HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam - As the United States and Vietnamese flags waved briskly from the same pole last week, the semipro San Francisco Bay Seals became the first American professional soccer team to play in the unified Vietnam.
Call it soccer diplomacy.
The symbolism-laden match against the Ho Chi Minh City police team was part of San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's trade and culture mission to the Far East.
One of the mission's goals was to generate goodwill, and there was little doubt that at least the sports aspect won fans in soccer-crazy Vietnam. The game was televised live nationally and filled 25,000-seat Thong Nhat Stadium to three-quarters capacity.
The teams, from sister cities, filed onto the field side by side, preceded by four Vietnamese youths carrying a yellow flag that read "FIFA Fair Play."
Brown, addressing the crowd through an interpreter, got his biggest applause when he said: "I look forward to cheering for both sides. The winner will be the friendship developed between us."
Each player got a bouquet of flowers and shook hands with Brown and counterpart Vo Viet Thanh, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee. Advertising signs promoted Pepsi, Kodak and Citibank alongside locally made Tiger Beer.
Players kicked souvenir balls into the stands, then posed for a joint photo.
The fans came to see the home team win, and they weren't disappointed. The police team took a 1-0 lead into halftime and finished with a 3-1 victory.