I was able to attend the Gold Cup Quarterfinal matches yesterday in our nation's capital. It was a nice full day of soccer and a huge perk of living in a large metropolitan area. The games were good, not great, but the atmosphere was high quality.
RFK - This was my first time at RFK. It was, um, unimpressive. I see why the Redskins have a new stadium. It wasn't bad for soccer, though, with lots of new seats brought in closer to the field. The game was a sellout and we had some great seats, around the 40 yard line I'd say, about 30-40 rows back. The first thing I noticed was the huge amounts of El Salvador fans, and this is at 2:30, 3.5 hours before their game starts. The Salvadorians took over that stadium.
USA/Jamaica - This was my first USA soccer game. No US jerseys for any of our group and only a couple make-shift flags, but plenty of Wisconsin gear! I once saw Mexico play Ireland at Soldier Field about 10 years ago, and that was just a friendly. This time you could tell it was a big match. I mean it is only the Gold Cup - huge for Jamaica, Panama, and El Salvador and if the US loses, see you later Bob Bradley.
The US fans were pretty hype, not as numerous or as loud as the Salvadorians, but more consistent. We were right behind Sam's Army and got to stand for the entire game, which I liked. Aside from one great chance for Jamaica in the first 5 minutes, it was clear that the US was the superior team. The first goal, and the second goal for that matter, was more relief than anything. Lots of good chances in the first half and lots of great saves by the Jamaican 'keeper.
I was saying before the game that this was going to be Jozy's re-coming out party, but he only is able to last 10 minutes before coming out injured. Lots of good possession by the US, and an eventual 2-0 victory. The red card helped, and in person, it seemed like an obvious sending off, but I guess on the replay, not so much. It was also the only time I jumped onto the back of the seat in front of me.
All and all, this is the most optimistic I can remember being for the future of US soccer. It was not just Dempsey, Donovan, and Howard. This was by far the best performances in a US jersey I have seen from Jones, Lichaj, Bedoya, and Kljestan. Some of those do not really have a large testing sample, but they showed the can be counted on when needed. And Juan Agudelo, only 18 and soon to be ready for the big time. The US will continue to find players. Great support from the fans.
El Salvador/Panama - One might think that the best part of the day was over, but that would be incorrect. Most US fans must have thought this, as they left immediately after the game. Those that stayed steadily trickled out as the second game went on. I already mentioned the El Salvador fans. The upper deck was a sea of blue. Pretty much all of their fans have some sort of El Salvador jersey. For the first game, the stadium was probably about 40% USA fans 60% El Salvador fans. Even during the US game, their fans were loud and pro-USA. This is America you know! For the second game, it was probably 90% El Salvador and 10% other. I guess the El Salvador fans were just waiting at the entrances for other fans to leave. Good stuff. I really can't impart to you how loud the fans were. The national anthem and players coming onto the field were really something cool to be a part of. They people were into the game too, even if the product on the field wasn't so great. They loved every half trick, every tackle, and every shot. ES was awarded a penalty about half through the first half. The place was ready to explode, but the shot was saved.
Things got more and more testy on the field and in the stands as the game went on. The crowd was affecting the ref so El Salvador was getting some favorable calls. Fans were getting more and more agitated. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Panama was the better team - stronger, bigger, faster, and more organized. Then with about 10 minutes left, El Salvador got another PK. This time it was converted. The crowd went bonkers. The stadium shook. Beer and water flying through the air. I'm pretty sure this is the loudest I have ever heard a soccer stadium. People were rejoicing. A fan in front of us literally broke his seat off whilst celebrating. Our small group was pulled into the euphoria. But alas, as often happens in football, it did not last. Panama scored a controversial goal in the 90th minute. We were not sure in the stand what happened, but I guess it went in. The crowd did not like this. It really turned into Central America - lots of bottles and other things thrown on the field, a fan running on the pitch, more bottles thrown at the refs, two players sent off. Good stuff all and all. Probably for the best that they stopped serving beer right after kickoff. I don't know if I've ever seen such disappointment at a sporting event. It's like they just knew it was over. The fans either got more sad or more angry as overtime went on. Lots of them kept looking at us as US fans for approval I guess. It was interesting.
El Salvador had one good chance in the final minute of overtime, but to no avail. It was on to PKs. The Panama goalie saved the first one and Panama did not miss. Game over. Lots of angry/sad Salvadorians. This was a BIG game for both teams and obviously meant a lot more to their fans than the average US fan.
Oh, and I can't be from Wisconsin without mentioning the efficient public transit system that we were able to use after the game. Crowded, but easy.
A very fine day for us!
Next Up - USA/Panama Wednesday 7pm Eastern, Mexico/Honduras 10pm Eastern, both in Houston. As long as the US plays like the did on Sunday, they should get revenge on Panama. I'm very interested in seeing what the crowd is like as both Mexico and the US are there. That should make things interesting. Until then - America! Fuck Yeah!