Nothing 'friendly' about this friendly


It’s not to the insane, bitter level of India against Pakistan in cricket. As rivalries in sports go, three wars over Kashmir alone sort of gives those batting a ball around a circular pitch the edge on hatred for one’s opponent.

But it’s Yankees-Red Sox, times a million.

It makes Buzkashi, the time-honored and bizarre national sport of Afghanistan that has men on horseback tearing around large arenas while trying to wrestle a goat carcass from each other, seem like a game of checkers.

This is how much those from Chivas despise those from Club America and vice versa, how much the soccer team that represents the working class of Guadalajara loathes the one that represents the wealthiest club in Latin America.

In short, it’s the team adored by the farmers in their fields against the one worshipped by rich guys brokering deals in Mexico City.

“You grow up in the United States, and it’s football, baseball, basketball, some hockey,” said Tim Luce, managing director of Latin Sports. “You grow up in Mexico, and it’s soccer, soccer, soccer. And these two teams are, without a doubt, at the top of all rivalries there. There is a very unique sense of pride and loyalty and ethnicity on both sides.

“They probably play the most unfriendly friendlies in the world.”

They will play such a match at 8 p.m. today at Sam Boyd Stadium as part of an El Super Clasico series whose history dates to the 1950s and includes 210 meetings between the clubs.

Club America has won 75 times.

Chivas has won 72.

There have been 63 draws.

Each owns 11 Mexican League championships.

Neither has ever been relegated to the nation’s second division.

It’s a win-at-all-costs thing, a nation’s worth of extraordinary pride wrapped up into one series.

There is an important sidebar to the match if you care anything about Las Vegas and its potential to host a Major League Soccer team, which I am not convinced a majority opinion does.

But the thinking goes, if tonight’s match can draw in excess of 20,000 and offer an even more enthusiastic atmosphere than the 29,000 who showed for Real Madrid against Santos Laguna last August, the support for soccer locally will be viewed as an all-time high.

The MLS has expanded to 20 teams, and Las Vegas long has been a destination many think would offer a strong fan base. The league has mostly searched to place teams in soccer-only venues, but perhaps Las Vegas could argue that what UNLV has offered for years now at Sam Boyd isn’t really football, so any soccer team arriving would be the real thing.

“The hope is that the community will again come out (tonight) and support soccer and help further develop the market in Las Vegas,” Luce said. “I was once general manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy and can tell you much of the talk about expansion even back (in the early 2000s) was about Las Vegas. There is a great home base of fans here. Not every team has its own stadium. We rented the Rose Bowl with (the Galaxy) before the Home Depot Center was built.

“The potential is here. Little by little, the country is accepting MLS as a major sport.”

That’s the future.

This is tonight: El Super Clasico is a picture of haves and have-nots, of a Club America team owned by media group Televisa that plays its home games in Estadio Azteca, the largest stadium in Latin America and where the likes of Pele and Maradona lifted World Cup trophies. Club America has carved its history by purchasing the most expensive players and adding available foreign talent. It’s the most hated team in Mexico.

Chivas always has owned a policy that only Mexican-born players grace its roster, but has softened its stance to now allow those from foreign lands who can claim Mexican citizenship. The club’s home site, Estadio Omnilife, is on the northwestern edge of Guadalajara, set against rolling hills and built to imitate a volcano. It is the club for which a nation’s heart beats loudest.

“People will drive long distances to Las Vegas to see this game,” Luce said. “I really think you might get an even split on fans from both sides and then there will be other soccer fans who might not have an affiliation to either but just want to see Chivas or America lose.

“The game supersedes the players. The rivalry is that big.”

Tell you what, it’s a lot bigger than trying to wrestle a goat carcass from another guy on a horse.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.