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Mexico-Ecuador showed us just how fun soccer can be when Charlotte FC gets here

·3 min read

Mexico and Ecuador played a soccer friendly Wednesday night in Bank of America Stadium.

But with only about five months left until the Major League Soccer debut of Charlotte’s new team in the same venue, I kept imagining it was Charlotte FC out there.

If it looks anything in March 2022 like it did for Mexico and Ecuador in October, it’s going to be a fun scene. It was lively. It was loud. It was pleasantly crowded. It had a lot of goals, too, as Ecuador won, 3-2. If #MexTour was a preview of the coming attraction, I want to see that movie.

Wednesday night was the sort of atmosphere Charlotte FC will want for all 17 of its home games in 2022, when its COVID-delayed MLS expansion season finally comes to fruition and David Tepper’s other pro team takes the field.

Bank of America Stadium has long had an excellent setup for soccer. I’ve been around awhile, long enough that I covered the soon-to-be-famous U.S. Women’s National Team in an exhibition against Japan in April 1999.

That game featured Mia Hamm and a host of other American soccer luminaries, yet it drew a lousy 10,119 fans to the stadium. Charlotte has come many miles as a soccer city — and as a city in general — since then.

Wednesday night’s friendly drew 39,887. There have been crowds of more than 60,000 B of A for soccer over the past decade a couple of times before and over 35,000 numerous times.

Mexico forward Uriel Antuna (10) is pressured by Ecuador defender Christian Cruz (6) during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Charlotte on Wednesday.
Mexico forward Uriel Antuna (10) is pressured by Ecuador defender Christian Cruz (6) during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Charlotte on Wednesday.

Charlotte FC would like to average 30,000 per game in 2022, and also to draw 74,000-plus for its very first game to break an MLS record held by Atlanta. That will all be a challenge, especially once the newness wears off, but it’s possible.

The Mexico-Ecuador game itself had as much offense in the first 15 minutes as the Carolina Panthers had generated in 60 minutes just three days before. In their loss to the N.Y. Giants, the Panthers managed only three points.

In Wednesday night’s game, Ecuador scored before 90 seconds had elapsed. Mexico scored a bit after that, sending what was mostly a pro-Mexico crowd into a frenzy.

Then came another goal for Ecuador, making the score 2-1 after 15 minutes. The score stayed 2-1 until midway through the second half, when Mexico got a goal from Osvaldo Rodriguez to tie it at 2-2.

Ecuador midfielder Janner Corozo (7) chases down the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Mexico in Charlotte Wednesday. Corozo had a goal and an assist in Ecuador’s 3-2 win.
Ecuador midfielder Janner Corozo (7) chases down the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Mexico in Charlotte Wednesday. Corozo had a goal and an assist in Ecuador’s 3-2 win.

Ecuador scored again in the 75th minute on a pretty combination of passes that ended up in a goal by Walter Chala, and it was 3-2.

By then, the stands were getting rowdy. I saw two near-fights between Mexico and Ecuador supporters late in the game that needed to be broken up by security.

That wasn’t ideal, nor was the 9 p.m. start time on a weeknight, nor was the occasional piece of trash tossed onto the field at the end of the game after Mexico missed out on several good chances to tie.

A fan cheers before an international friendly soccer match between Mexico and Ecuador in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.
A fan cheers before an international friendly soccer match between Mexico and Ecuador in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

And a few things will undoubtedly go wrong for the Charlotte FC debut, too, as it tries to both attract and keep interested the city’s booming young professional class.

But in general, Wednesday night’s game had the feel of an event, the way the best events at Charlotte’s biggest stadium do — Panther games when Carolina is playing well, the Rolling Stones and so on.

The night felt like a mashup of Cinco de Mayo and the Olympics, with the stadium’s lower bowl absolutely packed for fútbol.

They played three different national anthems before the game began — America’s, Ecuador’s and Mexico’s. P.A. announcements were made in English and Spanish. All the yard lines and end zones were gone — say what you want about artificial turf, but you sure can erase the paint from it thoroughly.

Charlotte is ready for MLS, and we’ve known that for a while. Wednesday night was a little more welcome evidence.

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