USA- Honduras : Close Up and Personal

Tuesday afternoon, the Soccer Yoda ventured to Sandy, Utah to see the USA play Honduras in an important World Cup qualifying game. As this was the first time I was viewing our national team in person in about 35 years, I was excited about this opportunity both as a fan and as a student of the game. And “excited” is an understatement! The ticket was a surprise Fathers Day gift from the family and I was floored by their thoughtfulness!

I went to the game with my good friend, a transplanted Brazilian who knows soccer very well, as many Brazilians do. We arrived about 2 hours early to get a real feel for the stadium and buy some USA gear! Rio Tinto stadium is a built-for-soccer facility which seats 20,500 spectators. Its the home field for the MLS Real Salt Lake team and has hosted a few international matches as well. It is a beautiful place, even when viewed from a couple miles away.

027 Rio Tinto before the crowd arrived

The first thing we discovered about the stadium, other than its architecture, is that the guy in charge of parking must have been sick when they decided upon the location of the park. Because there is none. Not a single space designated for “stadium parking”. However, there is lots of shopping nearby, so we parked in a strip mall lot a few blocks away and enjoyed a short walk to the stadium. At this point , 2 hours before kickoff , I became worried about our home field advantage. Many have written ( including myself in my last post) about the fans in Seattle and the effect they had on the atmosphere surrounding the contest there. This match was expected to have a similar crowd albeit smaller. BUT at 5:00 Tuesday night, the crowd waiting to enter Rio Tinto stadium was easily 75% Honduran. Granted, it was only a couple thousand people out of the sell-out 20,500, but my experience said,” uh-oh, another “away game” at a home field”. Over the years, enough international matches have been played in Southern California and New York and Miami where the noise for the visitors exceeded the support for the USA, we don’t need THAT anymore. AND : in addition to the number of Honduran fans; there was All-State.

All-State insurance has an agreement with the USSF to market at USA matches. They had a tent outside Rio Tinto with USSF logos all over it. Just give them your name and email and they give you a FREE soccer hat! Complete with a soccer ball image on top! BUT , the same guy who was in charge of Rio Tinto parking must have been in charge of selecting the hat colors. One would expect red, white and blue, yes? Well, All-State chose to use ” the All-State colors” of blue and white, at least that is the reason we were given for the choice of colors. Now, if the USA was playing anybody else in the hex it would be no big deal. BUT Honduras’ colors happen to also be blue and white. Sooooo, the Honduran fans , by the droves, gave All- State their info and gratefully walked away with more garb with which to support their team.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne American amid many Hondurans wearing All State no-red, white and blue hats.

By game time, however, my fears were gone. Most of the crowd arrived in the last 20 minutes before kick-off and they were decidedly American. I have heard and sung the national anthem hundreds ( perhaps thousands) of times prior to athletic events. Its usually rather perfunctory, once in a while the person singing draws some notice. But Tuesday night was different. In a time when our nation is more divided politically then I have ever seen it, when views on so many issues seem so far apart….at 7:00 PM, on June 18,2013, in Sandy,Utah,  approximately 18,000 Americans put all that aside and rose as one to state and sing their loyalty to their country and to the team representing it. It was pretty damn amazing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe national anthem

Then the game started. The USA immediately abandoned the controlled possession game it used so well in Seattle for an over-the-top long ball approach. Perhaps Coach Klinsmann felt that putting quick pressure on the inexperienced Honduran defense would crack them right away. The problem was two-fold: one, the Catrachos defenders marked well, battled in the air and refused to be intimidated. Two, the field was not soft. The ball bounced and skidded and the long through balls sent by USA backs and deep midfielders ran away from Altidore, Dempsey and Johnson. On occasion the Americans settled down and played with shorter passes and more lateral movement. These attacks were more productive and produced a good shot by Eddie Johnson and several corner kicks. Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares was up to the challenges and the Americans were unable to score in the first half. In addition, the Hondurans were playing for a draw and they began time-wasting right away. Valladares got scolded by the referee for taking so much time setting up his goal kicks and it seemed that blue players were going down when Americans stared hard at them. One stoppage was particularly long as Jomas Costly went down, was examined by the ref, the stretcher was sent in, he refused the stretcher and finally limped slowly off the field. After 45 minutes of play only 2 minutes of stoppage time was added, once again proving that FIFA needs to wake up and join the 20th century  and recognize the existence of that incredible invention- the stopwatch ( since FIFA is stuck in the 19th century, the 20th is next). The first half was more notable for Honduran stalling and falling than anything else.

The second half was different as the USA played under control, passed well, and found space, especially on the left. E.Johnson and Zusi continued alternating at the outside mid positions, switching left and right every few minutes. In the second half, they were given lots of room by the Hondurans and the Americans frequently found them, first with short passes, then longer . The constant pressure found some room and although the Catrachos didn’t make any drastic errors, they failed to stick as tightly to the USA forwards as in the first half. Eventually Fabian Johnson overlapped, got a nice pass from Dempsey, coolly passed back to Altidore who had some space and he one-touched the ball into the far corner of the goal. And that was that.

044American defenders double up

For the Soccer Yoda, the game was a terrific experience. Thanks to my family, I sat closer to the field than at some games that I have coached. (All photos in this post were taken by the Soccer Yoda) I watched our nations best players close-up and learned a lot in doing so. I felt the new passion of the American soccer fan and once again marveled at how this game can bring people of all kinds together. Oh…one other outcome, plans for Brazil next summer must be made because barring a complete disaster in September- the USA is going to the World Cup!



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