Over the years, I’ve been to more professional soccer games than I can count: MLS regular season and playoff matches, men’s and women’s national team games, USL and NASL matchups, European friendlies, World Cup games, and even a single Premier League match at White Hart Lane. And all of them were highly enjoyable experiences.
But up until last week, I could say with complete honesty that only two of them ever gave me goosebumps.
The first of those occasions was a 1994 World Cup match in the Pontiac Silverdome between the US and Switzerland. A then 12-year-old D.J. was given the chills by an incredible Eric Wynalda freekick equalizer in the 44th minute. It stirred a crowd of nearly 75,000 — who had just been silenced five minutes prior by a Georges Bregy opener for the Swiss — into an absolute frenzy. Without a doubt, I know that it was this moment that cemented an obsession with the game that’s lasted well into my adult life and shows no signs of waning.
Occasion number two occurred in the summer of 2004, when on a preseason tour of Europe with my college soccer team, I was in attendance for the Premier League opener between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Spurs’ White Hart Lane. Getting to watch my favorite club open up their campaign at home was nothing short of — oh what’s the word — orgasmic. Whether it was from the crowd’s bellowing out song after song, or due to the joy of getting to watch my team for the first time in person, I’m not sure. But I can tell you that the hair on my arms was standing on end for nearly the entire 90 minutes.
I count both of those experiences among my favorite life moments, and have long used them as early mile posts in the development of my passion for the game. However, those two seminal moments in my soccer life are no longer the only events I’ve attended that really got my blood flowing.
Two Tuesday nights ago, another event had my heart racing. The US versus Jaimaca in World Cup qualifying match definitely had me feeling the goosebumps once again.
Now, I’ve been to probably 100 matches at Crew Stadium, and the atmosphere has steadily improved over the last few years. But while attendance numbers and the boisterous Nordecke supporters group has grown in both numbers and decibel level, the crowd in general is still fairly tame when judged against fans from the likes of Chicago’s Toyota Park or Portland’s JedWen Field.
But that Tuesday night, the crowd in attendance at Crew Stadium to watch the Americans avenge a weekend loss to the Reggae Boys was not to be outdone. From the incredibly loud legion of American Outlaws filling both North Stands, to the average fan packing in the cheap seats, everyone was on their feet for the entire 90 minutes, waving their American flags and screaming for the boys on the pitch throughout. The noise was incredible. The crowd even seemed to have a semblance of intelligence to it, knowing when to boo or when to applaud, a trait that is often times absent during matches in the states.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I have never seen a US Men’s National Team crowd better than the one that night. Others have written similar sentiments, so I don’t feel like I’m blowing this out of proportion either. The funny thing is, the result on the pitch — a nail-biting 1-0 win for the home side — only served to underline the experience in the stands. Even if we had dropped points, I imagine the atmosphere would have still been worth the drive on its own.
But that’s not to say that it wasn’t still an amazing performance from the boys in red and white stripes. Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron played with poise beyond his years and partnered a very steady Bocanegra in the center of defense. José Francisco Torres lodged his best ever performance for the US, doing well as an inverted winger. And in particular, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Hoffenheim’s Fabian Johnson cemented themselves as national team regulars with stellar showings. The team showed fluidity and intelligence moving forward. It seemed a completely different side than the one who had turned up in Kingston midweek.
But as pleasing as the play was, I still keep coming back to the excellent fan support on hand at Crew Stadium.
Now, we probably have immigration patterns to thank for part of that crowd advantage. Jamaican immigrants don’t exactly populate the Midwest in quite the same numbers as some of their hispanic counterparts. So while matches against Honduras or Mexico are likely to have as many visiting supporters in the stands as the American support can normally muster, Jamaica don’t have the same luxury at their disposal. Yes it was a decidedly pro-American crowd, but our opponents probably played a part in that too.
That said, the crowd still deserves massive praise. I ran into fans that were at their first pro-soccer match ever as well as Crew season ticket holders, meaning the soccer authorities did well to at least try to capitalize on the numerical advantage with supporters that was available to them. Even little things like passing out small American flags at the gate helped to boost the feel of the night.
So with a good, passionate showing now under our belts, will we see this kind of support replicated in the future?
To be honest, a lot of that depends on us, the American fans. Our next match is against Guatemala on October 16th at Kansas City’s Livestrong Park, and news of the game already being sold out is promising… but only if we as an American fan base were more proactive than our Guatemalan counterparts in securing tickets. Otherwise, if we sat on our laurels and allowed las Azul y Blancos to even up the numbers a bit by snapping up more tickets, we’ve already blown the opportunity. That’s not to mention that we have to do the same thing against the other sides too — Mexico in particular — assuming we advance on to the CONCACAF Hexagonal.
So we have our work cut out for us, both on the pitch and off.
Could the unbridled support have given Klinsmann’s men that extra motivation to push onward? Might it have provided that extra confidence needed to be inspired glory? At least to this one fan who stood in the stands that Tuesday night in Columbus, the electric atmosphere off of the pitched helped to reap rewards on it.
If we can find a way to recreate that energy, that electricity, on a consistent basis, it might just make a difference in whether we’ll get to cheer on our boys to bigger and better things in Brazil in two years time. And if we’re really lucky, we’ll all have a reason to feel the goosebumps.