SAN LUIS POTOSI, Mexico — Everywhere the Mexico national team goes, it gets a huge reception, but Thursday was overwhelming even for El Tri.
The team's arrival from the airport in San Luis Potosi to its hotel dinner Thursday was delayed by an ever-growing crowd of fans who serenaded the team bus with "Cielito Lindo" and yelled other messages of support.
In a news conference shortly after arriving, Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera said the reception will motivate the team during Friday's contest against Trinidad and Tobago.
"I want to thank the fans. The reception was powerful, and all the guys felt it because they know the passion and love the Mexican fans have for their national team," Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio added without prompting at the same news conference. "Today, truly, I think they felt it, so we’re very thankful to all the fans who participated in this gesture."
Ticket sales might lag at the Estadio Azteca, but the national team is a big deal here, where it hasn't played in a decade. That means it's the first time Kevin Rodriguez can remember that he has had the chance to catch a glimpse of his national team heroes in person.
"It’s a really great thing. I’ve never been able to see them," the 15-year-old said while waiting outside the team hotel before its arrival. "I’m here to see if I can see a player."
Rodriguez, whose favorite player is Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, was waiting with his brother and mother. He said that even though the city went through a time without a team last year, the arrival of Atletico San Luis has allowed him to see several games this season.
Tre Castillo, who works in a bakery just outside the site of Friday's match, the Estadio Alfonso Lastras, says people in the city have been excited about the national team coming since the decision was announced last month.
"I think it’s a city that likes football. You see men, kids, women, going to the games," she said. "A lot of people line up to go when there’s an Atletico San Luis game, but now that the national team is here, I imagine there will be a whole lot of people."
For some Mexicans, its's been easier to cross the border for friendly games in Texas, California or Arizona, than see their team within their own borders. Mexico rarely leaves the Estadio Azteca and when it does generally is playing friendly matches in the United States thanks to a lucrative contract SUM.
Mexico has, generally, been quite good when it has played away from those sites. In the one qualifier played away from Mexico City in the last cycle, Mexico topped El Salvador 2-0 in Torreon. It topped Canada in Tuxtla Gutierrez and Belize in Monterrey in the cycle before that. And Mexico was on the move often in the build-up to the 2006 World Cup, playing six matches outside the capital and winning by an aggregate score of 33-2, including the 5-2 win over Guatemala in the same stadium where Friday's game will take place.
"At the end of the day, the national team is everyone's, but unfortunately we're not able to take it to the whole country. We have the opportunity to take it out of Mexico City and take it to another city and this time we chose San Luis Potosi," FMF president Decio de Maria said when announcing the match in September.
Potosinos are trying their hardest to make sure it will be on the radar for future trips outside the capital, that it won't be 10 years before they're once again able to welcome El Tri.