Been a while since I've posted here. I wonder if anyone's still reading.
Anywho, I just got back from Tampa where Mike and I saw the U.S. men's team smash Ecuador 3-1. I definitely found out that soccer is a sport that benefits greatly from being there watching it in person. (A good thing about being an American soccer fan is that you can generally get really good tickets late for under $50.) You can see more of the game develop; when a midfielder is sending a through ball up to the forwards, you can see where the pass is going rather than waiting for the camera to pan enough to answer the question of who the heck that pass is intended for.
Soccer's fan base is growing - yesterday's match set the record for most people to see a soccer game in Tampa - but the authorities just don't give it the support it needs. Case in point: there were absolutely no police officers directing traffic on the streets in front of Raymond James Stadium. You think that would happen for a Bucs game? There were plenty of police officers stationed in front of churches, and very few of these churches had 30,000 people descending onto their buildings. There was also the inexplicable decision to open only one entrance gate to the stadium, thus forcing the roughly three quarters of the fans who parked on the north side of the stadium to walk around the stadium to get to the entrance. As a result, we missed the first six minutes of the game, by which point it was already 1-0 (thanks to a first-minute Donovan strike).
Some thoughts I had while watching the game:
- Welcome back, Landon. Where the hell was this Donovan last year? Could have used you in Germany, buddy. Landon's well on his way to becoming the pre-2006 Peyton Manning of soccer - the caliber of his performance is inversely proportional to the importance of the game. Actually, Donovan looked kind of mediocre during much of the first half. Then in the second half, Bob Bradley wisely shifted him to forward - and boom went the dynamite. Given our lack of forward talent (and the solid play of our no-name midfielders), Bradley would be wise to leave him there.
- Oh yeah, and it's nice to see Run DMB back. It seemed like every time I turned around, Beasley was making another spiffy tackle-and-steal or starting an attack. Note to Manchester City coach Stuart Pearce: who the hell could you possibly have at left midfield that's better - or at least more explosive - than Beasley? He's too good to be a benchwarmer.
- I don't know who Benny Feilhaber is, but I remember on several occasions saying to myself, "ooh, nice play by, um... number 5?" He certainly looked better than either Mastroeni or Clark usually do. Not that we're short on midfielders or anything.
- Anyone who thinks that soccer is a sport for pansies or whatever should be forced to watch Brian Ching during the last ten minutes of the first half. Ching damn near scored a goal, got his nose broken, then proceeded to stuff a tissue in his nose to stop the bleeding and play out the half. That's pretty sweet.
- I like Bob Bradley's style. He's letting players attack and make runs, which is something Arena never really did. Our offense has been consistently potent under Bradley, which is something that U.S. soccer has never been able to say.
- Ecuador's fans may have been outnumbered 2-1, but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in volume. There was this one woman who was about three rows in front of us who let out a scream that would make Howard Dean's blood curdle every time Ecuador did something good. Eventually, that became so rare that she screamed every time Ecuador did something marginally passable. My point is, she was screaming at regular intervals for pretty much the entire game. I wasn't yelling that much, and my voice gave out around the 75th minute. Is there a training camp that South American soccer fans go to so they can yell for 90 minutes straight without destroying their vocal cords? If so, can I go?
- The power of suggestion: at around the 55th minute, the Ecuador fans in our section started chanting "si, se puede" ("yes, you can") to cheer on their team. Being a bastard, I started responding with "no se puede" around the 61st, and it caught on somewhat among the Yanks. Soon thereafter, Donovan went on his two-goals-in-two-minutes tear. There was some girl a little ways down our section that was chanting "no se puede" for the rest of the match. My existence is validated.
- Incidentally, Ecuador must be the happiest country on Earth - their team got pummeled and yet I didn't see a sullen face in a yellow jersey. All the Ecuador fans were singing and chanting on the way out of the stadium. If you looked at the fans, you wouldn't have been able to tell who won.
- Some Ecuadorian fan approached me and Mike, told us that the U.S. deserved to win, said something unintelligible in English, and took a picture with us. Good times.