June 20, 2013
Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids vs. Mexican Premier League's Santos Laguna
When/Where:July 12 (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) at University Stadium
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
For soccer fans, this is a biggie - the Colorado Rapids vs. Santos Laguna. It's also the U.S. (mostly) vs. Mexico (mostly).
For sure, it's going to be an international match featuring great talent and these teams will not be playing at an exhibition/friendly level. Too much pride on the line!
However, maybe the biggest question when the Rapids and Santos Laguna hit University Stadium on July 12 is which team will have the backing of the crowd?
(And will Jeremy Fishbein's New Mexico Lobos be standing on the sidelines demanding to play the winner?)
The Colorado Rapids play in the MLS - Major League Soccer. Depending on what trades take place between now and July 12, the Rapids will have about 17 players born in the U.S. on their roster and around 12 from outside the border.
The Rapids have players from Rutgers, Cal State Bakersfield, Clayton State, Notre Dame, Creighton, Clemson, UCLA and even have a home-grown product from Aurora, Colo. The Rapids play out of New Mexico's neighbor to the North and were one of the MLS's original 10 franchises in 1996.
Their first game in Mile High Stadium drew 21,711 fans, but they have since moved to Dick Sporting Goods Park located North of Denver in Commerce City. They look to New Mexico to add to their fan base much like the Colorado Rockies, the Denver Broncos or other Colorado pro teams look to the South.
The Rapids are as American as apple pie - well, make that an apple pie with a foreign crust.
The Rapids also have players from Jamaica, Ecuador, Colombia, Chili, Ireland, Argentina - just to name a few foreign soils from which the Rapids found their talent. Santos Laguna also brings in splashes of non-Mexico talent.
On the surface, the Rapids are the team the University Stadium crowd should be backing. The MLS plucked away two Lobo superstars in the last draft: Devon Sandoval and Blake Smith. The MLS is where most U.S. college players go to improve their skills and make a little money.
But for longtime soccer fans, the teams from Mexico have long been traditional favorites in America's Southwest. Santos Laguna has been kicking around the futbol since 1982. Santos Laguna, based in Torreón, Mexico, plays in Mexico's top league and has won the league title four times.
Simply put: there have been American soccer fans following Santos Laguna longer than American soccer fans have been following the Rapids. There also might be more passion in that backing.
They call this matchup between the MLS Rapids and Santos Laguna a "friendly."
But this is a pride thing for both teams. The U.S. has lived under the shadow of international soccer for years. The quality of futbol on American soil and in the MLS has grown tremendously and continues to grow.
But U.S. teams, even U.S. teams dotted with foreign talent, have something to prove when they play a visitor from foreign soil.
And you think a top professional team from Mexico would be happy losing to a team from the MLS?
Santos Laguna is not the Mexican National Team, but this is a compassionate, talented squad that plays its nation's most popular sport with pride and futbol fury. Santos Laguna might be more interested in beating Monterrey, but for sure they do not want to lose to the Rapids.
"This is a great chance for New Mexico soccer fans to see some outstanding professional soccer," said UNM's Fishbein. "The talent on both teams is exceptional and neither team will be out there expecting to lose."
A recent poll listed the MLS as the No. 7 ranked soccer league in the world. Mexico was No. 6. This poll included a lot of factors - attendance, finances, stadiums, etc., -- but it also included talent and success on the field.
The MLS has played teams from Mexico a number of times. The teams from Mexico have the edge. The CONCACAF Champions League final had been an all-Mexican League final until 2011 when Real Salt Lake reached the finals. The first MLS team to ever win a game on Mexico soil came in the summer of 2011 when FC Dallas upset Pumas UNAM.
Santos Laguna has played in the CONCACAF title game in the past two seasons - losing both times to Monterrey. In March of 2012, Santos Laguna pounded Seattle of the MLS 6-1. Here's a quote from "Soccer Talk" after that five-goal spanking: "If there is a Mexican barrier, it is certainly not a hidden one. The dominance of the Mexican teams over MLS teams is well-known, the intimidating stats frequently quoted."
The MLS is catching up. Seattle lost 1-0 to Santos Laguna in April of 2013. The Rapids lost to Santos Laguna 4-1 in September of 2011 in Commerce City. It was the Rapids worse loss in 2011 and the only time they gave up four goals. The Rapids lost 2-0 in Torreón in October of 2011. However, Colorado beat Santos Laguna 2-0 in March of 2003 in Las Vegas, Nev.
A Colorado win in University Stadium would even the record between the two pro teams. Tickets to the July 12 match in University Stadium start at $17 for adults and $10 dollars for kids under 10 years, and are available via the University of New Mexico ticketing website, www.unmtickets.com, or by calling 877-664-8661.
"There are tens of thousands of soccer fans across New Mexico, so we hope to have a very successful event and build a long lasting relationship with the New Mexico soccer community," said Ricci Greenwood, owner 3 Star Sports & Entertainment, the game's promoter. "We're also very thankful to our gracious host, the University of New Mexico Athletics Department, for partnering with 3 Star Sports to allow New Mexico soccer fans the enjoyment of a professional match in the state's premier sports stadium."
Santos Laguna currently features stars like Mexican National Team players Oswaldo Sanchez and Oribe Peralta, Javier Orozco and Néstor Araujo, as well as Colombian forward Darwin Quintero and Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy.
Those Santos Laguna players will have a lot of supporters in July 12 in University Stadium.
But so will the Rapids.