Football wasn’t very popular in San Diego when Daniel Chamberlain was growing up in the 1980s. If he wanted to watch a game, he’d have to adjust his TV’s rabbit ears to get a signal from Tijuana.
“I think when you grew 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. “I probably watched more football in Spanish than in English until I was 20.”
Chamberlain’s experience is part of what makes the cross-border soccer culture in the San Diego/Tijuana area so notable.
The Estadio Caliente in Tijuana is one of the only soccer stadiums in Mexico where fans have erected American-style tailgates before every match. And in recent years, fans from Tijuana have headed north to support San Diego Loyal or San Diego Wave football.
While the United States and Mexico are seen as fierce rivals elsewhere, the vibe is different here. It is not uncommon for fans in San Diego to support both teams.
“It’s a heated competition, especially on the field,” Chamberlain said. “But it’s interesting. When Mexico wins, the American fans take off their shirts and put on Mexico’s shirts, and I’ve seen it the other way around too. I don’t like that; I think you need to pick a side. But I think he leads both teams, which I’ve always enjoyed.”
The dual fan base in the region will be even more evident with the World Cup finals kicking off next month 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 on the planet.
When the United States did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup, some American soccer fans adopted Mexico as their team. Steve Garcia, co-owner of 3 Punk Ales in Chula Vista and staunch Mexico supporter, still has video evidence of die-hard US fans wearing Mexico’s green jersey.
He said, “I have a video to prove it.” “I have a video of them chanting and singing the Mexican national anthem.”
3 Punk Ales opened just before the 2018 World Cup and has used that tournament to build a loyal customer base. Whenever Mexico played, the brewery would turn into a sea of green jerseys, horns, maracas and, of course, beer.
Neighbors could hear the crowd screaming whenever Mexico scored a goal.
“The last World Cup was amazing,” said Garcia. “Everybody got out. At eight in the morning, six in the morning games, it didn’t matter. We had food trucks advertised as breakfast burritos.”
This year, the brewery is hosting watch parties for both the United States and Mexico. Garcia sees nothing wrong with hosting rival pro groups.
“Football is football,” he said. “You know better than anyone if you’re here in Chula Vista, being a frontier town. Football is soccer, soccer is soccer, and the love and passion for the game is second to none.”
When the USA played Wales on Monday morning, a couple walked into 3 Bank Alice with opposing jerseys – the man was wearing an American jersey, the woman was wearing a Mexican jersey. They both refused to be interviewed because they were supposed to be at work.
Other fans agreed to be interviewed but declined to share their names.
Juan is a Chula Vista resident and soccer fan whose collection includes US and Mexico jerseys. He even has a special jersey that is half US and half Mexico.
“At Chula Vista, you have a lot of people who grew up in the US but have roots in Mexico and we support both teams,” he said. “Today is the USA and when Mexico plays tomorrow, I will wear the Mexico shirt”
For Chula Vista native Steve, the World Cup is an opportunity to celebrate his two cultures.
“I like it because I’m black and I’m Mexican, so I’m both,” he said. “I love both nations.”
For his part, Garcia is already looking forward to the 2026 edition, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“Am I excited about this? Yeah, he said. But I’m even more excited about 2026. Once we get those countries in North America on board, it will be bananas.”