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Chivas-Club America friendly to highlight popularity of Mexican soccer

El Clasico between two of Mexico’s biggest rivals is expected to fill Soldier Field, despite being a friendly.

Pablo Aguilar of Cruz Azul (blue) struggles for the ball with Gilberto Sepulveda during a game earlier this year.

On July 7, the Mexican national team faced the United States in the Gold Cup final at Soldier Field. Sixteen days later, the Fire hosted Cruz Azul in the quarterfinals of the Leagues Cup, a tournament pitting MLS and Liga MX clubs against each other.

Though both games were played in the Chicago area, the U.S. and the Fire had to treat the matches like they were visitors entering a hostile arena. The green of El Tri filled the stands at Soldier Field, while Cruz Azul’s blue-clad supporters made a Fire home game feel like they were away.

Again this weekend, Mexican soccer will prove its popularity in the Chicago area.

Chivas de Guadalajara is facing rival Club America on Sunday night at Soldier Field. Though the game is a mid-season friendly, organizers are expecting a capacity crowd.

“We are happy to have had such a positive response to bringing El Clasico to Chicago and it demonstrates the love our fans have for Club America and watching their team play live,” Club America president Santiago Baños told the Sun-Times via email.

As Banos alluded to, Chivas-America is the biggest rivalry in Mexican soccer and one of the fiercest around the world. The teams have combined to win 25 Mexican titles, and their popularity goes well beyond their country’s borders.

As of Thursday afternoon, Club America’s main Spanish-language Twitter account had 3.9 million followers, and Chivas’ had 3.8 million. For comparison, Chivas and Club America are in the same neighborhood as the Cowboys (3.8 million), and Steelers (3.4 million), trailing the Patriots (4.4. million).

Combined with the area’s strong Mexican population (as of the 2010 Census, there were over 960,000 people with full or partial Mexican heritage in Cook County), it’s not shocking the country’s clubs are so attractive to Chicagoans.

“It means so much for Club America to be playing in a city that not only has such a vibrant Hispanic population, but also such a strong sports culture,” Baños wrote. “So many great teams call Chicago home and we are excited to play in front of these great fans.”

Matches like Sunday’s are another example of foreign teams trying to connect with - and profit off - U.S. fans. Every summer, the International Champions Cup brings major teams to the United States for matches, though the quality of the games and rosters are sometimes dubious at best.

Perhaps that explains why just 10,062 showed up to SeatGeek Stadium on July 16 when Chivas played Italian side Fiorentina in this year’s ICC.

Aside from the ICC, Club America is also one of many foreign powerhouses to set up business operations in the United States. They’ve created “Tour Aguila,” a series of U.S. matches that include fan festivals, trophy tours, meet-and-greets with legends and other events.

“(Those efforts demonstrate) our commitment to connecting with our already existing large fan base and sharing our passion for the game and our team with new fans,” Baños wrote.