February 11, 2009
By Charles Cuttone
Crazy weather, fans made this special
COLUMBUS, Ohio---I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter James Taylor wrote those lyrics in the 70s.
Now I’d like to add one more line.
I’ve seen everything.
I’ve seen an NCAA Championship game played in single digit temperatures at Rutgers, and Cosmos games played in hundred degree heat in Giants Stadium. I’ve seen full stadiums and empty stadiums.
I’ve seen Pele’s First Game, where we had to paint the brown dirt green so it would look like grass on TV (it didn’t). And I’ve seen Pele’s last game which was played in a steady rain that signified to me the soccer gods were crying.
I’ve seen the exuberance of the multicultural fans attending the World Cup at stadiums in the USA in 1994 and the jubilation of American fans during the remarkable Women’s World Cup of 1999.
I’ve seen the MLS All-Star game halted and then shortened because of bad weather, and an overly-liquored fan streak the center of the field during a delay.
But I had never seen a game played in a driving downpour, where the field had to be squeegeed at halftime and where the gale force winds started disassembling the temporary press box piece by piece. A game where the sold out crowd stayed in their seats for all 90 minutes and where Sam’s Army in rare form was in good voice the entire game, chanting USA, USA and just to goad the opposing Mexicans and their fans also chanting Estado Unitos! And Ole, Ole.
Now I have.
So now, I think I have seen everything. Except maybe seeing the U.S. win the World Cup. I hope to see that someday too.
But for now, I will say I have seen just about everything one can in American soccer.
That the World Cup Qualifier was placed in Columbus in February as a tactical and psychological move against the Mexicans made the weather even more interesting. U.S. Soccer did not get the freezing weather they thought they would—temperature at game time was 53 degrees. But they did get a good indication of the heartiness of American soccer fans.
It started with as stirring a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner I’ve ever heard from the crowd.
With a 1-0 U.S. lead, no one left their seats or at least the area of their seats, since much of the crowd of 23,776 was standing for most of the game.
When Mexico’s Rafael Marquez was issued a straight red card in the 65th minute for charging into goalkeeper Tim Howard, he was showered with chants of nah nah nah nah hey hey goodbye.
A moment later, as if to borrow from the “Bleacher Creatures” at Yankee Stadium, who serenade every home team player at the start of the game, they started singing Timmy Howard, Timmy Howard.
When Bradley’s goal in the 90th minute made it 2-0, Sam’s Army started chanting dos a zero. And as the players hugged after the final whistle, the chants of USA USA got even louder. That was followed by a spontaneous rendition of the national anthem—another first for me, a postgame anthem. And then more chants of USA.
That the game came on the same day U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati held a press conference to tout the U.S. bid to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022 should further bolster some of the reasons behind the bid.
When the U.S. was awarded the 1994 World Cup back in 1988, FIFA did so because it knew the Americans could put on a spectacular event, and also to sow seeds and help the sport grow in this country. FIFA knew the stadiums would be filled by Americans who love a big event, by ethnics of every nationality and by visitors from around the world.
But at that point, the U.S. had not qualified for the World Cup in 40 years. Since being awarded that Cup, the U.S. has not failed to qualify. Wednesday’s result should help the effort for 2010.
So, now the American bid is not only backed by the great stadiums this country has, but also by a team that is certainly the class of the continent.
Now it also has fans to match.