Note: In case you missed it, here’s Part 1
3:40PM: After having wandered around the stadium for a little bit, I have finally found my way into the press box. Having spent most of my soccer watching life going to RFK Stadium (home of the raccoons, feral cats, and D.C. United,) it was nice being in a stadium that had functional toilets, clean seats, and pleasant ushers. Also it is reassuring to know that when the fans are going crazy that the stadium will not crumble.
As I was walking through the stadium, I noticed just how many Honduran and El Salvadorean fans were there. Being on the inside of the stadium and looking at all of the fans coming in through the gates, at least 85 percent of the fans are wearing a blue jersey (either El Salvador or Honduras,) and the rest are smattering of U.S., Costa Rica, and non-affiliated jerseys. Although I love seeing people supporting their favorite team, wear a jersey for one of the teams that are playing!
The other thing that struck me while going through the stadium was how loud the music was in the background. Although I hate piped-in music during sporting events (it kills the crowd and supports Queen,) hearing Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like I Do” over the loud speakers was stirring. It gave me goosebumps, and pumped me up for the match. I could see why Baltimore Ravens fans get so excited for their game before kickoff. The in-game experience at M&T is electric.
The press box itself is interesting because there is always something going. Different writers are mingling with one another, talking about the game, talking about other games, and just having general small talk.
At first I did not know where to sit so I kind of wandered around. Having an awful four o’clock shadow, sun burnt, and having sweat a ton I am sure I was probably the most haggard looking journalist. But luckily, I did receive some assistance in finding my seat. Front row, next to writers from ESPN Deportes and the Bundesliga. More on this later.
While I expected just a chair and some pens, I was surprised to see my name on a placard with the Global Football Today logo. Just that alone would have made my day. But I also received a composition book emblazoned with the Gold Cup logo and statistic sheets for the game. Even at my day job I do not have my name with my title and that pays much more than my soccer work. Having just started writing 7 months ago, it was pretty cool to see how far everything has come.
I gave my parents a call and told them that I was sitting in the press box and that I had received a Gold Cup book. I am not sure what made them more excited: the fact that I was sitting in the Press Box of a major international tournament or that I would be in an air-conditioned building. I think the latter.
3:58PM: There is nothing better than hearing the National Anthem. On both sides, you could hear the fans singing their national team’s respective songs. What was interesting was seeing some of the fans of the other team’s singing along to the American national anthem. One of the things that I have always noticed when talking to immigrants is that they do still have high regard for where they were born, they love living in and being American. They just happen to root for a different team.
I always enjoy being in Baltimore and hearing the fans emphasize the “O” during the third stanza. As someone who has been to many Orioles games, it comes as second nature to this Marylander when singing the National Anthem.
4:00: Game On!
4:09: El Salvador has definitely come out of the gate with more energy. You can tell that they want to score quick and gain the advantage on the United States. The crowd is completely behind the Salvadoreans, cheering them on at every possession and booing the bejesus out of every American play. If the United States can weather the first few minutes then they should be fine. Experienced squads take their time, assess their opponent, and go forward. So far, mostly the U.S. is trying to set up their game plan in the midfield.
4:14 The U.S. is giving El Salvador fits on the left and ride sides of the pitch. In the midfield, Mixx Diskerud looks incredibly comfortable as the facilitator in the midfielder. The U.S. is running a very simple square strategy in the midfield, where three players are moving the ball North and South of the field, slowly gaining advantage in position pass-by-pass. It is a basic program that every Parks and Recreation league team runs, but it is a highly effective tool.
4:16: The Salvadorean fans are very angry that a handball that was not called on by Michael Parkhurst. It did not look intentional, but the fans are very pissed about it. From my vantage point, it looked like a good call. But El Salvador is pressing the United States. Their finishing is kind of suspect though.
4:18: A crazy scissor kick stop by El Salvador. The U.S. has had many more opportunities than El Salvador, but El Salvador has shown themselves to have some attacking ability. More and more, the U.S. is imposing their will on El Salvador and I would bet that it is only time before they score a goal.
4:26: Goal USA! Michael Parkhurst finishes off a corner kick with a splendid header to the right corner. Landon Donovan looked to be offside, but got the benefit of the call. This was Parkhurst’s second goal of the Gold Cup.
4:31: A fantastic chest trap from El Salvador leads to an amazing shot and two excellent saves from Nick Rimando. Not to toot my own horn, but if you want to learn more about Mr. Rimando check out my article on his club Real Salt Lake. He is one of the best Goalkeepers in Major League Soccer history and one of the more undervalued keepers in U.S. Soccer today.
4:34: Goal U.S.A.! Joe Corona scores a fantastic goal, with a crisp assist from Landon Donovan. Having had the opportunity to watch Joe Corona play for Tijuana in Liga MX, he seems to be growing with every appearance and will be a fixture in the U.S. National Team for years.
