All World Cup qualifiers are important, but the games against Mexico have an extra significance. The USA takes on Mexico tonight at 9:30 on ESPN, and to get us fired up for the match, let's go back to last week.
ESPN 1500 reporter/producer/host, and all-around local media celebrity, Dana Wessel was in Denver last Friday night for the World Cup qualifier between the USA and Costa Rica. We asked him to tell us all about the trip. Dana?
Well, my boxers are finally dry and my hands are thawed out enough to type, so I guess I will start the recap of my trip to see the US beat Costa Rica in what will forever be known as the Blizzard Match (or Snowclasico if you insist on making everything about US soccer a play off of European traditions.)
For those of you who somehow stumbled upon a soccer blog but didn't see what happened last Friday night at Dick Sporting Goods Park, here is a quick recap before I get to the finer points of an experience I'll truly never forget. The second of a 10 World Cup Qualifiers for the US was played in a blizzard, completely covering the field and making life miserable for the players (but awesome for the fans). The US prevailed 1-0 and the Costa Ricans are now protesting the match with FIFA.
Now, back to the beginning. I made the trip with about 10 of my good friends, some of which were diehard soccer fans and a few who could count the number of soccer games they've watched on TV on a single hand. I love bringing new friends to US matches because it is always gets them hooked, and this match is one that will live in US Soccer folklore for years to come. The brave 19,374 that braved the conditions and risked hypothermia all have stories that will be told and retold at tailgates and viewing parties for years to come. "You were THERE?"
Denver was an incredible host city and their local American Outlaws chapter put together a weekend that all other host cities this year (Seattle, Salt Lake, Columbus and Kansas City) will be measured against. From helping with transportation from the airport, setting up shuttles to take fans from the bar to the field, having a pig roast and enough kegs to kill an elephant, they were fantastic hosts.
The always-epic American Outlaws night before party was a blast. US legends Cobi Jones (shorter than I expected) and Kasey Keller (cooler than I expected) both hung out and drank beers with the fans inside the packed bar. Keller was an incredible dude. He and I shared a beer together and he fielded all my fanboy questions with genuine sincerity and appreciation.
The forecast for the day of the match called for a chance of snow by the end of the match, so needless to say we were vastly unprepared for what was about to hit us. My friends and I are were on the first shuttle to the match, which seemed like a great idea at the time. Tailgating is the one of the greatest things on earth and the Outlaws do it right. But the bottom fell out on the temperature and my jersey/track jacket combination wasn't cutting it. My buddy Chris in just a tshirt and a bowtie was even worse.
I'll be honest, the hours leading up to the match were miserable. But by the time we got into the stadium and got out of the wind, we warmed up a bit and began realizing how cool this whole thing was. We had to get creative stay warm. Some bought jackets, some used hot dogs as hand warmers. But we all used the tried and true technique of bringing a hip flask into the game (sorry mom). By the time the match started, my jeans and boxers were soaked from the wet snow pounding down. I was half tempted to stick hot dogs down my pants to warm up but I wasn't sure if that would have gotten me arrested or not. It wasn't Nam. It was Denver. There were rules.
Our seats were in the second row directly behind the goal that US goalie Brad Guzan defended in the first half. We sat with the other 2,000+ American Outlaws that traveled from 42 different states to sing, chant, pass flasks and root the Yanks to victory -- snow be damned. By the end we were all hugging strangers and playfully tossing snowballs in the air.
Clint Dempsey scored, Jermaine Jones rocked a snowfro and the US won, vaulting themselves to second place in CONCACAF qualifying with the match at Mexico looming tonight. Once the final whistle blew, the players all came down in front of our section to applaud us for our support -- a classy move by the always classy US players. They also all signed a shovel to give to the grounds crew that worked harder than anybody keeping the show off the lines and kept the match going.
A blizzard, 3 points and momentum heading into Mexico tonight. Just another epic chapter in the book of US World Cup Qualifying. It was an amazing trip and there are plenty more stories that I'll save to tell over beers rather than sullying this family friendly forum.
I always get a chuckle when people tell me they love the World Cup every four years but say they don't typically watch qualifying. In my opinion, they are missing the best part. Much like anything in life, sports is about the journey. The World Cup is a spectacle and the greatest sporting event on earth, but it comes and goes so quickly it is hard to savor. Whether it is the US beating Jamaica 2-1 in a must-win match at Foxboro less than a month after September 11th, the 'Dos a Cero' wins against Mexico in Columbus or the Charlie Davies game, the two year process to qualify for the World Cup is always memorable and makes that monthlong worldwide spectacle every four years that much more enjoyable when you've been along for the ride.
We all gather to watch the road matches at Sweetwater Bar and Grill in St Paul so come on by tonight to root on the Yanks against the hated Mexico. I'll be attending at least two (Columbus in September and Kansas City in October) other home qualifiers and would be happy to help people who have questions about getting to a match -- get at me on Twitter (@DanaWessel) or email me (DanaJWessel@gmail.com).
Two matches down. The Yanks are in second. Eight to go. We have already had a blizzard. Can't wait to see what is next in the road to Brazil in 2014. Hope you join the fun.