No era penal was a distant, albeit painful, memory.
No one was thinking about that moment now. Not with El Tri down 3-2 late in their match with Trinidad & Tobago in the 2015 Gold Cup. Then, this happened:
Mexican fans were still coming off the equalizer high when this occurred:
No time for celebrating...or throwing bottles...there was still some more time left in the game. Although Mexico would eventually overcome a last second, game tying score by Trinidad to move on to face Panama in the next round, the team and their fans had no clue that history was soon to make a re-appearance in the upcoming game, this time in a alternate form.
For in that game, Era penal would become the new motto for Mexico.
Or, at least, in the 2015 Gold Cup.
How quickly things change in a year. In the 2014 World Cup, Mexico was left with a bitter taste in its mouth after the Netherland's Arjen Robben's controversial penalty in the round of 16. The penalty helped knock Mexico out of the tournament and it spawned many a meme.
No era penal was the outcry heard round the world last summer. Sympathy flooded in toward Mexico's team for what many believed to be a bogus call, given Robben's flair for the dramatic. But, no era penal is a distant memory. Instead, after benefitting from penalties not once, not twice, but three times in its last two Gold Cup games, Mexico has embraced es era penal.
Well, at least their fans have. Coach Miguel Herrera isn't so sure.
Miguel Herrera: We didn’t play at all well. The first penalty wasn’t a penalty, but it had nothing to do with me.— ESPN Tri (@ESPNFCtri) July 23, 2015
Miguel Herrera: No era penal.— ESPN Tri (@ESPNFCtri) July 23, 2015
The game of futbol is still a tough sport for many Americans to understand. Despite the record television numbers the Women's World Cup had, viewership had more to do with national pride than the sport itself. Americans love to support their own, especially when it comes to “winning it all”.
Seeing one's country winning stirs something in its citizens. Shared identity. When a country's team wins, fans feel as if they've won too. Winning bonds people and a country together. That's national pride.
Mexicans, by and large, are a proud people. You see it in how they carry themselves, how they speak and in how they cheer on their own. At times, that pride gets carried away.
There's a fine line we each walk when it comes to sports-based pride. Think about that for a minute. Yes, the Mexican fans who threw the bottles and debris on the pitch deserve the scorn they received. But how many times have we seen fans get into fights in the stands or parking lots at American games? How often do people argue at bars across the country over their teams? From high school to the pros, it happens more often than anyone cares to admit.
Yes, projectiles directed at the pitch are dangerous and shouldn't happen at any time in any sport. But before anyone thinks it's just a soccer thing, remember that walking in a parking lot after a game after many other sporting contests can be dangerous too.
It all revolves around pride.
Pride is what spawned the anger that Mexicans felt after Robben's penalty. It wasn't fair. Robben, like so many soccer players nowadays, exaggerated the contact. Embellishment isn't fair. Fans want fairness in sporting events. Fans want everything and everyone on the same level within the game. Fans want equal opportunity so that by games end, the best team ultimately wins.
It's why fans get angry at balls and strikes, safe or out, pass interference or holding, traveling or charges – fans want the games they watch to be fair across the board. But the missing element in that thinking is that humans are involved.
Humans make mistakes. Humans let their pride get carried away.
Mexico was on the receiving end of multiple calls in their Gold Cup semi-final win over Panama. A controversial penalty led to an 88th minute game-tying goal for Mexico. The second became the game winner. Era penal. In the heat of the moment, however, to Panamanians, they were 10 vs 12.
While the penalties will get the headlines, the most controversial call was the early red card to Panama's Luis Tejada
The straight red in the 25th minute put Panama down to 10 men. A yellow card, yes. But a straight red? No. It would be the fuel for Panama's anger later. Despite Los Canaleros taking a 1-0 lead in the 57th minute on a goal by Roman Torres, many on Twitter knew that the old adage, "It ain't over 'til it's over," proves true when Mexico is involved.
Here's the controversial hand ball from Panama leading to the Mexico penalty... http://t.co/El9ENE7Gzh— World Soccer Shop (@worldsoccershop) July 23, 2015
Handball? Perhaps it depends on who you were rooting for. If cheering for Panama, or simply against Mexico, it wasn't a penalty. If pro-Mexico, era penal. Because it's the national team and it's about pride.
Mexico moves on to the Gold Cup final on Sunday versus Jamaica, a 2-1 winner over USA in the earlier game. Will there be another era penal or no era penal? There is no telling what will happen when Mexico is involved. At least their players understand
Panama, meanwhile, is relegated to the third place game against the United States. And, they are left to wonder why.
Will they recover in time to focus on winning the game? Or, will it just be a matter of pride?