Columbus Discovers Soccer

Pregame hype

Dempsey vs Chicharito

With a 2-0 win tonight the USMNT has all but qualified for Brazil 2014. CONCACAF is always dominated by the big two USA and Mexico teams, leaving the rest of us sorry North/Central American and Caribbean countries to fight over the scrap spot and a playoff against New Zealand. So the prospect of Mexico stumbling out at this point – and they may – is rather shocking for any place that conveniently finds itself covered by the Monroe Doctrine.

That’s not really what interested me about the game though. I was watching (and listening) to see how the Columbus, Ohio fans reacted to their new cheerleaders. Not a Dallas Cowgirls sort of cheerleading, but the Capos that were sent on the USMNT dime from Seattle to Columbus to help get the fans going. So you get the privilege of hosting a national team game, but are then told basically that another city’s fans are better than yours. Whether you agree with the fan evaluation or not is beside the point, it was done in such a way that came off a bit insulting to Columbus fans. I don’t think it got to the point where those fans would then stop supporting their team, but I’m guessing that the American Outlaw (US supporter group) membership in the Ohio region just dropped significantly. As one tweet I saw during the game said, “this is our house. being sung at Mexico or the Seattle Capos?”

Aside from the slight to the Columbus fans, one thing really bothered me about the Seattle Capo’s plans, a moment of silence for 9/11 in the middle of the game. Yes, I know it’s September 11 and there was a horrible event on this day 12 years ago, but it is difficult to stop a crowd from making noise for 71 sustained seconds during a match (from 9:00 to 10:11, the American Outlaws wanted a moment of silence). That Mexico was putting on a lot of pressure at that point and had a free kick during that span ended up ruining the effect by ineffectively taking the crowd out of the match. Silent crowds can be incredibly intimidating – usually against the home team, but the moment of silence is best left for pre-game ceremonies, not for the middle of the match where the action can ruin what would otherwise be a solemn remembrance. What would have happened if either side scored during that time? An effective use of the silent crowd was last December when German fans around the Bundesliga were silent for 12 minutes (!) to protest changing fan policies and ticket prices, but that’s German fans for you, they get all kinds of respect for their fan community. Something Columbus fans can only dream of at this point.


Home Field Advantage

Let it snow!

Let it snow!

After the last round of CONCACAF qualifiers I wrote about the trouble the US faces in attempting to make the 2014 World Cup. Friday marked the second set of qualifiers for the group, with game 3 for all teams set to take place tomorrow. Match day 2 may have helped the Americans  a little, but the road ahead is still going to be tough based on the game they played against Costa Rica in Denver.

The game was notable for more than just the score, the Costa Rican FA has lodged a complaint with FIFA about the conditions under which the match was played. The game was played in the middle of a blizzard, and had to be stopped temporarily in the 2nd half so that grounds crews could clear the lines to allow play to continue. Ultimately, the US won 1-0 on a Clint Dempsey goal in the 16th minute. I don’t expect the Costa Rican challenge to amount to much as it is unlikely that FIFA will overturn a game that was played to completion, but again it highlights the desperate situation that the US faces in qualification. Despite the weather, the Costa Rican team managed some sustained pressure on the US, showing again the difficulty the US faces in ensuring its home points, much less picking up something on the road.

The justification for playing in Denver was not the potential for a late winter storm, but the need for the US to play at altitude before heading to Mexico City for the game on Tuesday. The US now goes into the most difficult venue in the confederation to play a Mexico team that is now desperate to show its fans that they can win. As much difficulty as the US faces, Mexico is making its own trouble after starting with two straight draws against Costa Rica (Mex blew a 2-0 lead) and then drawing Jamaica 0-0 on Thursday. Mexico is a stronger team than their record so far has shown, expect them to play their best on Tuesday.

Across the Atlantic and in contrast to the game in the blizzard, Northern Ireland was forced to cancel its qualifier against Russia because of snow, originally the game was postponed one day, but when conditions were not any better the following day officials were forced to cancel the match. This brings up another problem, as there are not to many open international dates left before qualification needs to be completed. Russia wants the match rescheduled to just before its match in Portugal on June 7, but Northern Ireland thinks that is too long after the end of their competitive season (early May, while Russia plays a spring to fall schedule like MLS) and the N. Ireland captain is getting married the day after the proposed make-up date (I don’t think FIFA will really take that into consideration).

Costa Rica and the US would be placed in much the same situation as both teams still have eight qualifiers to play out before the end of the October (the November international dates will be needed for the playoff qualifier between CONCACAF 4th place vs New Zealand), making for a very full international calendar already. That hardly allows for one more to be worked into the schedule. Had the game been abandoned when play was stopped in the second half, there would have been little choice but to reschedule the qualifier, but with a completed game FIFA will not want to revisit the result. And the US escapes a marginal performance with an act of God, rather than a hand of God.