One of the really interesting things while sitting in the press box is the response to journalists after a big event like a goal or foul. While I expected everyone to be silent and judging each individual aspect of the play, people were getting excited and clapping. I am not sure if it is a partisan thing because you hear as much cheering from the Latin American press members as you do from the American press corps. There is also a lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking. Press members are calling out plays. I am doing what I always do when reviewing tape for a match. I have yelled out “trap” (which means hold possession,) and “box” (which means passing it back) at least five times.
There is also some good back and forth between the different journalists. As a newcomer, I am still kind of awestruck by the situation. My first thought is to just focus on the match. My second thought is to do some networking. Perhaps it was the heat, but I am kind of at a loss for words. I have been on the go for a few hours and now that I am here, I just want to make sure that I am focusing on the match and getting as many details as possible.
4:37: What is killing El Salvador is their inability to cope with the United States midfield. The U.S. is running north and south in the midfield, with four players using a very simple scheme that requires three players passing to one another in a box shape. The box is created by the one player who is not involved in the pass and receiving connection moving to an open spot of equal distance from the other two. Gains from this style are small, but over the game they are significant. El Salvador has severe disadvantages in speed and physical strength. If the U.S.A can build off of these possessions, then this game may be over quickly.
My fellow journalists from Germany are not really sure why the Americans are doing this. I explain to them that this is something that all American players are taught at a very young level. The intention of the play is to wear down the defense by forcing them to run the length of the pitch. It feels kind of cool to explain to someone the American style. I sometimes feel like people from assume that the American style is just a simple rehash of English, German, Italian, Mexican, and Argentinian styles of play. Sometimes the world powers can be wrong.
4:42: El Salvador Goalkeeper Portillo Gamero makes an absolutely tremendous save, keeping this game within striking distance. The goalkeeping in this game and in this tournament has been tremendous. I hope that some of these keepers are getting some looks in the transfer market.
4:44: A very poor elbow in the box by Michael Parkhurst leads to a penalty and a goal for Rodolfo Zelaya and El Salvador. There is no excuse for the United States on this goal. It was completely irrational and could have been avoided.
The roar after the goal in the stands is unlike anything I have ever heard. There is so much excitement in the crowd right now. You see friends and family members giving each other high fives, grown men crying, beers being cheered. There is some dread on the faces of the American players. It seems like this was unexpected. Part of the problem of bringing in a “C” side is that they are not used to playing in games like this. But this is part of the maturation process for this group of players. To win in soccer, you must be able to win in difficult circumstances.
4:47: Halftime! So far the man of the match is the Goalkeeper Portillo for El Salvador he has made some amazing saves and has kept this game from being a rout. The United States is definitely in control of this game. However, El Salvador has shown enough to keep themselves in this match.
As I head back to my seat from having a serviceable CONCACAF-provided meal, I run into the President of CONCACAF Jeffery Webb. I try to avoid asking him about the massive corruption in FIFA and instead just say hello. He has some very large, intimidating security people and I do not feel like going to Baltimore jail.
While sitting at my desk waiting for the game to begin, I see that D.C. United runs a short promotional video on the big screen at the stadium. Considering that Baltimore has been wooing D.C. United for years, I find this funny that they take this opportunity; to get Baltimoreans to go to their games. What other teams would show highlights to a city that is looking for a franchise and is only 40 miles away. To steal line from Bill Simmons, Ladies and Gentleman Your 2013 D.C. United!
5:12: The match has just begun and El Salvador is pressing the U.S. They did this in the first half as well, but it seems like they are just missing that last bit of creativity to create consistent scoring chances. As the game is going on, the U.S. midfield is building off of their dominant midfield, slowly choking out El Salvadorean possession’s in the center of the field.
I have always been impressed with the chemistry between DeMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan. I explain to one of the Spanish press members from ESPN Deportes that these guys have been playing with one another since they were teenagers and that they are able to read what one another wants to do. One of the local reporters hears me and says, “Yeah! They are like Trent Dilfer and Qadry Ismail [former players of the Baltimore Ravens.]” I am not sure if this is supposed to be a compliment; both players were pretty terrible outside of the 2000 season where they won the Super Bowl.
5:34: I start talking more directly with the gentleman from ESPN Deportes about player motivation and scoring chances. When one of the players for El Salvador breaks through the midfield and is on a 3-2 with the U.S., he opts for a shot that is kind of off-balance. When I mention that he should have passed the ball to the right my colleague to the right of me says that there is no way that he should have done this. “You don’t understand. He made that opportunity, he has to take that shot. If he passes the ball, he will be seen as a weak player in his teammates eyes,” the reporter says to me. This blew my mind. I had always assumed that players did have an ego, but I thought that this would be overcome by the ultimate goal of scoring a goal. I had never really thought that a simple shot would be such an issue between teammates. Especially in a game against a team that is much more experienced.
