Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Sun
Sunday, July 14, 2013 | 2 a.m.
A friendly soccer exhibition match Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium featuring one team each from El Salvador and Mexico, was just that: friendly.
There were no fireworks ignited in the crowd, parking lot brawls, fans running onto the field or other incidents to put spectators in danger. That, of course, was the scene last week when Mexican rivals Chivas and America played at Sam Boyd, prompting stadium officials to review how they handled game-day security.
The changes worked Saturday, starting with an overkill on the number of police officers at the facility. An estimated 60 officers worked the game, patrolling the parking lot before and after, manning virtually every stairwell entering the stands, and situating multiple officers on the field.
Additionally, the game was staffed with 85 part-time personnel from the Thomas & Mack Center, which operates Sam Boyd. They were most noticeable at the entrance, thoroughly searching fans upon entering. Last week, full bottles of alcohol and fireworks were among items illegally brought into the stadium.
Last week, just 40 officers staffed the game for nearly triple the amount of fans – 14,600 attended last week; 4,000 unofficially Saturday. Mexico’s Monarcas beat El Salvador’s L.A. Firpo, 2-1.
“We stepped it up tonight because we needed to,” said Mike Newcomb, the executive director of the Thomas & Mack. “We took the feedback (from last week) and made some changes. We wanted to make a statement tonight.”
Still, there were two small incidents.
The first happened before the game when members from the Monarcas fan club weren’t permitted to bring drums used for their in-game cheering into the stadium. They vocally protested, which prompted about a dozen officers to peacefully handle the situation.
“Metro stepped in and enforced the decision on the drum,” Newcomb said. “Metro was great to work with. They gave us a lot of great feedback.”
Then, at the end of the game, one fan threw a beer on the field in the direction of the referee to protest a call. However, officials feel that was an isolated incident and not a true indication of how supportive the fans were. That’s especially in comparison to last week.
Chivas and America fans have a long history of dislike, frequently looking to start a confrontation whenever — and as we learned in Las Vegas, wherever — the teams play. Last week, that included a pregame fight in the parking lot and chaos that spilled onto the field at the end of the game. Images of one fan getting kicked in the head and with blood rolling down his face appeared on social media and news stations all week.
Some suspected that would stop fans from attending Saturday’s game. While the attendance was sparse, that’s because the teams don’t have a huge following.
“We didn’t even think of not coming (because of last week’s violence),” said Jose Montufar, a fan L.A. Firpo. “We didn’t come to fight; we came to watch the game.”
Children under age 8 received free admission, bringing several families to the game. It was the family-friendly environment organizers hoped when booking international teams in consecutive weeks at Sam Boyd.
“There’s 4,000 here and half of that is kids. That’s awesome,” Newcomb said. “We needed to get the record straight. (Fans) saw we made adjustments.”
Officials hope to continue growing interest in professional soccer in Las Vegas, calling Saturday step in the right direction. While the crowd was small, they respected the game and showed how passionate the local soccer community is. Also, youth teams played exhibitions before and during halftime.
“We knew the violence wouldn’t happen again,” said Marta Garcia, a fan of Monarcas who brought her three young children to the game. “That was because of the teams playing last week. Everyone knows that.”
Soccer will return to Las Vegas in February 2014 when the Colorado Rapids and Chivas LA on Major League Soccer play at Sam Boyd Stadium. The same teams played in 2013.