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L.A. story

Ronaldinho mania runs wild in friendly at Coliseum

Posted: Monday August 7, 2006 3:32PM; Updated: Monday August 7, 2006 11:10PM
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• Chivas, Barcelona play to draw

LOS ANGELES -- There was a preseason NFL game on Sunday. Somehow, I doubt the ticketholders to that game were as excited as the 92,650 Los Angelenos at Sunday's Barcelona-Chivas de Guadalajara match.

A little perspective: By 1 p.m., a full 5½ hours before kickoff and an hour before the gates opened, the line in front of every Coliseum turnstile was 30 deep. Most of the early birds were decked out in red-and-white-striped Chivas jerseys or Mexican national-team gear. A few donned sombreros, a good sartorial choice considering the blazing sun. They were hot and thirsty.

But they were also laughing and hamming it up for the TV cameras. They were having a blast, hoping to snag the best general-admission seats in the house and hoping to see their beloved Chivas defeat the immortal Barcelona, striking yet another blow for Mexican soccer.

The Barcelona fans showed up closer to kickoff, like A-list rock groupies with special backstage passes. They were Nike-fied and Ronaldinho-ed to the hilt (that plutonic-green shirt was a stroke of marketing genius, because it's impossible to miss and impossible to mistake for anything but a Barcelona jersey).

Of course, when nothing is at stake, everyone is a Barcelona fan. If you're not, then you're dead to me. Ronaldinho & Co. flow like a team of synchronized butterflies, with total faith in their first touch and an intuitive sense of the game's patterns. Seeing them in person is a privilege that even the Chivas addicts appreciated.

When Ronaldinho (by the way, the Brazilian pronunciation -- "ho-nahl-jeen-yo" -- is even cooler) entered the game at halftime, the entire stadium was electrified. You could feel the energy. Flashbulbs strobed with his every touch, the shutterbugs hoping he would do something that only photographic evidence could prove later.

And midway through the second half, Ronaldinho fulfilled his duty (or was it a Nike-mandated contractual obligation?) when he threaded the ball through to Eidur Gudjohnssen, who nabbed the opening goal. The pass and the subsequent smiley celebration showed why Ronaldinho earns all that money. He's a showman, an evangelist, a ringmaster, trading on his image as the hang-loose, buck-toothed naïf while actually boasting the slinky gifts of a sharkskin salesman.

A few minutes later, Chivas tied things up on a possibly offside goal by Diego Martinez. But the controversy didn't last long. No one really cared. This was an exhibition, after all, not the Champions League, and the game followed the exhibition pattern to a T: The established big boy worked on fitness and entertained the crowd, the minnow tried to prove itself to the big boy and to its fans, and everyone cheered for everyone while basically watching a 90-minute marketing presentation.

Sunday's game was not nearly as exciting as any regular-season EPL or La Liga match. For me, it wasn't even as exciting as an MLS match. But there was some beautiful play now and then, despite a bumpy field and some strange officiating -- a touch, a pass, a shot, a song, a 10-minute wave, something that made us ooh and aah and punch our football-ogre friends in the mouth and yell, "Now do you get it?" 

That was well worth the price of admission.