The streets surrounding Chukchansi Park were eerily quiet early Friday afternoon, but within a few hours were taken over by thousands of soccer enthusiasts, eager to witness the oldest rivalry in the history of the Mexican league make a stop in Fresno.
First came the vendors, lining the streets by 4 p.m., hawking jerseys, flags, shirts, bandanas, scarves, Lucha Libre masks, noisemakers and more.
Shortly thereafter, the fans followed en masse, with the lines to get into the park overflowing into Fulton Mall and surrounding streets ahead of the exhibition between Chivas de Guadalajara and Club Atlas.
Though 1,800 miles away from the teams’ hometown of Guadalajara, the Clásico Tapatío was alive and well in Fresno.
They bring their sports and passions with them and it plays out on a day like this.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea, on the fans who showed up in record numbers for Friday’s Liga MX exhibition at Chukchansi Park
An announced crowd of 16,821 finally made its way in, setting a stadium record, while another 11,000 joined online via livestream — all of them treated to a tightly fought scoreless draw that spurred a nonstop celebration through the night.
The previous stadium record of 16,125 was set in 2012 when Club America played Chiapas.
Official fan clubs from Las Vegas and Los Angeles helped boost Friday’s crowd, with Club Atlas supporters nestled into the northeast corner of the stadium and a rowdy Chivas section in right field.
Though there were no goals, the atmosphere stayed on full throttle for the full 90 minutes.
16,821 Record announced crowd Friday night
16,125 Previous mark, set in 2012 when Club America played Chiapas
Fans cheered at plays made by Chivas forwards Omar Bravo and Miguel Ponce. Atlas fans got their chance to raise the decibel level on big saves from goalkeeper Miguel Pinto.
And along with the cheering, there was singing and dancing in the aisles.
Among those on hand was Carlos Ruiz, who lives in Parlier but was born in Guadalajara.
Ruiz and his son Jesus try to come to all of the Mexican League friendlies, but Friday by far rated as their favorite.
“(Chivas) is my team,” Ruiz said while brandishing a faded tattoo of Guadalajara’s team crest. “It’s not every day you have the chance to watch your favorite team.”
Ruiz and his son could consider themselves part of the majority, with what appeared to be more than 80% of the crowd clad in Chivas’ red-and-white stripes.
Jaime and Jessica Lopez, a husband and wife duo, didn’t mind. They proudly donned Club Atlas’ black-and-red jerseys.
The Lopezes made the drive from Fowler to catch their Zorros.
“Atlas is the best team,” Jaime Lopez said in Spanish while pumping his fist, indirectly returning some trash talk from Chivas fans a few rows above.
For nearly everyone in the stadium, it was about much more than the rivalry or even the sport itself. The match also brought a piece of their native Guadalajara to the central San Joaquin Valley.
“Coming here is great, the atmosphere is so alive,” Lopez said. “It almost feels like we’re back home in Mexico.”
The match also drew community leaders, including Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea.
“It's always great to bring the community together,” Perea said.
“You’ll find people from all different parts of Mexico that have relocated to Fresno County. They bring their sports and passions with them and it plays out on a day like this.”