Saturday, February 14, 2009

2/14/09: First Person Reaction: Road Trip To Columbus


A nice writeup from USA fan Allen Ramsey from Boston. (Pic via: Goal.com)

Goal.com’s Allen Ramsey recounts the action inside and outside Columbus Crew stadium during the U.S. vs. Mexico:
The words ‘road trip’ have always been associated with soccer for me. Growing up in rural Texas, I didn’t have many matches as a youth player that didn’t require at least a three hour drive.

As I got older, and my competitive days passed, the association continued. Rather than three hour drives to play, it was ten hour drives to watch matches, or flights to Germany and England to catch a game. In all, about 80% of my vacations over the last ten years have included a soccer match.

So, with that in mind, I hit the road again this week, but this one was special for me.

As I mentioned before, I grew up in Texas, a border state. The U.S.- Mexico rivalry holds a special place in my heart. Like the Red Sox fans in Boston, my new home town, that get tickets to see their beloved team take on the Yankees for the first time, or the Michigan fan who watches the Wolverines play Ohio State in one of their epic clashes, this one was special.

It started after work on Monday night with the first leg of my drive, a four hour trip down I-95 to New York City to pick up my traveling partners. For some reason I have yet to get a good grasp of, we decided we were best suited to do a red-eye drive straight through to Columbus.

I guess it worked. With no traffic on the roads, we made the drive in under nine hours, and were sitting around having breakfast in Columbus the next morning.

Most of Tuesday was spent recovering and catching up with some friends who were in town for the match. Since sleep the night before had not been part of my trip, I called it a night pretty early on, but sleep was evasive once again. I was just too excited for the match.

Wednesday rolled around. As I watched the morning news I began to worry that U.S. Soccer had made a mistake. The forecast was sketchy at best, and I wondered if the thunderstorms the weather man was calling for would hurt the match. Around three, just four hours before the game, the clouds rolled in, dropping the first hints of what was to come.

We left for the match early. I’m a firm believer that pre-game in the parking lot is almost as much fun as the match itself, and I wanted to see Sam’s Army and the fans of El Tri at their very best.

From the moment I exited the car I could hear the songs of both groups. The Mexican fans had loud horns and chants I couldn’t understand. The American fans were singing the normal array of songs and even adding in a few new tunes for their southern visitors. It made for a grand scene outside Crew Stadium.

And then it happened. The flood gates in the cloudy skies opened, and the few thousand fans standing around outside the scoreboard end of Crew Stadium were treated to a harsh sideways rain and some very cold winds. Most ducked behind cars, trying to find whatever cover they could. I heard more than one fan, Mexican and American alike, curse the powers that be for choosing 'sunny' Columbus.

The storm only lasted long enough to soak everything, including my clothes, and then relented a bit to allow the party to resume. But the wind stayed, and from that moment, until I returned to the car after the match, I was cold.

As I found my seat inside the stadium-- after a brief stop for snacks and a beverage of course-- I began to realize how strong the fans of El Tri are. Yet by the time the stadium filled to capacity, the green-clad faithful were clearly outnumbered, and out-cheered, but I'll give credit where credit is due. The Mexican fans showed up early, and cheered valiantly for their team. Much respect to those guys.

I had the usual conversations with the fans around me and learned that I was far from the only person to have driven a great distance to be at this match. I was surrounded by people from Chicago, Charlotte, Blacksburg, and New York, making me wonder how far others in the stadium had come, and feel a bit less foolish about my drive.

As the teams closed their pre-game routines, the heavens opened up one more time, leaving any fans that missed the earlier rain a bit damp. However, the spirits of the crowd seemed to stay high as the players trotted off the field, and just a few minutes later, the game was underway.

I’ll assume that most people who are reading this know the details of the U.S.’s 2-0 win so I will spare you more. However, it is worth a mention that through all of the wind, the cold, and the rain, Crew stadium stayed packed and loud all night.

The atmosphere at the match was a close to an EPL stadium as I’ve seen in America, with the close quarters, screaming fans, and generally knowledgeable crowd.

I was equally impressed with the sportsmanship shown by both sets of fans as the game let out. I cannot speak on what happened between the teams on the way to the locker rooms, but the fans, at least on my side of the stadium, conducted themselves with class.

The celebration lasted well into the night. I ran into a few of the players in the hotel lobby before going out. Needless to say, they were all delighted with the win.

As is often the case with these road trips, the drive home starts way too early in the morning. After a night on the town with scores of American fans celebrating, we left the hotel around eight in the morning.

The trip back met with only one problem. That problem came in the form of New York City traffic. After dropping off my riding partners, I got stuck in the rush for a few hours, not exactly ideal in the middle of a long day that followed a long night.

After 17 hours on the road I made it back to my home in Boston, my appetite whetted for more live matches.

Maybe I’ll get lucky in a couple of months and get to write another one of these after a trip to Nashville, but I think I’d have to fly for that one.

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