BOSTON -- I was representing the Red, White and Blue on Friday night at the Paradise on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston with my vintage 1996 U.S. Olympic Team No. 12 shirt. I went to see Buffalo Tom, a great Boston rock band for sure, but one more closely associated with the local baseball team than with soccer. Read: a lot of ballcaps in the audience; not too many USA shirts, and this the night before arguably the biggest soccer game for this country, ever.
As I waded through the crowd in the half-dark before Buff Tom’s set, some wiseacre Englishman quipped, “So there are soccer fans in this country.”
Not wishing to set off a soccer riot at a rock club, I just told him, “You just wait and see tomorrow, brother.”
Well, if my fine-feathered English friend managed to make it to the House of Blues for the U.S. vs. England match, he would have witnessed a scene that would make any soccer nation proud and put to rest any further snark on his part. As would the 1-1 result.
There were U.S. soccer fans aplenty (the place looked packed to the gills) and a palpable energy in the building from the pregame buildup through the final whistle. There was even an edge of potential good-natured mayhem on Landsdowne Street as USA jersey-wearing fans intermingled with the late-afternoon-arriving Red Sox crowd. It all felt big-time, festive and a little wild, befitting a World Cup clash of this magnitude.
Certainly, the U.S. team rose to the occasion. No doubt, goalkeeper Tim Howard was too busy for comfort in the second half and was the Americans’ clear Man of the Match. But the Yanks were not in over their heads in this game. Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan and U.S. goal-scorer Clint Dempsey had strong games. Ricardo Clark, and to a lesser extent Michael Bradley, were at times overrun by England’s world-class midfield, but to be fair they stood up well over 90 minutes and Clark learned quickly from his snooze on the fourth-minute goal by England.
Yes, English goalkeeper Robert Green made a blunder for the ages in gifting Dempsey’s 40th-minute goal, but you can’t say it came against the run of play.
And while the final 20 minutes saw the Three Lions dominate possession and wave after wave of England attacking buildups (especially down their right ride, where Aaron Lennon, Glen Johnson and sometimes England goal-scorer Steven Gerrard all looked dangerous), the U.S. also could have gone up 2-1 in the 65th minute after Donovan released Jozy Altidore for a powerful dribble run into the box that ended with Green just saving the U.S. striker’s low effort off the near post.
MLS represented itself well too. Eight of the 11 American starters play or played in the U.S. domestic top flight. And it’s true that Real Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley appeared to lack the technique and confidence to make an impact in a match at the international level. But overall, if there were no names on jerseys, there wasn’t that much separating the products of famed youth systems such as West Ham, Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea from former New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes (and U.S. college) players.
Overall, a good day for U.S. soccer that very much keeps alive the Americans’ hopes of advancing from group play. And good times for sure at the House of Blues.
• It’s a justifiable source of pride to New England soccer fans to witness ex-Revolution man Clint Dempsey’s emergence as a world star and leader on the U.S. National Team. So, too, should local fans kvell when hearing the dulcet tones of former Revs announcer and Boston-area radio jock Adrian Healey call big games for ESPN from South Africa all month long. ESPN/ABC broadcasters Alexi Lalas, John Harks and Derek Rae all have histories with the Revolution and JP Dellacamera and Robbie Mustoe are New England residents too. Those good men are certainly sources of regional soccer pride as well. But Dempsey and Healey both come out of the Revs’ run of success in the last decade and it feels like they’re our guys on the ground over there.
• There are no lions living in England (outside of zoos), at least that I know of. There are, meanwhile, mountain lions all over the U.S., but we don’t put pictures of them on our soccer federation logo like the English do. I’m partial to the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake for occasions such as these anyway.
• I don’t love that the U.S. has co-opted the Brit moniker “Yanks” as a nickname for our national team, though that probably has a lot to do with my baseball allegiances. I can, however, get with the Cockney rhyming slang derivative, “Sherman Tanks.” Roll the Tanks, baby.
• Should I be worried that I’m hearing incessant buzzing of the vuvuzela horns even when the games aren’t on? I called in the exterminators but it turned out there were not bee or wasp nests to be found anywhere around my house. Call it madness or call it World Cup fever.
Brad Feldman is the television and radio play-by-play voice of the New England Revolution and supervising producer for all of the Revolution's regional telecasts. He is host of the online programs RevsWrap and In the Net and has 12 years of experience announcing and producing MLS and international soccer TV. He will be blogging on the FIFA World Cup for ESPN Boston throughout the tournament.