When Miguel Lanza comes into the city he goes straight to Balompié Café at Capp and 18th streets, one of the best-known Mission District destinations to watch soccer games.
“Germans, French, Argentine, Mexican people come here because they know this is the place to watch the games,” said Daniele Gonzáles, a waitress from Brazil, who added that working at Balompié – which means soccer in Spanish – gives her the best seat in the house.
While soccer is growing in popularity here – a growth fueled by the immigration population – it is huge among Latino immigrants and their children. Balompié is only one of at least 14 places in the Mission televising the games – no matter what time they start.
In the weeks running up to the opening game on Friday morning at 7 a.m. between Mexico and South Africa, employees at Taquerías were posting their Corona bucket specials on the windows, BART stations and buses were filled with Latinos reading soccer (fútbol to the Spanish-speaking world) news and El Perol restaurant installed a television on its counter. Rafael Arteaga, a butcher next to El Perol said he was thankful they did so he can watch the games while working. He’ll cheer for Argentina.
Lanza’s hometown country of Honduras offers an example of how deeply soccer is felt in Latin America. He comes from a country where a World Cup qualifying match between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 sparked a brief war. When the team notched its spot in the World Cup last summer, Honduran officials declared a national holiday and the country briefly forgot about the 2009 coup d’etat.
Lanza is a product of the soccer mania and played professionally in 1982, the last time Honduras qualified for the World Cup. Although he was not chosen for the national team, he played in some of the same clubs the current players belong to.
“As a player you experience watching games very differently,” he said. “But always with the same passion.”
The Honduran team’s run-up to the World Cup was nothing short of a Cinderella story and Lanza has high expectations for its debut against Chile on June 16th. The team’s relatively low rank – 38th by FIFA standards – matters little to him. He expects the new generation of players to “avenge” the 1982 match against Spain, the host nation. In that game Spain tied thanks to a penalty, as he recalled, granted by a Chilean referee (referee was actually from Argentina).
Five days after playing Chile, Honduras again faces Spain, a favorite to win the World Cup.
If Honduras is knocked out of the running, Lanza said he will support the United States.
“He is saying that because he wants [U.S] citizenship,” a friend joked.
Lanza defended his motives. The United States and Mexico, he pointed out, are the only other North American teams that qualified for the World Cup.
Like Lanza, everyone in the Latino community here had a favorite team, but not always one you would expect.
“It’s personal,” explained Roxana Reyes, the owner of El Palacio Latino who is from Guatemala, and said she would support Brazil instead of Mexico.
Jackie Vela, who works at Balompie said her parents are from Central America, but she was born here and she prefers the U.S. team.
Alex Gómez, a self described Mexican-American and Mission native, said he too will root for the United States.
Luis Chi, also from Mexico, said he won’t have trouble waking up to seeing the debut Mexico vs. South Africa game on Friday at 7 a.m. because he is used to waking up early.
Chi said he hopes Mexico will get past the infamous “Ya Merito (almost)” phase where the team plays well but fails to qualify beyond the second round.
Back in Balompié, Lanza recalled watching soccer games at the stadium. Now he lives in San Bruno and will see the World Cup games at a friend’s house, at his friend’s soccer shop and at Balompié.
“Wherever it is, it’s going to be a party,” he said.
Another good read is a piece the 826 Valencia founder Dave Eggers wrote just before the World Cup.