Excitement was building, quickly. Tension hung in the air. Some cheers, a burst of applause—then 28,205 people gasping in expectation as Jozy Altidore put it on net. Canadian goalie Lars Hirschfeld stumbled, and Ford Field exploded as the USMNT went up 1-0. Meanwhile, the other four people in attendance had just arrived, and were going up the escalator to the club level.
Yes, we were a little late. Fortunately, we caught the replay on the monitors:
The American Outlaws were in full voice as we took what we thought were our seats. We had an excellent view all by ourselves in the club level, relaxing in the gray leather-ish seats. With nobody else nearby, we got some great time just watching and dissecting the action.
It’s true that the crowd wasn’t quite up to anticipated levels. However, given the cost of the tickets (minimum with Ticketmaster fees was nearly $30; they ranged up into the triple digits), the total lack of TV/radio promotion (that I saw), and the fact that it was a late Tuesday night during the school year, it’s actually pretty impressive. In fact, the Ford Field crowd last was the largest to attend a Gold Cup group-stage match since 2003! A loud, excited soccer crowd 28k strong, with two vibrant supporter sections might not look impressive spread out over a 60,000-seat stadium . . .
. . . but they certainly sounded great. USMNT head coach Bob Bradley picked an excellent lineup, with a nice blend of youth and experience. Several players whose form had been in question looked fantastic in the first half—Altidore, for one, and midfielder Michael Bradley in particular. It’d be an exaggeration to say the US did to Canada what Spain did to the US this past weekend—but the US controlled the midfield, the ball, and the game for the first half, and much of the second.
My only criticism of the USMNT’s play was that it was almost too “beautiful.” Often, there’d be a sequence of linked passes dancing around the box, and several opportunities would open up—but while waiting for the perfect opening, they’d eventually miss a pass, or a defender would get a toe on the ball, and the whole possesion would go to waste. When the opposing keeper is struggling with routine shots, just shoot the ball on net!
At the half, we made the trek from section 214 to 241, our actual seats. There was a mix of excitement and trepidation; a 45-minute throttling is great, but coming away with a 1-0 lead left no margin for error. If the Yanks hadn’t picked up where they left off, all if it could have been for naught. Fortunately, when play resumed, the US offensive pressure continued.
A little way in, Clint Dempsey showed exactly why he’s my favorite player on the planet. As a deflected ball came across the middle, Clint tried a very rare “scorpion kick,” something so crazy that I didn’t know there was a name for it—and actually, neither did he:
People ask me why I got so hooked on soccer so fast, and it’s moments like this: pure physical creativity. Incredible feats that stretch the bounds of human reaction time, athleticism, and coordination. When it happened I looked over at my still-soccer-skeptical wife, like “Did you see . . . ?” and was already shooting me a sly grin while slowly nodding her head.
At full speed, it looked like the kick just missed—but look at the third replay on the clip there. The shot was on-frame, and the goalie was out of position; it just bounced off the face of a Canadian defender. The miss was spectacular enough to draw an ovation; I can only imagine what would have happened if the shot weren’t blocked. Actually, I can imagine it, because Clint struck home just minutes later:
We had an amazing view of this goal—the same angle as the scorpion kick—and it was all I could have hoped for. Going to an international soccer match wanting desperately to see the guy you came to see score . . . it’s kind of a longshot. Yet, I’m thrilled to be 2-for-2, lifetime. Me, my wife, my kids and I all came to see the USMNT win convincingly, and maybe see Deuce put one in net. They did, and he did.
Though the US wisely switched some youth and offense out for experience and defense across the end of the second half, they put it a little too far into the cooler. Canada got some great looks in the last fifteen minutes or so, and elite US goalie Tim Howard had to come up with a couple of stunning saves, each bringing the crowd to their feet.
Speaking of which, I have to hand it to the American Outlaws, and the Motor City Supporters. The US supporters’ section brought it, hard, all game long. Songs, chants, cheers, thunderous foot-stomping . . . it was really an awesome display. We could hear them clear as a bell when we were over on the Canadian side of the stadium. Speaking of which, I tip my hat to the Canadian supporters’ section, too:
Though our friends from just across the river didn’t turn out in droves, they did turn out in spirit. They cheered hard for 90 minutes, and endured “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU *clap* *clap* *clap clap clap*” taunts from the Yankee fans. One of the coolest moments of the night came after the game: some Canadian players slowly walked over to that section, and the fans went crazy cheering for them after a tough loss. Good show by the Voyageurs.
After the game ended, I tried to photoblog the corridors and mezzanines of Ford Field, but it was all too much. There was lots of cheering, lots of singing, and lots of clapping. Many thanks to anyone and everyone who turned out. On the day Triple Sports and Entertainment submitted Metro Detroit’s bid for an MLS franchise, every single fan in the stands made an impact. Honestly, though—as much as I hope the crowd last night impressed upon MLS just how much they’re missing out on by not being in this market, I hope last night proved to some non-soccer-loving Michiganders they’re missing out on an incredible experience.