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USA Bests Costa Rica: Report from our Man in the Stands
Many thanks to THC, who travelled to Denver for last night’s USA vs Costa Rica match, then managed to make it home to file this report despite the blizzard, a mobile phone with just enough juice left to grab the pic you see here, and a serious case of frozen balls. It’s dedication like his that makes this country so great. ‘murica!
I started recharging my phone back home in Colorado Springs exactly 8 hours after I had left. All for a 90-minute game?
I left work early, napped, and took a brisk walk. I was breaking speed limits out of adrenaline and not wanting to be the last one there. It took an hour to get to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO just outside of Denver.
The weather on the way there was ominous but no surprise because it was foretold. “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait five minutes and it will change.” Douchebaggish local saying, but true. Or in this case, we had a good run of sunshine and temps in the 60’s less than two weeks ago, but tonight was going to be much more like winter and we were prepared. It happens. It happens in March, it happens in May, it happens in September or even August. But sunshine and temps in the 60’s also happens. In November, in January, and in early March. February has been quite a bitch the last few years.
I overshot the exit which would have given me a chance to carpool to the game, so I headed straight to Dick’s and paid full parking instead of sharing the fee. No worries, I’ve never seen a game like this in person before. I stepped out of the car and it was cold and windy, more the wind than the cold. The ground was dry.
Ryan (Ryaninho!) and Adam showed up and we walked to Dick’s across one of the dozens of tournament fields in the complex. There was sorting out of tickets so that Ryan’s buddy Robb, our fourth of four, could pick his ticket up once he arrived. There was revelry amongst the early birds, disgruntled ticket seekers, a policeman with a K-9, and even a scalper. And it was damn cold.
We headed in. Some kid commented “Bayern Munich” after seeing Adam’s Arsenal jacket. Fucking punk. I agreed to a five-minute survey with a (non?) US Soccer survey taker. Not sure what that was about, but I had just been given my complimentary “USA Costa Rica Denver” scarf and I was in a good mood.
Beer time. The stadium was mostly empty, it was cold and it was dry. Beer time turned into a collective beer and brat and another brat and chicken tenders and fries and a double hamburger and a brat and hot chocolate and a beer and a cigarette and take a piss time. We found a nice perch at what I think was the north end. It shielded us from the wind and gave us a view of the field. The goalkeeping crews from each team had taken the field to practice, and Sam’s Army was in place.
How many of them, enlisted by Sam? 40? 60? 200? I tip my hat to them, for over the course of the game they kept the crowd going more than once in a while.
The Costa Rican goalkeepers were practicing at the other end, and Sam’s Army was right behind them, chanting and singing and horning and drumming. Right below us was US goalkeeper Brad Guzan, thrust into an unexpected starting role. Go Brad! We need you now more than ever! Wait… We need you for the first time?!
The Costa Rican team was on the field warming up after being welcomed to the field by Sam’s Army’s boos.
And it was snowing. The snow had come quickly, the groundkeepers were doing their best to keep the soccer field looking like a soccer field. We agreed that our feet hurt from the cold, I kept bouncing up and down to keep my toes warm, and I was taking pictures with gloves off, wincing every time.
Music started playing over Dick’s speakers. “Seven Nation Army,” the then song of the 2012 Euros, the song now chanted in European stadiums.
I mumbled out loud, “Ohhhh, Santi Cazor-laaaa.”
Below and to the right, the US team emerged. Holy Clint Dempsey. Seriously, Clint Dempsey. There was Clint Dempsey.
The US team started warming up, the groundskeepers were probably cursing themselves for not eating their Wheaties this morning, and there was more ruckus down and to the right. Four guys on the stands below were shouting, the same guys who had shouted in a welcoming way when the US team took the field. I don’t know what they were shouting, but it only sounded like “Anarchist, anarchist, anarchist!”
Below them passed Jurgen Klinsmann. Holy Jurgen Klinsman. The same Jurgen Klinsman I watched in person as he scored against Belgium in a ’94 World Cup game played in Chicago.
There was Jurgen the Anarchist. Or whatever they were shouting.
The prepackaged A/V feed gave us words of encouragement from Landon Donovan and absent captain Tim Howard as we took our seats. The last song that blared over the speakers, part of the premade, pregame hype: AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” It worked.
There were moments that touched me, like the full house of 19,000+ rabid US fans and a few hundred passionate Costa Rican fans, all who kept making noise, who were watching intently and cheering and groaning as it snowed and whipped and had no mercy.
The national anthem, with scarves held high.
The one guy over to my left who seemed to think that by shouting his commands in Spanish, like a dad watching his kid’s youth team, his team might just hear him. He was either silent or absent or both in the second half.
The players, the spine of the US team, Jones, Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore. The control and skill – and dare I say it, grace? – they exhibited at times, whether in the fifth or 65th minute, in such grueling conditions, was at times beyond belief. And the number of times they and nearly every player on the field miss-hit a pass, failed to settle a pass, or simply slipped and fell down, was not only forgiveable but often comical enough to make me laugh out loud. How on earth can these guys keep going in the second half?
Halftime in the men’s room, chants of “U-S-A” and singing “America the Beautiful.” And drunks and sober folks staying warm, checking their phones while mine was already dead.
In the second half I even let go of my aggravation that DeMarcus Beasley started the game at left back, that he was included in the squad at all. He jogged back on defense late in the game and I clenched a fist or two, but then he delivered an exquisite chip over the head of an opposing player right to the feet of Herculez Gomez. Later he showed that he still has speed – in snow! – as he supported the attack.
And I was happy to see Joel Campbell, the Costa Rican Arsenal player who has never been to England because he’s on loan in Spain, as the first of the opposition’s substitutes.
As the game wore down, unexpected hero Guzan started flapping his outstretched arms up and down. Of course he did. It was cold, so why wouldn’t he want to stay warm? But then it was clear that he was trying to lift the crowd, and we responded with noise.
After five minutes of second half stoppage time, the ref who less than a half hour earlier couldn’t decide if he should call the game off blew the final whistle.
The crowd erupted. A double celebration. We won and we can get the hell out of here?
“Now let’s blow this thing and go home.”
We trudged back to the cars. This time the fields we crossed were wet and snow covered and sloppy and slippery.
It took a while to get out of the lot, and the hour and half drive home seemed like much longer. But I had forty ounces of beer, chicken and fries, a double burger, and a good feeling in me.
Eight hours total. All for a 90-minute game?
All for a 90-minute game. All for a game. All for the game.