Paint your face and make some noise, because that's what U.S. Soccer faces on the road.
June 4, 2009, 11:07 PM
By: Wayne Drehs
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA -- So I guess you had to be there. I guess you had to feel the stadium sway back and forth, see the veins pop out of the necks of the 24,000 screaming fans and hear the nonstop chants supporting the home team to grasp fully the passion that ran through this city's main soccer venue Wednesday night.
It didn't stop. From the moment the United States stepped onto the pitch for warm-ups until the moment the final horn sounded, the Costa Rican fans poured everything they had into supporting their team and harassing the Americans.
Landon Donovan & Co. could use a boost from the Soldier Field faithful.
But come Saturday night, it will be our turn. Literally. Chicago will host the first-ever World Cup qualifying match at Soldier Field when the U.S. Men's National Team faces Honduras at 7 p.m. More than 50,000 tickets have already been sold and the U.S. Soccer Federation is hoping for a sellout.
Wednesday's loss dropped the Americans into second place in the CONCACAF standings, three points ahead of Honduras. Win, and the disastrous performance against Costa Rica will quickly be forgotten. Lose, and the memories of 2001 -- when the U.S. lost consecutive qualifying matches at Costa Rica and Mexico and at home against Honduras -- will come storming back quickly.
It won't be easy. Honduras is the last team to defeat the Americans in a qualifying match on U.S. soil. And the U.S. could potentially be without forward Brian Ching and defender Frankie Hejduk; both missed the Costa Rica match due to injury. The Americans know they won't have the services of injured midfielder Maurice Edu and team anchor Michael Bradley. Bradley picked up his second yellow card of the final round of qualifying against Costa Rica and thus will be forced to sit.
Then there's the fatigue factor. The U.S. will be playing two matches in less than 72 hours, and a handful of players -- Landon Donovan, Jose Torres and Tim Howard included -- will be playing their third match in eight days if they are called upon against Honduras.
And that's where the fans come in. Though the U.S. team spent much of its 60 hours in San Jose downplaying the influence the rowdy Saprissa Stadium fans would have on the game, they know a frenzied atmosphere can work wonders for a team's confidence. And at this point, confidence is just what this team needs.
So now it's time for some sweet home Chicago cooking. Pretend that Honduras is the Red Wings, Packers, Cardinals and Twins all rolled into one. Pretend that the goalkeeper is Brett Favre, the central midfielder Dan Cleary and the manager Tony La Russa. Whatever it takes.
Maybe that means Jim Cornelison singing the national anthem. Maybe that means someone pointing the Hondurans toward a gut-busting pregame meal at the Billy Goat Tavern. Or maybe it's as simple as every casual Chicago sports fan in attendance leaving civility at home and following the lead of Sam's Army, the unofficial U.S. fan club, by wearing red and singing, dancing and screaming the Americans on to victory.
Because that's what the Americans face every time they go on the road. And that's what they will need Saturday night to fight the fatigue and earn the three critical points that would come with a victory.
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Wayne on Twitter at ESPNWayneDrehs.
Wayne Drehs has been a feature writer for ESPN for nine years. He can be reached by e-mail.