By Andrew Herrmann and Gaetan Damberg-Ott
During the Juneteenth holiday weekend, more than 400 players, supporters, friends, and family members gathered in Ho Chi Minh City for the 12th Mekong Friendship Cup, a regional soccer tournament for U.S. Missions in mainland Southeast Asia.
The teams kicked off activities on a hot and humid Sunday morning that ended with Embassy Phnom Penh defeating the reigning champions, Embassy Vientiane, in a thrilling 4-3 shoot-out to take home the tournament trophy. The U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City beat Mission Thailand 3-0 to secure third place.
Just getting to Vietnam was half the battle. Embassy Phnom Penh chartered buses to transport more than 120 players and their supporters, while Embassy Vientiane traveled two days by bus to defend their trophy. After their commercial flight was canceled, Embassy Yangon players chartered a plane to make the tournament, arriving in the dead of night, mere hours before kickoff. Despite the heat, the cheering on the sidelines was as enthusiastic as the on-field action, with choreographed halftime shows by Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi staff.
The tournament dates back to 2007 when Mission Thailand traveled to Laos and played Embassy Vientiane at the field next to the chief of mission residence. A rotation of posts hosted the games until 2019, when COVID-19 restrictions ended international travel.
This year, ConGen Ho Chi Minh City restarted the tradition by hosting the tournament for the first time. Posts in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Vientiane, Yangon, Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City fielded teams of local employees, officers, and eligible family members.
On June 19, the consulate general’s Locally Employed Staff Association hosted the Friendship Cup Gala, a celebration for all participating U.S. Missions. Over Vietnamese food and drinks, teams shared song and dance cultural performances from their respective countries. Discussions are still ongoing regarding next year’s host, but the newly crowned champions at Embassy Phnom Penh can expect stiff competition.
Gaetan Damberg-Ott was a political officer and Andrew Herrmann was the information management specialist at the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.