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Six Red Cards! Five Goals! Massive Upset! Wait, Who's Playing?

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An incredible game took place in Los Angeles last night, and it had nothing to do with the Staples Center, USC, or Kobe Bryant. In fact, the two teams facing off had nothing to do with LA or even the United States, really. The Coliseum played host to the national soccer teams of bordering nations Mexico and Guatemala, and true to past instances when Central American squads play in the States, heads rolled in every sense of the phrase.

Supporters of El Tri, as the Mexican squad is dubbed, were licking their chops to catch their first glance at Mexico’s new crop of players predicted to become genuine contenders for the 2010 World Cup. La Generacion de Oro (Golden Generation), under the tutelage of national hero Hugo Sanchez, trotted onto the field in front of over 42,000 rapturous fans as big favorites. Mexican prodigy Giovani dos Santos, who plays with the likes of Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry at FC Barcelona, flew into town to jump into the starting XI.

I always find the term “international friendly” a gross misnomer, and this match is a fine example of why. Guatemala took only six minutes to stun the favorites with a goal, quieting the place down considerably. Mexico settled the game down and began to dominate possession of the ball, and it became clear it would only be a matter of time before they equalized. Mexico smashed one into the back of the next just after the 30-minute mark, and before the fans could settle down enough to pay attention to the game, they charged down the field and scored another. Remember how the fans reacted after the Dodgers hit four dingers in a row in a clutch game against the Padres last season? Capture that energy, add some smoke bombs and toilet paper rolls in the air, and you have the atmosphere that filled through the stands that moment.

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Then things just got nutty. Yellow cards flew out of the referee’s pocket in response to rampant takedowns and sliding tackles, quickly switching to reds as shoving turned to face elbowing. The numbers alone were likely enough to pique the interest of even the most indifferent spectator in the crowd: six red cards, five goals, and chances aplenty. The hero of the day goes to Guatemalan midfielder Marvin Avala, who scored two sick goals to give his side the 3-2 victory and arguably one of the finest results in the national team's history.

Hitting the Coliseum for a Mexico friendly must make it on every sports-loving Angeleno’s to-do list. Even those who put down the game, and there are many, should take the time just to experience the truly unique atmosphere. The electricity surrounding the pitch reaches you before you even make it to your seat. The loud chants, whistles, and droning plastic horns emanating from inside the grounds drive many fans start running as soon as they enter the gates. Massive flags are unfurled and noisemakers abound – and unlike many other LA fans, these guys are not only on time for games, they’re early!

Interested? Allow me to provide a disclaimer. This night out is a terrible option for a first date, and it is certainly not for the type of fan who gets annoyed when the dude in front of him stands up too often. You’re packed in tight, surrounded by animated and tireless supporters, and emotions run high. Nearly all the fans are well behaved and a lot of fun to watch the game with. On the other hand, some let the high-drama push them over the line resulting in fights or "missile-throwing" (as it's called in Europe). Plastic bottles, AA batteries, fireworks, soda cups, and ice have all whizzed over my head en route to targets on the pitch or supporters of the other team. Last night I witnessed a girl fight, an LAPD arrest in the stands, and fans pelting the victorious Guatemala team with debris as they exited the field. Again, most of the fans are awesome, but I am always very careful in whom I choose to invite to these games.

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Photos by Eric Locko