El Paso and Ciudad Juárez formalize soccer rivalry while celebrating the border

In front of a sold out crowd, El Paso Locomotive FC had an international friendly against FC Juárez.

By Alan TiscarenoMarch 29, 2024 2:23 pm,

Not many places in the world have two professional soccer teams separated by an international border, but El Paso and Ciudad Juárez do.

The cities share more than a border – they share a historic friendship, as well as a love of soccer.

The El Paso Locomotive FC plays in the USL Championship league while FC Juárez plays in Liga MX.

The two teams faced off during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 in a closed-door match. FC Juárez played that match with their under-20 lineup and lost 2-0 against Locomotives FC.

But on March 20 of this year, the two teams faced off in front of a crowd for the first time – 8,372 in El Paso’s Southwest University Park. This was the second largest crowd for a Locomotive FC game at home.

Alan Tiscareno / Texas Standard

FC Juárez players warm up before the game.

The two teams formalized their rivalry calling the game “Derby Paso del Norte.”

“Paso del Norte” was the name of Ciudad Juárez until 1888, when the Mexican Congress changed the name of the city to honor President Benito Juárez. Today the two cities’ region is referred as “El Paso del Norte.”

The game was a celebration of the border community and culture. Fans from both cities, different states and even foreign countries where welcomed by Mariachis Los Corrales.

Alan Tiscareno / Texas Standard

Mariachis greet fans as they enter Southwest University Park.

Expectations for the game were different. FC Juárez –also known as the “Bravos” – is last on the Liga MX league with a record of 0-8-3. Locomotive FC lost their first game in the USL Championship.

“I’m hoping that  it will be a good game, very competitive. I mean, I think the level probably is going to be on the Bravo side because they have more experience,” said Milton Walker, an Locomotive FC fan.

Some fans wore scarves and jerseys from both teams, like Salvador Morales, who is mostly a Locomotive FC fan but believed the game was more about uniting the community.

“You know, it’s difficult. We support both sides,” Morales said. “I just want it to be a good game and competitive.  It’s a friendly and family game to unite people from both cities.”

Among the fans entering the gates of the Southwest University Park were super fans.

From FC Juárez, “Spider Bravo” – a masked fan who’s identity is unknown. He covers the team on his social media accounts making comedy skits or talking about the team’s performance.

“The community of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez is constantly in movement,” he said. “This means it creates unity. We all feel like the same place. A lot of us see it as the same. We are a border community and we feel very proud to be part of it.”

Alan Tiscareno / Texas Standard

FC Juárez's Benny Bravo and Locomotive FC's Ozzy the bat pose with a fan.

On the Locomotive FC side, Alek Balok – known as “Banana Man.” He’s a super fan that has followed the team since its creation. Like his name implies, he’s dressed as a banana.

He is a character you will find in must of the games cheering for his team. He came to El Paso due to his military service in Fort Bliss, where he meet his wife.

“El Paso has its entire own culture, its own people, whatever it is. And then the relationship between Juárez and El Paso is, you know, above none,” Balok said. “So it’s like definitely the two cities – the partnership, the culture, the people, the food, all of it is its own thing, but the same, if that makes sense. It definitely doesn’t fit the classic stereotype.”

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During the opening ceremony, the Mexican and the United Stated anthems were performed. The same people stood up, saluted both flags and sang both anthems.

Alan Tiscareno / Texas Standard

A father instructs his son during the national anthem. Both the U.S. and Mexican anthems were played, with the crowd singing both.

After a scoreless first half, FC Juárez would score three goals in the second to get the win over the Locomotive FC.

Aitor García scored in minute 46, Ángel Zapata in minute 67 and Amaury Escoto on minute 77.

In total, FC Juárez secured the exhibition victory over their cross-border rival, 3-0.

There was an ovation for borderland soccer idol Leandro Carrijó who was present during the game. The Brazilian is now retired. He played for FC Juárez from 2014 to 2020 and for Locomotives FC since the 2020-2021 season.

Alan Tiscareno / Texas Standard

A fan holds up the jersey of soccer idol Leandro Carrijó, who played for both FC Juárez and Locomotive FC. Carrijó was in attendance as a spectator and received a standing ovation.

The game was not what El Pasoans expected, but there was more than a passionate crowd for soccer in the stadium. It was more than the final score.

For Andy Gallardo, a Locomotive FC fan, the next step was to play the friendly in Ciudad Juárez. The last two games have been in El Paso.

“Absolutely you want the best out of the two communities, but unfortunately the better team won,” he said. “We got to share both sides, take the good and the bad and the bad and the good. Hopefully we can win over there.”

For French international student from Montwood High School, Charles Belluine, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are different from what he’s seen in Europe. It was his first time experiencing both communities at once.

“They are really nice, yeah. They talk to everyone and are really welcoming,” he said. “We don’t have that in France.”

And, whatever the outcome, soccer became another excuse for this international border community to share their unique friendship and culture.

Alan Tiscareno / Texas Standard

"Banana Man" superfan Alek Balok pumps up the crowd during the game.

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