes (a natural disaster face-off) at the Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The town is only about 20 minutes from my parents' house though it took a bit longer with rush hour traffic combined with people trying to get to Chicago's fireworks display. It always amuses my husband that we have fireworks on July 3 when the actual holiday is always July 4. Yes, we were promised fireworks after the game.

We were able to park in an actual parking lot. This as opposed to the usual park on the street and paying off the street guy in Brazil. Traffic was directed by portly cops. I had pre-paid parking so we just handed over the receipt, followed the gesticulating pony-tailed college kids (girls and boys) to our spot. And then passed by the tail gaters who had been there since 3 pm, charcoal grills and all. Does any country tail gate like the US?

The field is beautiful--red brick outside and modern and metal on the inside (open air). It is used only for soccer and is not an oval--the 30,000 capacity was about 70% full. We were in the fifth row practically on the goal line and I definitely could have touched  a soccer player or two. There was no line of policemen protecting the players looking constantly at the crowd. In fact, security in general was much different from Brazil. On entering the stadium, there were no patdowns (standard at all games in Brazil) and they took only a cursory glance at my small backpack filled with sweaters, and cherries (the boys do get hungry, you know). For a country terrified of terrorism, it certainly did not carry over to the Chicago Fire crowd.

We easily found our numbered seats and sat down just as the teams came on the field. The color guard came out with the US and Chicago flags, and then we got the obligatory wanna-be opera singer to do the national anthem. There are several differences from Brazil here. First of all my kids always want to know why they need to stand up and take off hats for the national anthem. Never mind that we stand up for the Brazil anthem--for some reason the US one is much more respectful. Second of all, the national anthem of the US is almost always sung live at sporting events (used to be an presidential inaugurations too). And it is almost always sung badly. Maybe we should follow Brazil's lead and have the anthem recorded and piped in. It would be less cringe-worthy then, I suppose. We have no second stanza to the the American anthem so we don't have any way of making a political protest as in the Confederations Cup when the crowd refused to stop singing the Brazil anthem after the first stanza. Our singers are usually bad enough that we are praying for relief at the end of the octave-and-a half torture.

Food and beer and drinks are all available at your seat. Mostly beer. I had to get up and go after hot dogs (only $2!! Okay, Polishes were $9 So were Corona, Dos Equis and Modelo beers. Rather an ethnic beer choice, no?) for the boys and also bottled water.  The concession worker unscrewed the bottle cap on the water and gave it to me. What? She explained that you cannot keep the bottle cap at Toyota Field as people throw them on the field when they hate a call. Hmmm. New one for me.  I passed quickly the doo-dads and clothing concession--they wanted $70 for a kid's jersey, and $27 for a scarf with "La Maquina Roja" on it.

Which brings me to La Maquina Roja or the Red Machine. This is the organized cheering section for the Fire. I had just said to my husband that I didn't know if there would be anything like the Mancha Verde, the huge cheering section for Palmeiras or the Gaviões da Fiel (Corinthians) or any of the many organized groups in Brazil. There was: La Maquina Roja. I was impressed. A section behind the goal which started around 50% full became 100% full by half time. They stood and sang the entire game. They did not bounce like in Brazil. They played the drums and strangely enough-- a trumpet. Also they played Yankee Doodle. And lots of songs from the 80s which were changed to include the Fiiiii-iire in the lyrics. I was very very entertained by them. They rolled out a large banner with every goal and shook flags from Chicago and the Fire. Good on them.

It was as entertaining as a soccer game can be for me (I'm not really such a fan). The Fire got three goals, the Earthquakes two. I missed one goal on a French fry run for Lalo, I missed another when we left a few minutes early to avoid the mess at the end. But I never really missed them because here they have a huge TV at one end of the field with all the replays.

We heard Spanish and English during the entire game with a possible bias towards English. The Mexican population is pretty large around Chicago and I was expecting more Spanish. All announcements on goals and player changes were first in English and then in Spanish.  It was a nice crowd--many women, many kids, no swearing that I heard. Nobody yelling insults at the players (from their own team or the other team--it always shocks me the "coaching" that Brazilians give their own team).  It is as different as you can imagine from Brazil.

Or not. The Fire Stadium was built by the last mayor Daley. He chose Bridgeview as the location of the stadium because he grew up in that working class area. Seems a little sketchy. But then I think that Mayor Daley was part Brazilian. He also decided he didn't like Meigs Field airport anymore and the state house was taking too long to act so he blew up the runways late one night. True story.

On the way out of the stadium, Purina gave out tennis balls and free kibble for our dogs. We skipped the kibble and the kids each got a tennis ball.  We saw the fireworks from the car. It was an incredibly pleasant way to spend an evening. I'll be back, Chicago! Go Fire!

La Maquina Roja - before the game. This section was full by the end of the game. And fun.

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