Soccer wasn’t very popular in San Diego when Daniel Chamberlain was growing up in the 1980s. If he wanted to watch a game, he had to tune his TV’s rabbit ears to get a signal from Tijuana.
“I think growing up in this town, you knew about football because of our location near the border,” said Chamberlain, president of the local chapter of the American Outlaws. “By the time I was 20, I probably watched more football games in Spanish than in English.”
Chamberlain’s experience is part of what defines the cross-border soccer culture of the San Diego/Tijuana area.
Estadio Caliente in Tijuana is one of the few soccer stadiums in Mexico where fans set up American-style tailgates before each game. And in recent years, Tijuana fans have headed north to support the San Diego Loyal or San Diego Wave soccer teams.
While the US and Mexico are considered bitter rivals elsewhere, the mood here is different. It’s not uncommon for fans in San Diego to support both teams.
“It’s a heated rivalry, especially on the field,” Chamberlain said. “But it’s interesting. When Mexico wins, the US fans take off their shirts and wear Mexico shirts, and I’ve seen it the other way around too. I do not like it; I think you have to choose a side. But I think it drives both teams, which I’ve always enjoyed.”
The region’s dual fandom will be even more pronounced when next month’s World Cup takes place in Qatar. It is the first time since 2014 that the US men’s team has qualified for what is arguably the most important sporting event in the world.
When the United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, some American soccer fans included Mexico as their team. Steve Garcia, co-owner of 3 Punk Ales in Chula Vista and a staunch Mexico supporter, still has video evidence of die-hard USA fans wearing Mexico’s green jersey.
“I have video to prove it,” he said. “I have video of them cheering and singing the Mexican national anthem.”
3 Punk Ales opened just before the 2018 World Cup and used that tournament to build a loyal customer base. Whenever Mexico played, the brewery turned into a sea of green jerseys, trumpets, maracas and, of course, beer.
Neighbors down the block could hear the fans screaming whenever Mexico scored.
“The last World Cup was great,” said Garcia. “Everyone came out. Play at 8am, play at 6am, it didn’t matter. We had food trucks posted with breakfast burritos.”
This year, the brewery hosts watch parties for both the United States and Mexico. Garcia sees nothing wrong with hosting rival fans’ groups.
“Football is football,” he said. “You know more than anyone if you’ve been here in Chula Vista, a frontier town. Football is football, football is football, the love and passion for the game is second to none.”
As the USA played Wales on Monday morning, a pair of 3 Punk Ales walked in wearing rival shirts – the man had a US shirt and the woman a Mexico shirt. Both turned down an interview because they were supposed to be at work.
Other fans agreed to be interviewed but declined to give their last names.
Juan is a Chula Vista resident and football fan whose jersey collection includes US and Mexico jerseys. He even has a special jersey that is half US and half Mexico.
“There are a lot of people at Chula Vista who grew up in the United States but have roots in Mexico and we support both teams,” he said. “Today is USA and if Mexico plays tomorrow, I’ll wear a Mexico shirt”
For Steve, another Chula Vista resident, the World Cup is an opportunity to celebrate his two cultures.
“I love it because I’m Black and Mexican, so I’m both,” he said. “I love both nations.”
For his part, Garcia is already looking forward to the 2026 version, co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“Am I excited? Yes,” he said. “But I’m more looking forward to 2026. Once we include these North American countries, it will be bananas.”