Behind enemy lines: What's it like to root for Mexico in the U.S.A.?

Chris DeVille, Columbus Alive

For cousins Adrian and Manuel Zambrano, soccer was a birthright. Pickup games with crates or cardboard boxes for goals were a way to pass the time, but also to carry on a family tradition.

"We have eight uncles, and all of them played soccer. The majority of them were on the same team," Adrian said. "They all played, we all played. It was almost like an unspoken rule. You had to play soccer."

As for who to root for on the international stage? That was muddier. Adrian, 27, was born in the U.S. to Mexican parents and grew up in Delaware. Manuel, 23, was born in Mexico but moved to Hilliard in the third grade.

Still, both cousins decided in favor of the Tricolor. (For you non-soccer folks, that means Mexico.)

"It's more in the blood," Manuel explained.

Those loyalties present some friction in Columbus - sometimes friendly ribbing, sometimes insults bordering on racism.

"It's just as hard as being a Michigan fan," Adrian said.

He should know. In keeping with another family tradition, both Zambrano cousins are lifelong Wolverine fans too. Until recently, they caught more flack for supporting Michigan, but lately that's been changing. As the American appetite for soccer intensifies, so do the rivalries.

"There's hostility, but I think it's just because it's what you do at a game," Adrian said. "Even more recently you'll go to Crew matches and there's hostility because people love their clubs."

The Zambranos welcome such tension. Manuel is a more frequent smack-talker, but Adrian remembers a provocation of his own when his band Brujas del Sol performed the same night Mexico's soccer team won gold at the Olympics.

"All night, all of my mid-song banter was all about how we were better than everybody else," Adrian said. "I put Mexico flags on everyone's amp."

Both cousins have tickets to the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier Tuesday at Crew Stadium. Neither one anticipates genuine danger, but they aren't expecting warm vibes either.

"I don't think it's going to be very friendly," Adrian said. "I think people will probably get thrown out. It's going to be fun. I'm excited for it."