Mexico vs. Costa Rica: Final Score 2-2 in International Friendly but Orlando, Citrus Bowl Are the Stars



They didn't care that it was insanely hot and humid. Mexico and Costa Rica fans – far more of the former than the latter – tailgated heartily in and around the Orlando Citrus Bowl ahead of this evening's international friendly between the two countries' national teams.

Latin music filled the air and everywhere you looked, the tri-color was on full display in clothing, flags and accessories. Mexico fans walked around in sombreros, wearing El Tri jerseys of their favorite players – Vela, Hernandez, Dos Santos, etc., and their country's flag as a cape. Their faces were painted with the Mexican flag. They gathered around pickup truck beds with tailgates down, or under colorful tents to shield them from the Central Florida sun, shouting "Viva Mexico!" while children breathlessly blew vuvuzelas.

And the smells! My goodness, the smells of the roasting corn and the grills filled with marinated beef and chicken were enough to make the most sated man drool. I wanted to butt in and ask for a plate but it seemed somehow wrong to disturb such revelry.

In Lot A, Los Ticos fans – a tiny island in a sea of green Mexico supporters -played soccer, undeterred by the harsh summer weather.

One woman was dressed as an Aztec (or was it Mayan? Probably Aztec, I decided) princess with a headdress so tall, you couldn't help but pity whoever had tickets behind her.

They took selfies and pictures of the Citrus Bowl – a once-ugly structure, transformed to a purple-clad beauty by the arrival of Orlando City SC to MLS. Mexico supporters did the wave with gusto, an hour before kickoff, with the stadium still half empty.

All filed in to the Citrus Bowl in anticipation of a game that meant essentially nothing. The two countries, which both reached the knockout stage of the last World Cup, were tuning up for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. They took to the suddenly-natural turf on a late Saturday afternoon to play what amounts to a practice game.

But the fans came in droves to see it.

An announced crowd of 53,629 saw Mexico score twice in two minutes to erase a 2-0 halftime deficit and draw Costa Rica, 2-2 in a spicy match-up between two of CONCACAF's best teams.

It didn't take long for Los Ticos to put Mexico on the back foot. Joel Campbell's searching through ball found David Ramirez, who roasted left back Miguel Layun and beat goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa from the right side of the box in the fourth minute.

Costa Rica doubled the score to Mexico's most hated score line of #DosACero in the 36th minute. Ramirez bolted up the left side and sent a cross in for Johan Venegas, who got just a touch of it before it got tangled in Layun's legs and trickled in, continuing the left back's miserable first half.

Layun nearly got redemption late in the first half, when his free kick took a slight deflection and nearly wrong-footed goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, but the Ticos' backstop reached back with one hand to keep it out. Carlos Vela got one more crack at putting El Tri on the board just before the break with a wobbling blast that Alvarado had trouble parrying, but Costa Rica's keeper cleaned up his own mess before Mexican reinforcements could arrive.

After the break, Mexico looked like a different team, scoring twice and looking dangerous on several other chances. Giovani Dos Santos slipped behind the stalwart Costa Rican defense and got onto a ball that was deflected right to him, before slotting home past Alvarado from a tough angle, cutting the deficit in half.

Two minutes later, Chicharito got a free header onto a beautiful cross by Carlos Esquivel to equalize. Esquivel came on at the half for Carlos Vela and made an instant impact. His own good chance was blocked by Junior Diaz just moments before the Dos Santos goal.

Layun thought he had a game winner just six minutes from time when he slipped behind the defense and scored, but he was ruled offside by referee Edvin Jurisevic. The referee got the call right, as Layun was just about half a step offside, but the pro-Mexico crowd went crazy because it appeared that Chicharito was the player offside (he was, too, by a good four yards, but so was Layun).

Neither team could break the deadlock down the stretch and an exciting match ended in a 2-2 draw.

In the end, the result of the match matters only to the fans and players in a casual way, as they prepare for the real thing to come in July. But for one June Saturday, Orlando mattered to two far-away countries in a way perhaps it never has before.

It might again, if the city can land a hosting spot in the 2016 Copa America Centenario. The city did itself proud with its attendance and, despite ESPN commentators saying otherwise, the natural grass atop the usual artificial surface held up nicely. There were very few slips by players throughout the match, which you would normally see on an ‘iffy' field.

If the City Beautiful isn't already the "Soccer Capital of the South," as City Founder and President Phil Rawlins desires, she's awfully close.


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