Tuesday, February 12, 2008

View from the upper deck, 10 PM Wednesday

While Jenny and Gavin were ?enjoying? a snow day last week, I was down in Houston with my brother Chris, taking in the Mexico - US match-up. Easily the loudest sporting event I have ever been at, including Badger games at the Field House back in the pre-Kohl Center days. More than 70k packed into Reliant Stadium, with Mexico fans making up at least 80-85% of that number. Now, I've seen the US play in Chicago before against England, but that was a true friendly. While this game was for pride only, it definitely felt like the result mattered, from the way the players played, to the way the fans were going crazy. Getting down there was an adventure of course with the blizzard going on. Luckily I had booked a flight from Madison direct to Dallas, which was one of about four flights to actually leave on Wednesday morning. I then sprinted through the Dallas airport to catch the connecting flight to Houston. Met up with Chris, dropped our stuff at his college buddies apartment and grabbed a late lunch, and chilled out for a couple of hours before heading for the Metro and the ride to the Stadium.

We took our seats about an hour before kick-off (not in the upper deck, about 14 rows up near the edge of the 18 yard box) and even with the stadium only about a quarter full the volume was already jacked up quite a bit. Landon, the player the Mexico fans love to hate received the loudest reaction from the crowd at his introduction, cheers from the US, jeers from the Mexico contingent. I was definitely charged up for the game at this point!

Mexico came out fired up and really did a good job of closing down the US everywhere on the field really limiting our possession for the first 20-25 minutes. They had the majority of the ball and created a couple of half chances that Howard was able to easily handle. We finally came into the game a little bit through Dempsey's hold up play and Donovan finally getting into some space. Onyewu's goal came against the run of play and they equalized quickly on a free kick. The rest of the half though showed some of the better play by the US as we kept the ball a bit and were dangerous on attack, leading to 18 year old Jozy Altidore's (#9) first goal in a US shirt and a 2-1 half time lead. I think Bradley has been smart about not putting too much pressure and expectation on the kid up to this point, but goals like this in big games will make it hard for the boss to bring him along slowly.

The second half started much like the first with the US playing much flatter than Mexico and they made us pay right away with a goal from a corner (um, Drew Moor, this may be your last chance for a while unless you learn to follow your man just a touch better). Once the substitutes started flowing the chances dryed up for both teams, though the US got some more consistent possession once Benny Feilhaber came into the midfield. Overall Mexico deserved at least the 2-2 result, if not better. Hopefully the US can take this and grow, improve, and get more consistency as they head into qualifying in June.

Overall, this was an awesome experience, well worth the expense and the travel, though I don't think I'd be able to manage it more than once a year or so. I'm already strategizing a WC qualifying trip though!

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