Minutes before Thursday night’s North American Nations Cup soccer game between Mexico and Canada, a promoter called down to the field on his walkie-talkie and, facetiously, told an official to open the Coliseum gates so that the fans could find their seats.
“What you see is what you get,” the official told him.
What the promoters got was a crowd of only 3,566 to see Mexico beat Canada, 3-0.
And the promoters complained because a crowd almost twice that size, 6,261, went to the Coliseum for Tuesday night’s tournament’s opener, a 2-2 tie between the United States and Mexico.
Their only consolation is that there will not be so many empty seats for the final game Saturday at 1 p.m. between the United States and Canada. It will be played at El Camino College stadium in Torrance.
The fan disinterest bodes well neither for the North American Nations Cup nor for international soccer in Los Angeles, which is preparing a bid to become one of the 12 host cities for the 1994 World Cup.
Los Angeles, or, more specifically, Pasadena, probably will be chosen, based largely on the success of the 1984 Summer Olympic soccer tournament at the Rose Bowl. But, for the most part, international soccer interest in the area seems confined to the Latino community.
But not even Latinos bought the North American Nations Cup, which, in its second year, is having trouble holding the interest even of the three teams involved.
Two weeks after agreeing to play at the Coliseum in Tuesday and Thursday night games, Mexico also committed to play a game in Argentina Wednesday night. The “A” team went to Buenos Aires, where it played to a scoreless tie.
“The players Mexico sent to Los Angeles probably will be the nucleus of the 1994 World Cup team,” Fred Guzman, vice president of one of the tournament’s promoters, ProLink, said. “But Mexico’s fans in Los Angeles would rather see the players they’ve heard of.
“It’d be the same if you had a game at Dodger Stadium and the Albuquerque team showed up. Would that make an impact at the gate?”
Guzman says that 15,000 to 18,000 fans would have attended Tuesday night’s game had Mexico sent its best team.
“But that’s only part of the equation,” he said. “We’re disappointed because we expected Mexico’s fans to carry the tournament. But where were the U.S. fans? The U.S. federation has to create a situation where people rally around the national team.”
The World Cup is still more than three years away, but the clock, like a time bomb, is ticking.