By Jorge Andres Mondaca
Commerce City, Colo.
The snow fell by the bucket-load. But a sellout crowd, slowly getting coated in frosty white layer, cheered and chanted unperturbed. Their team needed a win, after all.
Still think there’s no passion in the USA for the beautiful game?
There is this long-held belief throughout the world that Americans simply don’t care about this sport. To be fair, it’s been earned through the years – we call it soccer, the rest of the world calls it football (even though the English, the creators of the game, at one time called it soccer themselves). The best athletes in other countries play this sport, in ours they play in the NFL or the NBA, or whatever else will lead to quicker glory and riches than soccer. Our professional league pales in quality and star power when compared to the likes of England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and others.
Simply put, we haven’t devoted ourselves to this sport the way people in other countries have.
But that’s slowly changed through the years. There are multiple soccer-focused channels in America – FOX Soccer, beIN Sport, Gol TV to name the most ubiquitous, but it has also seeped through to multi-sports channels and even network TV. This phenomenon has stoked a fanaticism that has led major clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona, as well as national teams like Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – frequently tour the country to packed houses in venues that would make some NFL teams jealous.
But still, US Soccer fans have been the butt end of jokes for years.
Friday night should change that.
Despite freezing cold temperatures and a snowstorm that never ceased, 19,374 fans packed Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to support the national team in a crucial World Cup qualifier.
“We came to Denver because we knew we had a huge crowd behind us – (and) they proved it,” US head coach Jurgen Klinnsman said. “They were awesome. They pushed us the whole 90 minutes.
“We had real home field advantage (tonight).”
This was no-sudden blizzard either – there were warnings all week that the snow would be falling Friday night, but that didn’t stop the capacity crowd from showing their support even before kickoff.
They belted the anthem with spirit and pride.
They erupted in joy when Clint Dempsey slotted home an easy tap in at the 16th minute to give the US an early lead.
They whistled and booed when referee Joel Aguilar missed Dempsey getting taken down in the box by Costa Rican defender Roy Miller for what seemed to be a clear penalty call in the 42nd minute.
And oh by the way – they stayed until the bitter end despite conditions getting worse as the night wore on – especially late in the game when Costa Rica got a few free kicks that could have led to goal-tying opportunities.
“No one would have blamed them if they headed for the exits to get out of this weather, but they stayed to the end,” said US goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “It was absolutely phenomenal. That’s what qualifying is all about – sticking together with our fans, our support. They were fantastic for 90 minutes.”
US Soccer had its Ice Bowl moment Friday night. Except what will be remembered most in the years and centuries to come is the dedication American fans exhibited as they pushed their team to glory.