By: Leander Schaerlaeckens
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – When their national anthem played ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup Qualifier, the droplet of Americans amid the sea of Hondurans could be heard singing along throughout much of the deafening Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano. There were only three dozen or so of them, but for those eight lines, they would not be drowned out by the fevered drums, air horns, stomping and chanting of 35,000 locals.
“That’s a moment of pride before the game starts,” says one of those Americans, Chris Cloud (pictured), a 30-year-old location scout for films and television shows from New York City. “For those two minutes you sing at the top of your lungs with your fellow Americans, holding your scarf above your head or waving your flag.”
“If one American player heard us, that’s all that mattered,” added Jim from Washington, D.C., who asked not to be identified further because of his work. “We were there.”
That they were. A merry band of intrepid Americans, ranging widely in age, had brazenly ignored the many words of warning and the State Departments advisory to avoid traveling to San Pedro Sula at all cost and headed down here regardless. They’d come to the world’s current murder capital, to witness the US national team’s first World Cup Qualifier in the hexagonal round, the final phase of CONCACAF qualifying.
Kevin Joseph, a 37-year-old web developer from Minneapolis got vaccinations, bought a secure wallet, was careful in his selection of his hotel, reached out to others going, registered his trip with the State Department and left his itinerary with his roommate and parents. “I was very nervous before I left because of the safety warnings,” he says, after returning home. “I’m a big-ass gringo [6-foot-5] who stands out even here at home so you can imagine what it was like down there in Honduras, so that made me a little bit nervous, too.”
Cloud had much the same concerns. He’s been to 31 US games since 2008. He was there for Landon Donovan’s epic goal against Algeria at the World Cup in South Africa. He’s been to CONCACAF away games before, but this time around, friends asked him what possessed him to go. “For some reasons I can’t stop going to these matches,” he explains. “It’s an addiction to the atmosphere. I love watching the US play in these hostile environments. It’s a lot of fun, no matter if we’re outnumbered by 35,000 to 35 or however many.”
Jim understands. “I went because I wanted to see what it was like to see a soccer game in the most dangerous place in the world,” he says. He’d only missed the away game in Guatemala in the third phase and plans to attend every hex game except for Jamaica away.
But Jim, like his cohorts, found that San Pedro Sula didn’t come as advertised.
“I was very surprised because the US Federation and the State Department made San Pedro Sula sound like the most dangerous place in the world and maybe it was,” he says. “But the people were nice and we always felt safe.” Safe enough to get out of a taxi in a dark back alley to buy street food in the dead of night, even though their cabbie advised against it. “We just ate this great chicken and pork shoulder wrap and hung out with people and it was great. I’ve never been treated that well in any country I’ve ever been to. They were just so happy to have us, no matter where we went. We walked into a bar in our US jerseys and we were almost literally treated like kings.”
The pleasant atmosphere carried over into the stadium for the game. “I was really blown away with just how respectful in general Honduran fans were, especially during the anthem and as compared to the Azteca stadium [in Mexico City] on my other CONCACAF trips,” says Joseph, who plans on going to every hex game and blog about it [http://unsexyhexy.blogspot.com]. “During the game, obviously, we heard a lot of trash talk about the game, but nothing more than that. After the game, I got a lot of handshakes and asked to take a lot of photos and a lot of offers to trade shirts, which I ended up doing.”
Cloud traded his star-and-striped bandana for a Honduras flag. “And after that I had to turn down a lot of people,” he says. “Another guy traded everything he had on that was US and ended up with a Honduran jersey, scarf, flag, everything.”
Without denigrating all the commotion, because the crime statistics about Honduras don’t lie, the US fans that went met much more of merriment than menace. “I hope the next time more US fans go,” says Cloud. “The experience is something you’ll never forget. I just went by myself and made new friends along the way.”
Next month, Chris, Jim and Kevin will all be in Mexico City for the US’s second away game.