5:49: After two additional goals by Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson, this game is very clearly done. The United States has taken over all aspects of this game, and the Salvadoreans have resorted to hacking and fouling.
While the game is getting quite ugly, the stands are getting much worse. Most of the Honduran fans are starting to toss beer and trash at the Salvadoreans. Also, the Salvadoreans are beginning to get upset. In the past ten minutes, I have seen five fights and at least 6-7 beers being tossed from the top of the stands. While the American Outlaws seem to be more than prepared for whatever the stands might bring, the casual American fans seem a little scared. There is an older couple in front of me who are very clearly unaligned who are frightened by the fighting and the drinking. Throughout the match they have been constantly defending their seats from people who are trying to move in their area.
My friends ESPN Deportes tell me that the United States do not know how good of a player Brek Shea really is. They say that he is a really nice guy, and that he just needs to get the right opportunity. They wanted to more about the relationship between Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley and the U.S. Midfield strategy. While I had been listening all throughout the match to these guys telling me what they know, it was kind of cool to provide some insight. I felt like a reporter.
5:59: After the United States beats El Salvador 5-1,most of the reporters start heading down to the Press Conference room to hear both coaches speak. I need a cup of coffee and some time to snag all of my Gold Cup stuff.
Overall, I found the other journalists to be very friendly, kind, engaging people. They helped me point out where I needed to go and were open to discussion about anything going on in professional soccer. I learned more about the psyche of footballers than I thought I would ever know.
6:05: Downstairs in the Press Room, I am sitting next some of the best soccer journalists in the country. I am sitting next to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, The Washington Post Steve Goff, and Soccer By Ives writer Ives Galarcep. There is something about sitting in a room with some of the best writers in the game that makes me very nervous. Not going to lie, I never thought I would be here 7 months ago.
The manager of El Salvador comes out first. Most of the questions come from the Spanish media and so I am trying to follow what they are saying as much as possible. The Salvadorean manager seems to be very humbled by the outpouring of respect by the fans in this game. He seemed to be very hopeful about his team’s future.
6:15: As I am waiting for Jurgen Klinsmann to come in, FIFA Executive Sunil Gulati walks by me with his son. I thought it was funny that his son is wearing a jersey with the last name “Gulati” on it. I guess since his dad runs the entire operation he cannot be partial to any one player. Though judging by the way he favored his left side as he pushed through people, I am willing to bet that he is a Clint Dempsey fan.
I have never seen a room stop like it did when Mr. Gulati entered the room. Cameras stopped, people turned off of their phones, and jovial conversations between colleagues ceased.
6:16: Klinsmann enters the room and immediately everyone focuses their attention at the podium.
He spoke quite eloquently about the team’s performance, and stressed that this is only a step in the larger goal of qualifying for the World Cup. He spent some considerable time praising the work of DIskerud, Corona, and Rimando.
I did try and ask a question. Most of the time it seems just trying to get the attention of the press official. My mind was racing as I was raising my hand. I had a few questions to ask, but in this moment they seemed to have been lost to me. I resolved to ask a question about the crowd, and how he thought this players would react going into the match to a difficult environment and what his final assessment was. Unfortunately, I did not get chosen. It seems to me that the most senior members of the media get the first questions in, and if there is any time the rest of the bullpen will get their shot.
6:30: As I walk out of the press room, I notice a large contingent of the press corps surrounding one player. It is Landon Donovan. Although I need to head out soon, I don’t think I could live with myself if I do not go over there and at least listen in. He is a very quiet person, who seems unfazed by all of the bright lights and questions. It is pretty amazing to be around this guy. Though we are only about 4 years apart, I have a great deal of admiration for his character and for what he has done as a member of the U.S. National Team. It cannot be understated the influence he has on the American game.
6:45 At this point, I have to head back to the Greyhound station so that I can get home at a decent hour. Given that soccer journalism does not pay, and I do have a day job I have to make sure I get some sleep and collect my thoughts. As I am walking back to the station, my parents call me and ask how everything is going. I explain to them everything that has gone on and they seem generally stunned. We have a laugh about the uneasy American fans, but I cut them off because the Greyhound station is confusing and I want to make sure that I get on the right bus and not Grand Rapids, MI.
When I started writing about the beautiful game 7 months, I never thought I would have one person read my work. So the thought of being in a press box with people that I consider to be some of the best writers in the game was amazing. To be considered an equal in conversation with them is truly humbling. This was a heck of en experience and hopefully I can do it again soon.