Pasadena got a dress rehearsal for the upcoming World Cup festivities Saturday, as 90,000 or so soccer fans descended on the Rose Bowl for an exhibition game between the United States and Mexico, snarling traffic on two freeways and testing the resources of a massive law enforcement contingent.
Some fans waited for three hours or longer as they worked their way toward the stadium in cars and on foot. Vehicles overheated on the Pasadena and Foothill freeways, and some people abandoned their vehicles miles from the Rose Bowl, choosing to walk or run the last few miles instead.
“We had to park three miles away,” said Jonathan Rosales, whose dash to the stadium in the afternoon heat left his red, white and blue face paint dripping off his chin. “It’s a mess.”
By late afternoon, the highways were awash in soccer enthusiasm and a sea of Mexican flags, with a few stars and stripes among them. The game was won by the United States, 1-0.
From one South Pasadena back yard, the Pasadena Freeway looked like a giant, festive parking lot: flags flying, car horns honking, passengers blowing plastic trumpets in rhythm.
Some homeowners complained that the festivities made them prisoners of their own neighborhoods. “So many people. They’re so excited. But not me; so many cars,” said Emily Cheng, who was taking a walk around the Rose Bowl grounds while her car stayed parked a few blocks away at her Linda Vista Avenue home. “I wouldn’t go anywhere today.”
Bracing for Saturday’s exhibition, officials from 40 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies fired up their joint operations command post near the Rose Bowl in a run-through for the monthlong series of soccer games that begins in Southern California on June 18 and that will draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the region. Authorities said they were generally pleased by Saturday’s event and added that they expect the traffic problems to abate during the World Cup games because fans will be better prepared and advised to arrive earlier.
Although tempers occasionally flared, especially as game time drew near, once inside the stadium fans were well-behaved. Police--who blanketed the facility, some on foot, others on horseback--reported little trouble.
“Everything is really good,” said sheriff’s Deputy Phil Morris. “There’s been a lot of horn-blowing, whistling and carrying on, but once they got in, they’ve been having a good time.”
By night’s end, only two people were arrested in connection with the event. “Everything was as calm as could be,” said Pasadena police Cmdr. Mary Schander.
A last-minute sellout stirred some concern among security officials because it meant that late-arriving fans without tickets would be turned away, complicating the thick traffic congestion at the stadium. Crowds of fans, many still bearing flags, slumped on sidewalks, dejected at missing a game that some had traveled all day to attend.
“We look and look and look,” said David Moyal, who searched for tickets for more than an hour with his brother before giving up. “But we don’t find.”
Joe Trevino came all the way from San Bernardino and fumed about not being able to buy a ticket. “I think this country underestimates the power of soccer,” he said, as Rose Bowl staff shooed away those without tickets. “People go to war over soccer games.”
Adding to the frenzy in Pasadena, two other events--a chili cook-off and a chalk street painting demonstration--drew their share of visitors.
By late afternoon, the streets of Old Town were bustling and merchants said business was booming.
“Everything’s going really well,” said Leah Martinez, a manager at the Market City Caffe in Old Town. “It’s a lot of different people, but everyone’s getting along.”
Officials had encouraged soccer fans to arrive early--the parking lots opened at 11:30 a.m. and the stadium at 1:30 p.m. for a 4:30 p.m. game. But only a few cars trickled in by early afternoon, heightening fears of a major traffic snarl in the making.
By 3 p.m., with crowds at the stadium still relatively light, authorities were asking news radio stations to broadcast word that fans should head to the stadium as soon as possible or risk long waits once they arrived.
Within the hour, thousands of fans began arriving at the stadium, many waving large flags.
The flags posed a minor problem for officials. While flag-waving fans are a common sight at soccer games abroad, authorities have barred flagpoles from the World Cup games this year because they are concerned about the possibility of their being used as weapons.
As a result, officials detached flags from poles as fans arrived at the gates. The poles were confiscated, and the process tied up entry into the Rose Bowl.
With the first World Cup game slated for the Rose Bowl on June 18, officials have been working out security plans for more than a year and had planned to use Saturday’s game as a dry run. That meant that agents and officers from dozens of law enforcement agencies were on hand for the game.
State transportation officials and California Highway Patrol officers tried to steer traffic into the facility and to prevent backups on the highway. Crowd control at the Rose Bowl itself was primarily the responsibility of Pasadena police, but they were joined by sheriff’s deputies on horseback.
Federal agents and representatives of other police departments were on hand in case trouble erupted and reinforcements were needed. None were.
“We had planned this as a final dress rehearsal,” said Pasadena Police Cmdr. Mary L. Schander, whose department is the lead agency for security in and around the Rose Bowl. “It was a good thing because we needed it.”
Although the traffic tie-ups irritated some soccer fans, security officials say they expect the situation to be better once the World Cup games begin. Fans are traveling from around the world to attend those games and will receive packets of information instructing them on where to be in order to ensure that they do not miss any of the action.
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