Monday, June 08, 2009
It's not often that Chicago hosts a truly meaningful Men's National Team game. In fact it probably hasn't happened in the last 20 years. We see the nationals now and then- in the Gold Cup, playing exhibitions, and last fall we even saw the boys destroy Trinidad and Tobago in a meaningless qualifier after both teams had punched their tickets to the Hexagonal. Saturday's clash between USA and Honduras was the first time that we've seen points contested which actually had importance. In some ways this is a bit surprising as US Soccer is headquartered about 6 blocks from Soldier Field but Chicago's large Latino population makes guaranteeing a strong home crowd less than certain. Scheduling this match in Chicago represented a bit of a gamble for the national team. Honduran support flocked in from around the country- my in-laws happened to stay at the same hotel as the Honduran team and the reported a zoo scene the night before (as the team calmly drank beer in the hotel bar) and the day of the match saw gridlock around the hotel, with hundreds of fans outside waving flags and blowing air horns in the street as players waved from the windows up above.
The joke was on many of those fans, who came expecting balmy Chicago summertime weather and were met with humid low 50's temperatures and drizzle. The Honduran flag may supply moral fortitude but it's a dismal failure as a blanket. As this game had some significance and I had a lot of relatives in town logic determined that a righteous tailgate party was in order. We packed a couple of vehicles to the gills with people, chairs, coolers and food and proceeded to Soldier Field well in advance of game time. Getting to parking proved to be arduous- all of the lots surrounding the stadium were full 2.5 hours in advance and the parking attendants kept waving us further north. After 45 minutes of waiting in various lines, we were justly rewarded- we found our spot in the parking lot of the former Meigs Field, which Richard Daley hijacked after 9/11 in order to award it to some relative in a shitty real estate deal which will probably happen in a few years. For those who aren't familiar with Chicago geography, the airfield was located on an island in Lake Michigan just south of downtown. Between the island and the shore is Burnham Harbor, home to Chicago's most exclusive yacht club. We unpacked the tailgate down at the edge of the harbor and as I started the grill various party members got to work harassing the yacht club launch to get a ride across the harbor to Soldier Field. The tailgate was a roaring success- we ate Bari sausage, grilled vegetables, white bean and asparagus salad, various dips and finally strawberry/rhubarb crisp. At about 6:50pm we packed it up and made the 20 minute walk around the harbor to Soldier Field.
The stadium was packed, with an announced attendance of over 55,000 people. The crowd was majority Honduran though the split was close, and Honduran fans were making themselves known- lots of flags, jerseys, chants and blue and white wigs. The mood was largely non-confrontational and festive, though as usual most of the friction came from USA fans. Our seats were outstanding- 8th row in the corner. As such we had a remarkable view as Clint Dempsey got cute on the ball and coughed it up in his own half to set up Carlos Costly's outstanding first goal. SSN adjunct Ivar Johnson sat in the main Honduran fan section thanks to a ticket scalping mishap and reported that the Honduran fans celebrated the goal by throwing beers on him and threatening to kick his ass. The Donovan penalty goal was not well received (Ivar again reported beer throwing and threats) but the mood stabilized at the half. We had an outstanding view of Carlos Bocanegra's go-ahead goal, and as we were sitting just above the tunnel we also saw a pleased looking and mostly shirtless US team leave the field after the match ended. A further treat was the presence of Chicago's preeminent Beer Man, Lee Cook, at the game. He continued his outstanding 1:2 comp to paid beer ratio, something a suds loving fan can only appreciate.
There are many more thorough reports on this game to be read on the web, so I won't waste anyone's time with a blow-by-blow report, I'll just offer some observations:
- The US team looked lost in Bob Bradley's 4-3-3 formation at the beginning of the match and Honduras largely controlled the middle of the field for the first 20 minutes. Ricardo Clark and Pablo Mastroeni didn't convince as a pairing, with Pablo looking too slow for the pace and Clark looking nervous in possession and with his distribution. Someone needs to tell him that he's not Andres Iniesta and that a midfielder's role in 4-3-3 is to get rid of the ball is quickly as possible rather than putting his head down and running toward goal.
- Conor Casey looked serviceable on the front line but is useless in a wide position. Too many times we saw Altidore in the middle and Casey out wide trying to turn his marker and deliver a cross. It never worked. However Landon as the wide left forward was considerably more effective.
- Dempsey doesn't work as a midfielder in 4-3-3. He was responsible for the first goal and doesn't have the right mentality to play that deep. If Bob is going to persist in playing 4-3-3 he should use Landon and Dempsey as his wide forwards, where they can run at attackers and get crosses in while limiting damage from possession errors.
- Spector and Bornstein looked OK at RB and LB. Bornstein is not the answer but I'd like to see Spector take a run at Cherundolo and Heydude at RB.
- USA fans have turned on DaMarcus Beasley. They booed him when he came into the match and didn't give him any support when he was on the ball. Idiots. Bob Bradley plays him out of position for one match and all of a sudden you've forgotten how good he'd been for USA, and how effective he can be when used correctly? That crap drives me nuts.
- What the hell was Bob doing with the formation at the end? He moved Bornstein up to striker and played Beasley at left back for the last 15 minutes. I suppose he wanted Bornstein to kill time and defend from the front but all he did was give the ball away. There's a fine line between playing it cautious to preserve a win and making dumb decisions. We were lucky it didn't cost us.
- After the USA went up 2-1 Honduran fans and the team seemed to give up on the match. There wasn't a lot of threat going forward. The only life seemed to come from the Honduran fans in the upper deck who weren't afraid to express displeasure by throwing full beers on to the fans in the lower deck.
- Watching Timmy Howard for a half up close was a revelation. He's as good as anyone I've watched at commanding his box and telling his defenders what to do. A vocal leader if ever there was one. He played an outstanding match and was not at fault for the Honduran goal.
- Seeing Bocanegra captain Bob Bradley's USA team at Soldier Field brought out a lot of Chicago Fire pride for me. Great to see my guys making good at the highest level.
The exit from Soldier Field was largely orderly and peaceful. There's simply no sight like a chubby half drunk fan with a painted face and a colored afro wig looking sad on the way back to their car. The sheer comedy is hard to describe in words. We had a nice post game tailgate while enjoying the lights of Soldier Field as well as the Navy Pier fireworks display and some more rhubarb crisp before batting Lake Shore Drive traffic on the way home. We got there only to find out that Mexico had lost on the road in El Salvador. All-in-all, a perfect qualifying day.
Posted by Bobbie BS at 10:58 AM