...We set out for the stadium thinking we could walk right back towards the train station, and up to the gates... We were mistaken. We found that our section was actually on the opposite, elevated side. Now perhaps this is something I am overly sensitive to, but without car or bike, all roads seem to lead uphill. We climbed; someone would begin a chant which started strong, and ended mercifully. We made it into the stadium to find that it was much smaller than we had anticipated it to be. With this fact in mind, it is difficult to find a bad seat in a stadium like this. Ours were great; not to close, not to far away. The crowd was in great spirits as the teams warmed up. The US team was preparing on the opposite side of the field, and as a result the Italian squad was being engaged in full-on psychological warfare.
The pre-game ceremony began and the nervousness set in. We must get a result out of this game tonight, and everyone knew it. The Italian fans seemed aloof to the scene. Were they looking past us? Such a mistake would definitely be to our benefit.
The Star Spangled Banner began! I still get goose bumps, even as I write these words I feel the tingle. We sang our song. The tops of our lungs poured out the words. We showed the world the pride that we have in our country, we represent our team, and the players know by the volume that we sing, we are behind them.
It is difficult to know just how your sections sounds when in the middle of it. But on the occasions I quit cheering to listen, I was very impressed. The Italian contingent just sat there seemingly disinterested. Whats the point?
Kick-off, we erupt! "If this is the rate we are going to go boys, my voice is going to be gone by half-time!" 20 some minutes into the game and Italy is on the board. The sleeping blue sections have awoken, but only to be beaten back into there seats by our chants; the drum beats and clapping in unison~~US! The feelings of desperation in the US sections are so strong that the tension hangs like a cloud, thick in the air. This Cup is not going as planned. We were embarrassed by the Czechs, and now Italy has us by a goal.
A few minutes later and we win the corner that turns into an own goal, and the equalizer. Now I am not sure that anyone really expected the US fans to be as loud as we were, but when that ball crossed the line and the ref pointed to the circle, 2/3 of that stadium burst at the seams. We looked like we had just opened the front door to see Publishers Clearinghouse. The kind of excitement that makes people look like complete spastics. "Ooooooo, did that really just happen???!!! Oooooo slap hands, slap hands!!" We'd waited nearly a game and a half to see our team do what we knew they were capable of, compete! We were back in; our guys were making a fight out of it!
Now it is this moment; pure joy, excitement on a level nearly impossible to duplicate, that makes this sport so universally loved. Every chance, every shot, builds the tension. It escalates to a point that saturates your senses. When the ball hits the net in favor of your team, at the World Cup, the resulting release is euphoric, absolutely unbelievable!
McBride goes up for a header~ elbow~ red card Italy, and again our hopes were lifted higher. (The problem with elevated hopes, they have farther to fall.) What makes me nervous is that this referee has been all over the place with his calls. Has he never seen the Italian 10m platform routine before?! I understand "the dive", because it does have very real, strategic purposes at certain places on the field, but this is just sad! They seem to be falling at every challenge, and the ref is rewarding them for it! It goes on. Granted, we don't have the luxury of instant replay, as stadiums have taken the route of showing nothing "controversial". Our seats are fantastic in terms of watching things develop, but not in determining contact during challenges. But from where we are, this is looking bad. At this point I am in emotional turmoil. If we could just capitalize on the man advantage we might win this game! Though we would have to do so very delicately because it seems this ref is capable of anything... and the sides are even, Pablo's out! This roller coaster is making me sick, and the conductor has fallen into a cocktail induced coma! I JUST NEED SOME ORDER!!
Could this all be real? We search the faces of one another for insight, explanation; could we all be so mistaken, or is this ref crew doing so poor a job? We regroup, reevaluate, and determine that regardless of officiating we will be the fuel of our teams fire. The second half begins, and minutes later Pope receives his 2nd yellow, Eddie's out! Astonishment! I was speechless!I stood motionless with my hands on my head. I was not alone.
I have tried to figure out what was going through that referee's mind when he brought his hand to his pocket for that card. The foul was arguably a foul, but a yellow? A 2nd Yellow?? To make the entire second half a shadow of the game it COULD be, in a group that could be decided by a point, perhaps a goal? It is no wonder to me that he wasn't allowed to officiate the '02 WC; his "irregularities" have far reaching effects.
So now we have 8 and "The Keller". The guys still seem to find it in them to form attacks and we become rabid as they march forward. On the far end Beasley shoots, we see the net bulge and the stands went off like nothing I have ever seen before. We jumped and screamed, I lost my hat, and I hugged the stranger beside me. Then.... I saw the flag up. Offside! By this time we had grown to hate this ref crew so passionately that they could do no right. The frustration had built up call after call. The Italians were stalling; content, it seemed, with a tie. Faking injuries without being penalized. When I saw that our chance at victory had been taken away I unleashed the fury that had been boiling up inside of me.... and I think I broke something. My head began to ache. I felt helpless, hopeless. I write this nearly a week after the final whistle; I have not yet seen the game on film, but I know that I am not alone in thinking that a travesty was committed that day! I am however proud to have been there. We showed as fans, and as a team; outnumbered and outgunned that the passion this beautiful game is known for is no longer reserved for futbol's "Old Guard."
We are here, and we will not go away!