Ed. note: Kyle is away on vacation, so you know what that means. ALL SOCCER ALL THE TIME, Y'ALL. Ok, well, not really. But I will be doing a couple of posts related to soccer this week. And we all wish Kyle the best on his well-deserved vacation with his family.
Maybe the coin is turning for the guys in red in Jacksonville, after all. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you are a U.S. Soccer fan, it just don't get any better than this. Sure, sure, we beat Italy back in February, and if the stars align, it's possible we could get a special result against Brazil on Wednesday. This past Saturday, however, I was privileged to be present at one of the most transcendent experiences I imagine I will ever witness as a soccer fan.
In front of the largest crowd ever to witness a U.S. international soccer match in the southeast, the United States Men's National Team (USMNT) thoroughly crushed a solid European soccer team.
It's easy to look at the final scoreline and assume that Scotland just sucks, but this team was 2 points shy of qualifying for this Summer's Euro 2012 tournament. And it's just as difficult to qualify for the Euros as the World Cup, since only 16 teams qualify for the Euro tournament, and two of them are the hosts, so there are 14 qualifying spots... the same number as Europe gets for the World Cup. And make no mistake, on general form from the last 5 years or so, Scotland has been about on par with the U.S. This beatdown is huge, both in terms of pure result and in terms of building morale amongst the team and the fans.
I'm happy to say that the crowd in attendance did our boys proud, too. I didn't expect to see such a vibrant tailgating atmosphere, but when we pulled into the parking lot at Everbank Field about 90 minutes prior to kickoff, the party had clearly gotten started long before we arrived. It wasn't Georgia/Florida, but what is? Here's a picture I snapped, and though it doesn't capture the true flavor of the moment, it does show that the USA fans showed up to support their team.
The Tartan Army showed up loud and proud, as well. You can see many of the Scotland flags in the stands here in this shot from just before the opening kick:
There were many high points in this game... the match was replete with them, in fact. These are the best of the highlights, in my opinion.
- Jacksonville juju! I wore one of my new Georgia shirts to the match, and I'm very pleased that the shirt now has some great positive juju on it. This is the shirt has the aroma of a classic beatdown of a solid team on it. I'll be wearing it again at the end of October in Everbank Field, just to see if the juju has crossover capability. :-)
- The crowd was awesome. There was lots of chanting and carrying on from fans of both sides. More importantly, however, there were over 44,000 fans (the largest crowd ever for a USMNT match in the southeast), and the vast majority of them were USA fans. It was a great change of pace from the general status quo, when USA fans are usually outnumbered, even in home matches.
- The USMNT didn't even have a full-strength squad for this match. Clint Dempsey, who is now arguably the best player for the team, was sidelined by a "minor" groin injury (though, as we all know, there are no minor groin injuries). Jozy Altdore was out as well, and Stuart Holden hasn't played a match of any kind in nearly a year. Hopefully Dempsey and Jozy will be back for Brazil on Wednesday, and that will create a truly intimidating front line.
- It looks like we finally have a solid rock at left back. The left side of the defense has been notoriously porous, with various players shuttling in and out at that position over the last 4 or 5 years. After Jürgen Klinsmann was hired as the USMNT manager, however, Fabian Johnson decided to take advantage of FIFA's new eligiblity rules and permanently switch sides to play for the U.S. instead of Germany, with whom he has dual citizenship. Johnson has performed exceptional work in his matches against Slovenia, Italy, and Scotland... and it looks like a traditional position of weakness for our team has now been filled. That can only be good for us going forward.
- The glorious return of Michael Bradley. The son of the former USMNT coach became only the third U.S. player to take the field for a Serie A squad in Italy this year, where by all accounts he performed admirably. Because of those commitments, however, he hasn't played for the USMNT in a while. Then, almost out of nowhere, he gave us this magnificent cracker in the 11th minute for the second goal of the game (Watch all of the angles. This is incredible.):
The only real dark mark on the evening was provided by the City of Jacksonville and Everbank Field, who seemed thoroughly unprepared to host a world-class soccer match. Oh, don't get me wrong, the crowd control was just as effective (and laissez-faire) as the Cocktail Party, but the concession stands were all out of water by halftime. And the stadium announcer appeared to have never actually looked at the roster before. I don't think he ever actually announced Oguchi Onyewu's name when he was subbed in, instead sputtering out something that sounded like, "On... Ah-oo-kee... On-yuh-wee."
And "O Flower of Scotland" was roundly belted out by a set of bagpipes, with the lyrics resoundingly trumpeted by the Tartan Army in attendance. The U.S. National Anthem, though... well, let's just say only Carl Lewis could have done worse.
In the grand scheme of things, however, these were minor issues. Our team scored a fantastic victory. Let's hope it continues on Wednesday!
The USMNT will be playing Brazil from Washington, DC, on Wednesday at 7:30 PM. Should we have an open comment thread for that game? Let us know yea or nay in the comments below!