I arrived late and wasn’t even sure if I could get in. It was another one of those spontaneous trips made on a whim. Sure enough, all the tickets were gone and I was standing on the outside questioning my impulsive decision.
A man asked if I needed a ticket. We walked around the corner. I handed him the last $25 I had in my pocket. I walked nervously to the gate and held my breath as my ticket was scanned.
As I walked inside, the place was packed. I could barely move through the crowd. As I walked to my seat, I looked around. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. A sea of red and white surrounded me. Flags were waving, voices screaming, and here I was right in the middle.
I felt uneasy. One of the first times I’ve ever felt this way in an environment like this. Like a lone sheep among a pack of wolves, I was in a dangerous place.
However, this experience would remind me how connections with people can transcend culture, travel, and sports – even in a hostile environment.
Sitting with the enemy at the women’s USA vs Canada soccer match
As I stood there among the rabid Canadian fans at the women’s USA vs Canada soccer match, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. No one suspected that an enemy was among them. They would find out soon enough.
In the 72nd minute, American star Alex Morgan dribbled around the Canadian defenders, past the keeper, and slotted the ball into the net right in front of me. My red, white, and blue patriotism surged through my veins prompting a spontaneous fist pump as I screamed “YES!!!”
Every head in that section turned and stared at me. My cover was blown.
A man in front of me looked back and shockingly asked “You’re an American?!” The questions were thrown at me from all directions. How did I get ticket for this section? Didn’t I know the American section was on the other side? Did I know where I was sitting?
I kindly explained that I had just gotten here at halftime and got a scalped ticket for this seat.
The man sitting beside me was here with his family. He owned the four seats on the end as well as the one as I was sitting in. I shouldn’t have been sitting in my seat.
The man in front asked where I was from. As I answered “California”, the conversations began. Being a foreigner from a far away place eased the tension as they enlightened me about my current location.
They explained that I wasn’t just sitting among Canadian fans. These were the ultras, the Voyageurs. These were the passionate, traveling, flag waving, screaming Canadian fans.
And this wasn’t the match to be sitting behind enemy lines. This was the rematch of the controversial Olympic semifinal – USA vs Canada women’s soccer. The Canadians wanted revenge.
This was the most tension I had ever experienced between Canadians and Americans. And here I was right in the middle of it, surrounded by the most loyal and supportive Canadian fans in the stadium.
A few minutes later, Alex Morgan once again dribbled around Canadian defenders and slipped the ball past the goalkeeper as the US scored again.
Another fist pump, exclamation, and stares.
As the US women celebrated another goal, the woman beside me tapped her daughter on the shoulder and told her “He’s an American.” Like a freak show on display at a circus, I was the subject of stares and finger pointing.
A few minutes later, the USA scored another goal – by Canadian born and hated Sydney Leroux. Right in front of the Voyageurs, she put her fingers to her lips and proudly showed them her shirt. The boos reigned down as the Canadians waved their flags proudly.
As I talked with the man beside me, he told me that the men’s games were nasty. He would never bring his kids to one of those games. The women’s games were much more mellow and family friendly. Glad to know these were the friendly fans in attendance.
This was the perfect time to make friends with the enemy.
I had conversations with the guy in front of me, the lady wearing the Canadian shirt who ratted me out as “the American” to her daughter, and the man with his family. I talked about my time here in Toronto, how I was a travel writer, their experiences, the Canadian team, and where they lived. I apologized for my patriotism in a place where the red, white, and blue wasn’t welcomed.
The conversations were cordial and as the match drew to a close, hospitality abound among the surrounding Canadian fans.
As I put my camera away, people thanked me for being a respectful fan. Even though this was a rivalry and I was behind enemy lines, I had a lot of respect for Canadians. I shook hands, wished the Canadian fans luck, and said goodbye to my new friends.
This spontaneous trip reminded me why travel and sports experiences are so memorable.
Sports, culture, and the best travel experiences
As I made my way out of the stadium, Canadians wore their colors proudly. And they were kind to this American.
I’ve been to many sporting events in numerous places around the world. The College Football Travel Tour helped me connect with fans all over the country. Despite this contentious rivalry, I was reminded why sports are such an awesome travel experience that everyone should try.
This was the first time I sat in the stands among the home fans rooting for the other team. Yet even in enemy territory, I experienced the best travel experience that sports and culture have to offer.
I wish people could understand what makes these sports experiences so unique. It’s something that goes beyond the game to the memories, the people, and those moments that transcend differences in culture or language.
This is why I love sports and travel.
Enemies became friends. Respect and kindness were shown even though we cheered for different teams. We set aside our differences and built connections – the foreigner and the local. Why can’t the rest of the world live together like this?
Not everything in sports is beautiful. However, these moments remind me how travel can change the world.
Years from now, I will remember this women’s USA vs Canada soccer match. While the US beat Canada 3-0, I don’t care about the score or details. I will remember those Canadian fans and this experience. Making friends behind enemy lines can create some pretty special travel experiences.
As I began the long walk to downtown, locals were happy to point me in the right direction. As I stood a few blocks from the stadium, I wasn’t sure where to go. I met John who was carrying a baseball glove after he just finished his softball game.
As we walked a few blocks together, we talked about our lives and his disappointing softball loss in the last inning. As John turned toward home, we shook hands and said goodbye. After leaving the soccer match, a softball game connected another local and foreigner.
This wasn’t the World Cup or the Olympics. However, the women’s USA vs Canada soccer match reminded me how culture and sports can change the way we travel and connect with people around the world.