Salvador Paniagua wore his heart on his face yesterday. Blue and white stripes on the right side for the country of his birth, Guatemala. Red, white and blue on the left for his adopted country, the United States.
His shirt was red; his goofy metallic wig was royal blue. No denying it, said Paniagua, who moved to the United States 15 years ago and lives in Arlington: "Tengo el corazon partido."
"My heart is divided."
In the end, his left side won out. The U.S. men's soccer team beat Guatemala, 1-0, before a crowd of 51,996 at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in a qualifying match for the 2002 World Cup.
And that was fine by him, confided the practical man, who is a member of La Barra Brava, the official Latino fan club of D.C. United. "If the U.S. goes on, it will make a good effort," Paniagua said. "I like the Guatemala team, and it's good. But if it goes on to the World Cup, I don't think it will make much of it."
All across the packed stadium, those divided loyalties played out yesterday. Guatemalan-born parents and their American-born children, waving U.S. flags. Central American-born fans, in their blue and white, vs. American supporters, in their red. In a sense, it was a home game for both.
"Even though I love the U.S.A. and this is a country of opportunities and I'm never going back--I want to be buried here--I'm wearing the banner from Guatemala because that's where I came from," said Otto Donis, who drove to the stadium with his wife and daughter from Queens, N.Y. "It brings me a lot of memories."
To which his 12-year-old daughter, Ruby, said: "I was born in the U.S.A., so I am representing my country. I'm not that much into soccer. I just came to represent the U.S.A. It's a great country."
Fans came from near and far, driving in from across the Eastern Seaboard, chartering buses from Canada, flying in from the West Coast. And some, like Willy Posadas, got really lucky. He flew from Guatemala City to Miami, boarded a Greyhound bus yesterday and traveled overnight to Washington, arriving 30 hours after his departure from home. He scouted out the stadium grounds and came across a friend from back home who had an extra ticket to the sold-out game.
Federico Santos Velazquez and his wife, Maria Chavez, who are from Guatemala and now live in Georgetown, Del., left their home at 5 a.m., got lost and finally arrived at RFK Stadium at 10 a.m. and began their ticket hunt. Four hundred dollars (scalper special: $200 per ticket) and six hours later, the young couple headed back north.
"We leave sad, but we got to see our team play," Chavez said.
But some, like Maria del Carmen Garcia and Maria Salazar, Mexicans who live in Norfolk and work in a poultry factory on Virginia's Eastern Shore, were less fortunate. They spent four hours in a car and two more standing outside the news media entrance to the stadium, leaning over a fence and squinting at a television in the lobby that was showing the match live.
"We're not from either country, but we lean more to the Latinos because we're Latino," Salazar said. "We're the same."
Somewhat in the same vein, Raquel Chavez, of Germantown, agreed. The 28-year-old medical assistant was born here. Her parents, Luis and Gloria Gonzalez, of Silver Spring, were born in Guatemala. Chavez wore the blue and white of her parents' country and cheered for Guatemala as a symbol of pride "in where our parents and grandparents are from."
"We can never forget our roots," she said. "We're proud to be American, but we're not ashamed to be Latino."
The U.S.-Guatemala match drew the third-largest home crowd for a World Cup qualifying game, soccer officials said. And yesterday, fans appeared to be evenly divided in the stadium. That was quite different than four years ago, the last time the United States and Guatemala met in a World Cup qualifying match at RFK Stadium.
The Guatemalan fans--with their colors, their flags and their undaunted enthusiasm--dominated the stands then. This time, the lower deck was awash in red shirts and red "bangers," salami-shaped plastic tubes that fans waved continuously. The blue shirts and huge blue-and-white Guatemalan flags were confined mostly to the upper deck, relegated far off-field by design of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
"This was definitely one of the better games," said U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller. "A lot of credit needs to go to the Americans. I knew there were going to be quite a few Americans here, but I didn't think it was going to be this good."
Some of those American fans, members of what they dubbed Project Mayhem, made good on their pledge to try to disrupt the sleep of the Guatemalan team early yesterday. About 40 congregated in a room at the team's Crystal City hotel, said Mike Lastort, of Takoma Park, a member of the D.C. United fan club the Screaming Eagles.
About 2 a.m., they began blowing air horns outside the players' rooms. Hotel security and Arlington police responded, but the group dispersed peacefully and no complaint was filed nor arrests made.
"It was like college pranks," said Lastort, whose wife, Jan, wore a sparkly red, white and blue dress to the game and carried a poster that read: "Project Mayhem. Sleep Well?"
"More than anything else, it was fun," he said.