Loco por el fùtbol

Latinos across the state reveled in 'their' national game when Mexico battled Argentina in World Cup soccer
by: Chase Allgood, Patrons at Maya’s Restaurant in Hillsboro are glued to last Saturday’s World Cup soccer match on a big-screen TV.

HILLSBORO - For many Americans, interest in the World Cup, if it even started at all, ended June 22, when the United States lost 2-1 to Ghana.

Compared to other sporting events, soccer and the World Cup are afterthoughts in much of the U.S. Culturally, we've never seemed to understand the appeal the way most of the rest of the world does.

The teams don't score very much, there are hardly any com-mercial breaks and we're secretly embarrassed that we're not very good at it.

It was a completely different story, though, in many parts of western Washington County, where an estimated one out of five residents has Latino roots.

That's why I was barely no-ticed when I walked through the door of Maya's Restaurant in Hillsboro last Saturday, a few minutes into the first half the second-round game between Argentina and Mexico.

Everyone there was trans-fixed by the game on the flat-screen television in the corner. The restaurant's open kitchen was busy churning out orders of pollo asado and cold cervezas, trying to keep up with the standing-room-only crowd.

During the World Cup, watching the action is a matter of national pride, and that tradition has not been lost on Washington County's Latino population, which is dominated by those of Mexican descent. On Saturday, there was no doubt which team everyone was rooting for.

Maya's manager Louis Lopez said at least 40 to 50 people had turned out at the restaurant for each of Mexico's World Cup matches.

I speak almost no Spanish, and was surrounded by people who mostly spoke only Spanish, watching the game in Spanish. Those who did speak English weren't too interested in talking to a reporter. It was the middle of the big game, after all.

Words weren't necessary, however, to communicate the intensity of excitement over the game.

Goals for each team early in the first half meant that both teams fought brutally to end the deadlock before the game's regular 90-minute clock expired. As the minutes ticked away and the game remained tied, the tension in the restaurant grew. Casual conversation trickled to a halt, with the occasional eruption over a close play.

As regular time drew to a close, the place fell almost silent until a shot from a Mexican striker went just wide of the goal, causing the crowd to go crazy with excitement. Patrons wrung their hands nervously each time Argentina went on the attack.

The mood changed eight minutes into extra time, when Argentina midfielder Maxi Rod-riguez caught a pass on his chest and volleyed it off his left foot, sending the ball sailing over the Mexican goalkeeper into the corner of the net.

Everyone knew that the goal meant Mexico's time in the World Cup was about to be over.

As a non-Spanish-speaking white guy from southeast Port-land, it was easy for me to feel like a fish out of water at Maya's. But it wasn't the color of my skin or the language I speak that had me feeling left out.

The fans in front of me, like people all over the world, were experiencing community through a collective sense of struggle, hope and pride. It didn't even take much talking - you just had to feel it.