The score of Wednesday’s international friendly between North Carolina FC and Mexico’s Atlas FC had no impact on either team’s standing in their respective leagues, but the match still had a substantial imprint on the local soccer landscape.
For North Carolina FC, it was a chance to warm up against a team far more talented than any opponent it’ll see in North American Soccer League play.
For Atlas FC, it provided an opportunity to sharpen its skills mid-season and play a game away from its home in Guadalajara. Mexican league fans crowded the stands at WakeMed Soccer Park, showing up early and staying long after the final whistle blew.
The reward for their passionate support? A 2-1 victory.
“Obviously, it’s a long trip, but having the fans over here supporting us gives us the energy to be able to come in and perform in a great way,” Atlas FC manager Jose Guadalupe Cruz said via a translator. “(It) pushed us to put on a great show.”
It didn’t matter if their favorite Liga Mx team was Atlas FC or another club, most fans said allegiances were set aside for the night.
“We’re fans of another team, Chivas, but we’re all supporting (Atlas FC) because they’re from Mexico, you know?” Ricky Sanchez, 17, said. “It shows we’re all united together.”
“I believe that this is really special because everyone—it doesn’t matter which team it is—we all belong,” Arturo Hernandez, 43, added through a translator.
With the rebrand away from the former Carolina RailHawks name and the public pursuit of a Major League Soccer expansion bid, North Carolina FC has seen interest in the club peak in regards to first-time supporters.
John Ross, 23, a student at N.C. State, enjoyed his first professional soccer game, citing the unique atmosphere the melting pot of a crowd provided.
“The Mexican fan base was awesome. This is my first professional soccer game I’ve ever been to and it was really sweet—I freaking loved the atmosphere,” Ross said. “I wasn’t even a fan of soccer before.”
North Carolina FC opens up NASL play against Miami FC on Saturday.