World Cup warmup: An all-day affair produces win for Argentina — and Meadowlands

1st of 3 COPA America matches at MetLife Stadium goes off smoothly, shows appeal of venue that will host 8 World Cup matches in 2026

The traditional Argentinian song began softly, but quickly picked up in volume and intensity as the hundreds of fans at the restaurant and on the concourse at American Dream joined in. They rose to their feet. Some stood on top of chairs. One man felt the need to take off his shirt.

It was a soccer party at the House of ’Que — and it was taking place Tuesday afternoon, more than three hours before Argentina would face Chile next door at MetLife Stadium.

The party was in preparation for a group-stage match at the 2024 CONMEBOL Copa America — a tournament that is considered preparation for MetLife Stadium hosting eight games of the FIFA 2026 World Cup.

The stadium certainly has hosted top international soccer matches in the past, but this was the first since MetLife was awarded the World Cup final, an event that will bring billions of sets of eyeballs on New Jersey.

From traffic to crowd control, the stadium performed well. And, while there was no doubt as to which side had more fans — Argentina and its star, Lionel Messi — where they came from was the biggest metric for local businesses.

The belief that international soccer brings an international crowd certainly was on display.

Issac Kahn and his three sons, Nadav, Amit and Ohad, made the journey to the area from Yehud, Israel.

Soccer party at the House of ’Que.

Kahn, a native of Argentina who immigrated to Israel decades ago, estimated he had been to at least 75 Argentinian national team games in his lifetime. Fandom travel is a joy he is passing on to his three boys, two of whom already have plans to see Argentina play its next game in Miami.

“I travel around the world to watch them play,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for decades.”

His sons said they loved American Dream — “This is America,” Amit said — where they had arrived shortly after noon, eager to spend their money on food and drink away from the heat.

And, while they will stay in the area all week, they acknowledged plenty of their cash was being spent elsewhere. They were staying in New York City.


Officials with the 2026 New York/New Jersey Host Committee, the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, the Meadowlands Chamber and everyone else working to make the World Cup an economic boon for the state, have been realistic in their hopes and dreams from the start.

This is a regional event — and the appeal of New York City to international visitors is something the state cannot compete with.

Of the handful of fans who traveled to the area for the game that spoke with ROI-NJ, only one group said they were staying in New Jersey — in “Pair-a-mus,” they said.

That’s OK, officials said. The aim always has been for New Jersey to be a complement to the trip.

That certainly was going on Tuesday.

Crowds began showing up at American Dream — which has parking and a convenient walkway to the stadium — around noon. They were there in time to enjoy the all-day dance party taking place in the middle of venue and, most importantly, crowd the restaurants and bars, which had a weekend level of activity.

American Dream spokesperson Gregg Schwartz said the day went as well as they could have hoped.

“The center was packed today with soccer fans,” he said. “There was a tangible buzz in the air.

“This electric environment and our creative activations around COPA are just a prelude to what’s to come at American Dream for the World Cup.”

The events certainly were welcoming.

Rodrigo Vega, who drove down from Montreal with his sons — Angelo, 21 and Arturo, 19 — for the match, certainly were enjoying themselves pregame in American Dream.

The fact they were one of the few groups of fans wearing Chile jerseys didn’t matter.

“We expected that,” Rodrigo Vega said. “Argentina is the No. 1 team with the No. 1 player in the world.”

And, as Arturo quickly pointed out: “We’re fans of Messi, too.”


If you needed a jersey, there were plenty being sold — though the dozens of Messi national team jerseys at a kiosk sold out early.

If you needed a ticket, there were a few of those, too — though the cheapest, we heard, were going for $500 apiece.

If you needed to get the stadium, there were plenty of options.

Daniel Maldonado and daughter Francesca.

American Dream certainly provided additional parking spaces — and the key walking bridge — but credit was being given to … wait for it: New Jersey Transit, too.

That was the take of Damian Traverso, a native of Argentina who now lives in Miami and came to the game with three of his childhood friends from Buenos Aires.

Traverso was quick to say he would prefer to have more matches in Miami, where a large number of Argentinians live, but he offered that MetLife Stadium was not only better than Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, but easier to get to.

He and his friends are staying in New York City, but they took mass transit to the match, something they said would not be possible when Argentina plays its next match in Miami.

“There are more transit options here,” Traverso said. “It was easy to get here from New York City.”

Not for everyone.

Daniel Maldonado, who came to the game with his daughter Francesca, lives in Connecticut. They both work in New York City and usually take the train to go in. On Tuesday, in preparation for the match, they drove in together.

“The most traffic we had was in New York City, trying to get here,” Daniel Maldonado said. “That was a mess.”


The pitch — a temporary grass surface placed on top of the normal artificial surface — appeared to hold up well.

Argentina officials, who were boisterous in their complaints about the field in their first COPA game last week in Atlanta, did not immediately offer the same criticisms after the match Tuesday.

The quality of the match wasn’t as well received.

Chile, using a defensive and disruptive style, did its best to slow Messi and the Argentina attack. The crowd, which began with a party-level atmosphere, settled in, offering complaints about the officiating (there were fewer fouls and fewer cards than many wanted) and concern about Messi, who was given a few minutes of in-game treatment for a hamstring issue.

And, while Argentina certainly controlled the action — it had 9 shots on goal (compared to 3 for Chile) and 11 corners (Chile did not have one) — the game remained scoreless deep into the second half.

In the closing minutes, in fact, it was Chile which had the best scoring chances — two of which could easily have been put away.

But, just as the match appeared headed for a scoreless draw, Argentina’s Laurtaro Martinez scored in the 88th minute on a goal-mouth scramble, sending the crowd of 81,106 into a frenzy — and sending Argentina into the knockout round, regardless of its result in its final group match.

The crowd — more than half of which were wearing Messi jerseys — went home happy.

MetLife Stadium and World Cup Host Committee officials certainly did too. The stadium, which will host a group match between Uruguay and Bolivia on Thursday and then a semifinal July 9, had passed its first test.