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August 27, 2014

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Las Vegas soccer fans gear up for taste of Mexico’s ‘El Super Clasico’ rivalry

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Steve Marcus

Juan Zaragosa, restaurant manager, poses being his truck adorned with the Chivas crest at the El Birotazo Mexican restaurant, 4262 E. Charleston Blvd., Wednesday, June 26, 2013. The restaurant owners are huge fans of the Chivas soccer team. Chivas (Guadalajara) and Club America (Mexico City), two of the most popular soccer teams in Mexico, play each other at Sam Boyd Stadium on Wednesday, July 3.

Guadalajara v. America by the Numbers

  • 1906: The year Club Deportivo Guadalajara (Sports Club of Guadalajara) was founded
  • 1916: The year Club de Futbol America (America Soccer Club) was founded
  • 08-01-1943: Date of the first meeting between the two teams, a 1-0 victory for Guadalajara
  • 174: The number of official meetings (not including exhibition matches) between the two teams. America holds the slightest advantage with a record of 63 wins, 62 losses and 54 ties
  • 0: The number of times either team has been relegated to the Mexican second division, the only two teams in the Mexican soccer leagues to have never suffered the dishonor
  • 11: The number of Mexican league championship titles held by each team; they are tied for the most championships by any Mexican soccer team

El Birotazo Mexican Restaurant - Chivas of Guadalajara

Giovanni Vargas, left, chats with customers Moses Murillo, left, and Marco Plascencia at the El Birotazo Mexican restaurant, 4262 E. Charleston Blvd., Wednesday, June 26, 2013. The restaurant owners are huge fans of the Chivas soccer team. Chivas (Guadalajara) and Club America (Mexico City), two of the most popular soccer teams in Mexico, play each other at Sam Boyd Stadium on Wednesday, July 3. Launch slideshow »

For months, the customers at El Birotazo have been buzzing about “El Super Clasico.”

The east Las Vegas restaurant, which specializes in the torta ahogada, a Mexican sandwich that originated in Guadalajara, is a haven for Club Deportivo Guadalajara fans. The soccer team from the central Mexican city is one of the most popular in the country, and El Birotazo’s walls are covered in murals and memorabilia commemorating the team.

Guadalajara will play Club America, of Mexico City, in an exhibition match Wednesday in Las Vegas, the first such exhibition between the two teams here.

The teams are the Mexican soccer league’s fiercest rivals and most successful organizations. Games between the two squads are referred to as El Super Clasico, or the Super Classic.

Although the game at Sam Boyd Stadium is a “friendly,” fans of the respective teams fully expect both squads to give it their all so as not to lose to a hated rival.

Last year, a game between the Spanish league’s Real Madrid and the Mexican league’s Santos Laguna drew 29,000 spectators to Sam Boyd, but this match should carry an extra intensity thanks to the two teams’ strong fan bases and familiarity with each other.

“Last year, people went to see a good soccer match and mostly to see Real Madrid,” said Juan Zaragoza, a manager at El Birotazo, whose truck hood is emblazoned with a Guadalajara logo. “There was no soul to the game, though. This game is way more important, at least for the Mexican soccer fan. There is pride at stake.”

Club America, also called Las Aguilas (the Eagles), won the most recent league championship. The title was the team’s 11th, tying it with Guadalajara, also called Las Chivas (the Goats).

America is known for seeking out, and paying for, the best players from all parts of the world, while Guadalajara exclusively uses Mexican players and is known more for cultivating local talent.

“If Club America is the Yankees of Mexican soccer, then I’d have to say Guadalajara is like the Atlanta Braves,” said Giovanni Vargas, a Chivas fan and son of El Birotazo’s owner. “They grow their own players.”

For Vargas and his family, the loyalty to Guadalajara runs back generations. His grandfather worked for the club as a merchandise vendor.

America and Guadalajara are easily the Mexican league’s two most popular teams. While Club America is seen as a team for businessmen and the elite, Guadalajara is commonly perceived as the team of the people, a characterization that even Club America fans do not dispute.

“America gets players from outside, from any place in the world, while Chivas only takes Mexican players — and that’s more important for the fans,” said Alvaro Puentes, director of programming for ESPN Deportes radio in Las Vegas and a longtime Club America fan. “Chivas fans are seen as more like regular people in town who have regular jobs. America fans are generally seen as office workers and a different kind of people, even in how they dress.”

Vargas and his family bought tickets the instant they heard about the Super Clasico being played in Las Vegas, and they will travel to the game with a contingent of 14.

Previously, the two teams have met in exhibition matches in San Francisco but have never squared off in Las Vegas.

Tim Luce, managing director of Latin Sports and the game’s promoter, said the Real Madrid and Santos Laguna match last year was the biggest soccer event in Las Vegas history, and he expects this game to top it.

“This event will surpass last year because we have the two most popular Mexican teams, who have a great rivalry. Most of the Hispanics in Las Vegas are Mexican, and there are huge followings for these teams,” Luce said. “It’s not just the players that throw barbs at each other in these games. The coaches, owners and management all get in on it. They despise each other.”

In 1983 and 1986, the teams brawled on the field, and the fights fueled the longtime rivalry. There have not been any serious scuffles in recent years, but Chivas is coming off a poor season and will look for a little bit of redemption by defeating America after America took last season’s title.

Although the teams may not be able to take the more relaxed approach usually seen in exhibitions, the fans are ready to sit back and enjoy a good match.

“It is like being a child and finding out that Disneyland is coming to you,” Puentes said of his excitement when he heard the Super Clasico would be played in Las Vegas. “Chivas and America, they never play a ‘friendly.’ It doesn’t matter if it counts for the season or not, they’ll both play to win.”

Tickets are still available for the game, and after selling out of $28 and $38 tickets, Luce said more $38 tickets have been made available by opening up additional sections of the stadium. Available tickets range from $38 to $128 and can be purchased at the Thomas & Mack Center Box Office (with no service fees), online at UNLVtickets.com, at UNLVtickets Outlet Town Square Las Vegas Concierge, or by calling 866-388-3267 or 702-739-3267. Tickets also are available at Mariana’s and La Bonita Super Markets in Las Vegas.

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