Mexico’s LIGA MX returned to the field for the first time since last week’s bloody brawl in Querétaro, and in Ciudad Juárez they marked the occasion by releasing a dozen white doves just before kickoff — only to have one of the birds landed near midfield and refuse to move, delaying the game with Atlas, the reigning Mexican champion, for several minutes.
Clearly, erasing the memories of the violence that injured 26 fans, left three hospitalized in critical condition, and raised questions about unconfirmed deaths is going to take more time than it appeared.
Friday’s game in Juárez was one of three matches played on Liga MX’s first night back from a weeklong pause. And at tiny Estadio Benito Juárez, regular army troops, camouflaged national guardsmen, and members of the municipal police carrying riot shields formed a security corps of more than 500 to watch over a crowd of just 9,000.
It was a menacing presence, but one many fans applauded.
“It’s really sad, all this,” said Rosy Acosta, motioning toward the riot police as she attended to her son Angel, confined to a wheelchair. “But we feel safer.”
Nearby, Luis Baeza Espino held up a black-and-red Atlas scarf and posed for pictures with his toddler son. They were among many families who braved an unseasonable chill for a night out together.
“It’s very Tranquilo here,” he said. “It’s more of a family atmosphere.”
That atmosphere has long been under threat in Mexican soccer, which has regularly been darkened by fan violence. Since 2013, at least one match a season has been disrupted by fights or clashes with police, the exception being 2020-2021 when attendance was restricted by COVID-19 protocols. One brawl ended in gunfire.
That has given a black eye to a league that, on the field at least, is generally regarded as one of the best in the world. It’s unquestionably the most popular in North America, with the average viewership in the United States on Univision more than doubling the audience for Major League Soccer games.