February was a month to forget. A shocking Copa del Rey quarterfinal elimination at home was followed by a five point drop in La Liga and ultimately, a soul-piercing Round-of-16 first-leg home loss against Manchester City. Confidence hung not only around the players’ ankles but also all of Madridismo.
However, as a new month arrived, so did the opportunity to stop the bleeding. Real Madrid received eternal rival Barcelona for a crucial league matchup on March 1. The stakes were set: a win put Real Madrid back on top by one point and a loss propelled Barcelona to a five point lead. Worldwide Madridismo felt this could be a defining moment, and two American epicenters in New Jersey and San Francisco showcased it royally.
Nestled deep in the land of HBO’s former flagship series “The Sopranos”, Peña Madridista Zona Real (@_ZonaReal) gathered at “Foccacia Pizza & Pasta” in Piscataway. One hour before kickoff, scores of Members descended into the headquarters. Chairman Fernando Rodriguez described the pregame sensation, “Anxiety and nerves were on display, but once the whistle blew, we knew the game was ours.”
After a subdued first half, emotions were waning but not buried. Members were puzzled with the team’s intensity level. However, that changed dramatically after Vinicius Jr.’s right foot flick past goalkeeper Stegen in the 71st minute. The long-awaited opener sent Members into a frenzy. High-fives, hugs, and smiles from ear to ear filled the restaurant.
Suddenly four minutes later, a scary pass from midfielder De Jong released Barcelona’s captain Messi down the final third. This image was too familiar to Madridismo. Each happy face morphed into fear. While an imminent one-on-one with Courtois seemed inevitable, the 13-year legendary veteran, whose start surprised the room, executed the chase down and tackle of a lifetime. Marcelo tapped the ball off Messi’s route and teammate Varane cleared it to Courtois’ hands.
Immediately afterwards, Members imitated his chest pounding. “He (Marcelo) saved our butts.” says Rodriguez. The icing on the cake was the 50 second substitution entry and goal by former Castilla forward Mariano Diaz. This signed, sealed, and delivered the first Clásico home win in La Liga since 2014. After the final whistle, Members gathered for a euphoric group photo and returned inside to celebrate the team retaking the La Liga lead.
Rodriguez witnessed the enthusiasm level: “Members have a lot of confidence. If the team plays the rest of the games the same way they did the second half, there is no doubt we will be champions.” There are twelve games left in the campaign. 36 points are still up for grabs. Nevertheless, this victory washed away last month’s woes and brought renewed hope for New Jersey Madridistas.
On the opposite coast where Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge reside, Peña Madridista San Francisco Bay Area (@madridistasSF) also gathered to support and represent Real Madrid. The anticipation and excitement were off the charts. By kickoff, over 150 Members filled their downtown headquarters called “BuzzWorks”.
Similar to their sister Peña in New Jersey, the starting lineup shocked the supporters in white, especially Chairman Kermit Lucena, who said: “Zidane is hella unpredictable.” Vice Chairman Cesar Orozco pointed out the left back choice, “I was surprised about Marcelo starting over (Ferland) Mendy. Marcelo’s form has dipped tremendously over the past two seasons.” Little did they and the other Madridistas know that it would be Marcelo who made the defensive play of the game to keep a 1-0 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Madridistas on the first and second floor were jumping for joy after Vinicius Jr’s and Mariano’s goals cracked the Barcelona net. Roars and chants were not heard that loud since the Kiev Final. After the final whistle, Members rejoiced exuberantly. Even Chairman Lucena got behind the DJ turntables to kick the party up another notch.
As for the remaining Liga campaign, San Francisco Madridistas shared the outlook of their brethren in New Jersey. Lucena remarked, “The calendar seems a bit in our favour, so I have a good feeling about winning the league. It’s time.” Orozco seconded this sentiment but with a cautious note, “The league is not going to be decided by the Clásico, but rather which team will make a mistake and drop points against the so-called small teams.”
These two Peñas are standard bearers for American Madridismo. They are now under the direction of their second Chairman after Founding Members Kenneth Jamora (SF) and José Pérez (NJ) served their terms. Despite the shift in leadership, Peñas San Francisco Bay Area and Zona Real haven’t missed a beat and continue to shine the light of Madridismo in their regions. March got off to a great start for both coastal Madridismo hubs. The 34th Liga title is at the end of the tunnel.
Christian Paredes (@Xian_D_Paredes) is a Founding Member and former Chairman (2012-2016) of La Peña Madridista Sur de California (@RmSurCalifornia)