In the 38th minute of Saturday night’s friendly match, Venezuela’s Roberto Rosales sailed the ball to the left and past Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.
The stadium erupted.
Fans with Venezuelan flags draped across their backs and wearing la Vinotinto -as the national team is known- jerseys outnumbered the yellow Ecuadorian shirts. They stood and cheered, hugged one another and started a wave. And for a few hours, some Venezuelans in South Florida were able to get their minds off the economic and political turmoil back home.
“We got together early and prepared to see our national team, just like how we did in Puerto la Cruz, but with a different tone, it’s a little emotional,” said Jesus Lopez. He moved to Miami from Venezuela four years ago and says the match made him feel more ‘at home.’
Fans danced to salsa music, barbequed and kicked around soccer balls in the stadium parking lot hours before the game. Most of them were happy to be around friends and family, doing something that reminded them of home.
Neomar Campos is from Barquisimeto, Venezuela but lives in Miami now. Like other fans tailgating, he came to the game to forget about the bad news he constantly hears from his hometown.
“It’s something that unites us, it’s part of what motivates Venezuelans to reunite and support a soccer or a baseball team, anything that’s not politicized.”
Also in attendance was Carlos Vecchio, U.S. ambassador for the opposition appointed by Juan Guaido. He spoke to press before the start of the game about the need for aid in Venezuela and supporting the transition of power from Nicolas Maduro.
“A point that I make today is the significance of this jersey I carry, la vinotinto. This is a symbol of unity, of love for a country, despite the difficulties that we are facing, there is a team that unites a people,” he said.
Vecchio was joined by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz who spoke about U.S. support for Guaido.
“We must make sure that the United States sends the strongest possible signal: that Venezuela must return to democracy, that Guaidó must be established as the legitimate and rightful president of Venezuela and Maduro must go,” she said.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie with Ecuador scoring in the final minutes of the match, but Venezuelan fans continued to grill and dance in the parking lots after the game.