September 10, 2013
By Charles Cuttone
The air is different at a big event: USA-Mexico has that feel
COLUMBUS, Ohio---Big events have a certain feel to them. Sports fans know what those events are. Sometimes they are championship games. Sometimes they are rivalry games. Red Sox-Yankees, Michigan-Ohio State. There is something in the air. It’s different. You start to feel it approaching the stadium. It grows moving through the streets or the parking lots and becomes overpowering inside the gates.
Maybe it starts with the first fires that are sparked in parking lots, or in the media or with the first barb thrown at an opposing fan. If you’re a sports fan and you have ever experienced one of those types of games, you know what the feeling is and it’s usually hard to describe.
A USA-Mexico has soccer match has turned into that type of event.
It doesn’t matter where it is played, although in the last few go-rounds of World Cup Qualifying it has been in Columbus. As good a place as any.
Eight years ago the game was played in the freezing cold. Four years ago in wind and heavy rains that threatened to blow parts of the stadium away. Tuesday night it was 80 degrees with a pleasant breeze.
The weather doesn’t matter. Neither does the size of the crowd. I’ve been in bigger stadiums with more people. It’s not the same. The feeling for this game was in the air and it started early.
More than three hours before the game’s kickoff, the parking lots at Crew Stadium were filling up fast, and it was evident that most of the fans were there to cheer for the red white and blue.
Crew Stadium was the loudest I have ever heard a stadium and that was almost two hours before the game. That buzz was in the air and there was very little that could make it go away---other than maybe a USA loss, which the team happily obliged in not providing.
By the time the Mexican team came onto the field for pre-game warm ups, the inevitable dos –a - cero chants began. The sound was nearly deafening, and the stands weren’t even full more than 30 minutes before the scheduled kickoff.
The only thing that detracted somewhat from the electric feeling in the air was the pre-orchestrated nature of some of the singing and chanting, an experience that has now come full circle. There was a time teams hired professional cheerleaders. Back in the original NASL days, it was Crazy George, the Wowdies, the Cosmos Girls or obnoxious announcers to instruct fans when to cheer. To some soccer purists that was deemed an abomination, something too American. It’s no longer necessary. The fans do it themselves and get into pseudo- turf wars over who is going to man the loudspeakers and hand out the song sheets.
At times it feels forced, and it’s probably not necessary. No one told the sold-out stadium to cheer when in his taped pre-game announcement President Barrack Obama mentioned a previous result against Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Seemingly everyone joined in for the singing of God Bless America well before the start of the game, and the national anthem singer was drowned out by some 20,000 voices who belted out the song.
Of course, the stadium erupted on its own in the 50th minute, about 9:13 pm ET, when Eddie Johnson nodded in a cross from Landon Donovan to give the USA a 1-0 lead. It led to a cacophony of cheers, geysers of beer sailing into the air like Old Reliable, and the loud rumble of chants USA-USA-USA that were probably audible in downtown Columbus, visible in the distance.
The roar was even louder nearly a half an hour later when Donovan slipped a shot inside the post to make it dos-cero, and nearly as loud when the fans reminded the visitors that “You’re Not Going to Brazil” and “This is our house.”
USA-Mexico has just turned into that type of event. You know, it’s in the air.