Fans bring their soccer mania to Atlanta for U.S.-Panama match

Tailgating encircles Mercedes-Benz Stadium ahead of Team USA’s Copa América match.

Atlanta laid out the red carpet once again Thursday as it hosted its second match of Copa América: Panama versus the U.S. People have traveled from across the Western Hemisphere to see their favorite teams and players compete in this year’s tournament. However, the real excitement began before the match – six hours before starting time.

Madness filled the streets as both teams donned red, white and blue apparel – the colors of both countries. With both countries having the same colors, you could barely tell which team people were rooting for that afternoon. That was until the chants started.

“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”


Greene County native Mike Hackett drove more than an hour to get there early as he didn’t want to miss this golden opportunity as a newly turned soccer fan.

“I’ve been watching soccer, of course, holy cow, between this and the European tournament. It’s just been crazy. And then I said, You know what? Why don’t I go? It’s an hour-and-a-half drive. Why don’t I go watch the game? It’s a no-brainer. I love being out here. I’m looking forward to all the excitement,” Hackett said.

He offered his take on Team USA and the road ahead.

“What’s exciting about this team is that they’re all young guys. And so this group’s going to be together for a long, long time. And so just seeing their energy on your home field, I think is very exciting. And I think they’re going to make a good run in the tournament,” Hackett said.

Hackett even had on custom-made sneakers that were red, white and blue.

A young Team USA superfan from Atlanta shared his enthusiasm for the game Thursday.

“I am very excited. I feel like we’re going to win, obviously because it’s a home game. In my opinion, Team USA has the best home supporters ever, really,” Christian Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez had all-white Copa América attire on and even made a sign to bring to the match. He believes his favorite player, Christian Pulisic, will score two goals, perhaps even a hat trick.

And the Gutierrez family brought their fervor all the way from El Paso, Texas, with the family patriarch wearing a large Uncle Sam-like hat, reminding people that “fan” is short for “fanatic.”

Out in the Home Depot Backyard, people folded out lawn chairs, played games and did anything else to keep them energized and ready for the match. Most important were drinks, as tailgaters knew it would be another scorcher. But that didn’t deter them from coming out and supporting their respective countries.

Georgia resident Lyane Arauz talked about how thrilled she was to be at the match with her friends and family who are Panamanian.

“I’m here to support my home country and I think Panama is going to play fantastic,” Arauz shouted. “We’ll win 3-0,” Arauz said.

Arauz and her friends and family sat in chairs, cracked open some beers and had a friendly game of soccer going on while they waited for the food to finish cooking.

One Panamanian mother brought along her son from Boston to attend the match.

“We’re here representing our country and making sure that they see our power. ... This is the first time I bring my son to a live game, so he’s very excited to be part of it,” the mother said.

The passion was evident for blocks around Downtown and Midtown Atlanta as these people know opportunities like these don’t come often. Some saved money for months to take themselves and their families to the global sporting event. One family mentioned how they bought the tickets two months ago and have been anxious to attend the game.

Fans saw Team USA defeat Bolivia 2-0 with Pulisic and Folarin Balogun scoring, to kick off Copa América. They hope that Pulisic can lead the U.S. to another victory in their quest to a championship. Some even shared how the teams will perform later, making lofty predictions.

“I’m feeling very calm. USA wins 3-0. I’m thinking very confident, yeah,” Gabe Lopez said, a child from Tampa, Florida.

When asked who his favorite player was, Gabe turned around and showed his jersey with Pulisic’s name on it. Gabe Lopez’s father, Juan Lopez, stated his thoughts on Team USA, too.

“They’re a young squad and have had enough time together. They can be like some dark horses in this tournament,” Juan Lopez said.

The Tovar family from Hinesville emphasized how Team USA will perform as well. The whole family had signs as big as themselves.

“We think we can beat them again, it’s an easy challenge I feel like. ... We think they’re going to try their hardest as long as they can just keep on putting pressure on them, then we got this in the bag,” the Tovar family said.

People used Uber and MARTA, drove their own cars and even walked so that they could attend Thursday’s match. Plus, with the first CNN Presidential debate occurring the same evening, fans and attendees made sure to allocate plenty of time to get to Downtown Atlanta as several roads have closed and traffic becomes a burdensome afternoon.

This summer, Copa América occurs at the same time as the UEFA European Championship, commonly referred to as the Euro 2024. With soccer serving as the dominant sport in Europe, people want to show that in Georgia, a southern state that prides itself on football at both the collegiate and professional levels, that soccer is popular.

The favorite in Thursday night’s match is the United States, having a 17-7-2 record all-time against Panama in head-to-head matchups.

After Thursday’s match, Team USA heads to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, to face Uruguay to close out the group stage. That game will be played July 1.