When young soccer fan Angel de los Santos took a spring break trip to visit his grandmother this March in Monterrey, watching Tigres UANL play in person was part of the experience.
On Sunday, de los Santos’ sporting heroes came to him.
“Every single Tigres player is like my friend,” he said in between adoring glances at striker André-Pierre Gignac, who was the first player to take the field at Dell Diamond Sunday.
Tigres beat Pachuca 2-0, and there was no doubting who was the favored team amongst the 7,255 fans who attended. Blue and yellow ruled the day, and the stands behind home plate were transformed into a miniature version of their famed home ground Estadio Universitario.
A banner unfurled just before kickoff read, “Don’t mess with Tigres,” a play on the team’s large following in Texas. All generations were represented, and a lot of the crowd was local.
Carlos Cabriales, a Round Rock resident originally from Monterrey, came to the game with his son Dustin, 9, and nephew Brandon, 11. He said watching Tigres play on TV is often an all-day family event.
“I’m trying to get a picture (with the team),” Cabrieles said. “Just trying to see them up close.”
Nearly all of the big names on the squad played, with Ecuadorian international Enner Valencia scoring the first goal on a far post shot assisted by Jürgen Damm in the 50th minute. Damián Torres scored in the 80th, with Lucas Zelarayán supplying the assist for a tap-in.
Gignac started, and 2014 World Cup veteran Eduardo Vargas (Chile) subbed on in the second half before earning a red card late in the match. Pre- and post-match, fans squeezed along the fence leading to the locker rooms seeking autographs from their favorite players.
“I loved the city,” Damm said, in an interview translated from Spanish. “They have told me that it’s one of the prettiest cities of the United States. The stadium, the fans, it was all good and hopefully we come back soon.”
The fourth Liga MX friendly held at Dell Diamond drew the third-most fans, just behind the 7,757 who turned out to see Toluca play Santos Laguna last year. The 2015 match featuring Chivas and Pachuca drew 11,181.
Lufkin residents Guillermo Zuniga and his son Johnny were at that match and returned Sunday decked out in Pachuca gear. They also went to the team’s practice Saturday in Round Rock, were they got some one-on-one time with the players.
“Every time when we come, they take a picture, they talk to everybody,” Guillermo Zuniga said. “I like how they are, because they speak to every single fan.”
The Liga MX season kicks off in a little less than two weeks, with Tigres and Pachuca both hosting matches on July 21.