A sellout crowd of 62,493 were in attendance for the 2019 Gold Cup Final on July 7 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The majority of the fans, though, weren’t rooting for the home team. The Soldier Field stands were a sea of green, white and red. The sights and sounds seemed more like Estadio Azteca.
Los Angeles Galaxy star Jonathan dos Santos’ goal in the 73rd minute guided Mexico to its record eighth Gold Cup after defeating the United States 1-0.
Dos Santos is one of a handful of influential Mexican players—along with Carlos Vela (LAFC), Marco Fabián (Philadelphia Union) and Uriel Antuna (Galaxy)—currently honing their craft in Major League Soccer (MLS).
Former Mexican international goalkeeper/forward Jorge Campos, who played in the league’s first three seasons from 1996-98, wants to see more Mexican players in MLS.
“It’s important for Mexico, it’s important for MLS,” Campos said. “The most important thing is for the fans. Mexican people love to watch Mexican players here playing and having fun. We have a lot of Mexican fans. I hope more Mexican players come here.”
According to Major League Soccer, 34% of its fanbase is Hispanic. Vela, who has 19 goals in 19 games this season and is vying for league’s single-season goal scoring record (31), had the second-best selling jersey on MLSstore.com in 2018 behind Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Known for his acrobatic style of goalkeeping as much as his self-designed colorful playing attire, Campos came to MLS toward the end of his playing career, similarly to fellow Mexican players Rafa Marquez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Paco Palencia, Carlos Hermosillo, Ramon Ramirez, Luis “Matador” Hernandez and Pavel Pardo.
That trend seems to be changing. The league’s last five Mexican designated players—Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos, Erick “Cubo” Torres, Fabián and Vela—all joined the league before they turned 30.
Jonathan dos Santos told ESPN his Mexican international teammates are curious about playing in the United States.
“They ask me about everything [to do with MLS],” dos Santos said. “Obviously they are curious to know what the league here is like, and the only thing I can tell them and speak about are positives: the organization of the league, the fans, the stadiums and also the quality of the footballers.”
Campos, who had 130 caps with Mexico between 1991-2004, has seen massive growth in the league since his days with the Galaxy and Chicago Fire. MLS debuted as a 10-team league in 1996 and is currently at 24 clubs with three more (Nashville SC, Inter Miami CF and Austin FC) scheduled to join by 2021. The league announced in April its intention to increase to 30 teams “in the coming years.”
MLS boasted an average attendance of 21,358 from 2013-18, ranking No. 8 in the world, according to a study conducted by the CIES Football Observatory. Atlanta United FC, which joined as an expansion side in 2017, had the 10th-best average attendance of 51,547 between 2013-18.
“MLS in the U.S. is a very important league,” Campos said. “It’s grown a lot. I started playing there in ’96 when people didn’t believe in the league or were worried if it was going to work or not.
“Now you see kids playing soccer in the park when they used to play baseball or football. That’s good for the MLS and good for the U.S.”