By John Philip Wyllie
Sunday’s Copa Tecate 2005, the national Hispanic adult amateur soccer championship, turned out to be much more than just a soccer game. It was an event! And thousands of local soccer fans braved the hot, humid weather and descended upon Devore Stadium on the campus of Southwestern College to enjoy it.
Copa Tecate kicked off at 12:30 with a celebrity match featuring a quartet of legendary Mexican soccer stars. Carlos Hermosillo, Luis Alberto Alves (aka Zague), Jorge Campos, Martin “El Pulpo” Zuniga and Telemundo’s “De Mananita” host, Zeji Ozeri, proved to be fan favorites. The former Mexican national team stars demonstrated that they haven’t forgotten how to play the game.
A spirited, but lopsided match followed between El Paso’s Alta Vista and Chicago’s La Piedad with El Paso trouncing their Windy City opponents 6-1. Then the fun continued with a pair of concerts, first by K-Paz de la Sierra, an up and coming Chicago-based Mexican banda group, and then by well renowned three time Latin Grammy winning Banda El Recodo.
The road to the championship was a tough one for Alta Vista, the core of which has been playing together since high school. The tournament began in February and originally featured 45,000 adult athletes spread across 2,600 teams (including some from San Diego). The players, who ranged in age from 21 to their mid-30s are either students or working. They had to adjust their job and study schedules to allow time for practice, play and travel. Most of the preliminary games were played in obscurity. Few fans attended and little attention was paid. To reach the final, El Paso had to first survive playing two matches in the sweltering 118 degree heat of Phoenix.
Following the game UTEP sophomore, Heriberto Juarez, a key defender an Alta Vista’s team, spoke to the press about his team’s struggle.
“We (first) played in this tournament five years ago. In the last two years we have reached the final (rounds). Last year we finished in third place. Today, finally we made it!”
For some of his older teammates, Sunday’s championship match will likely be the last that they will play for Alta Vista. Having enjoyed the excitement of winning a Copa Tecate Final, the 22-year old Juarez would like to return.
“We need some young blood on this team,” Juarez said. “We are working on getting some younger guys on our team so that hopefully, we can come back to this tournament next year.”