Thursday, June 10, 2004


Soccer Woodstock

Now that you know a little about what our team will go through to make the World Cup and have some helpful hints to follow the action, I want to take you inside the crucible that is a qualifier as an attendee.

A World Cup qualifier can be construed to being the closest one might come to war in the sporting realm. It is your nation - your way of life, your history - placed smack-dab up against another nation - its history, its way of life. In the United States, this passion spills over to the fans because in nearly every match we play, there is a sizable contingent of support for the opposition. In many parts of the world, the home side goes to extreme measures to maintain home-field advantage, such as allowing only a limited number of tickets for fans of the away team, placing matches in venues which are advantageous based on geography and climate, and making mischief during the opponents’ stay in the country. In previous qualifying rounds, we have had to deal with all-night block parties, misdirected busses that send the team to the wrong stadium, matches moved at the behest of the home federation only days ahead of time, and that’s just BEFORE the match. Once the match starts, the incessant noise made by the crowd can cause confusion on the part of the away side. In addition, at times objects find their way onto the field and in some venues, racially insensitive language is directed at specific players of the opposition. A qualifier is NOTHING like your run-of-the-mill league match, not even heated rivalries like Dallas-Chicago, San Jose-Los Angeles, or DC United-Metrostars. The only league match-up in Europe I can compare a World Cup qualifier to is Celtic-Rangers in Scotland, where religion and allegiance to the Crown add to the fuel between these top-level sides in the Premiership.

However, there are positives in attending a qualifier in the States. For one, tens of thousands of fans from all over the country congregate upon the host city and plan weeks if not months ahead for those few times when their country defends its colors on the qualifying trail. There are multiple gatherings scheduled for the match weekend, from pub confabs to kickarounds to the pre-game tailgate. It is like a mini-Woodstock for soccer fans.

If you are heading to Columbus for Sunday’s match, know that you will be taking your place alongside tested veterans of the qualifying trail and fellow rookies to the trials and tribulations of supporting the Red, White, and Blue. Gates open at 10am, and stop by the tailgate on the south side of the stadium at the west end of the paved parking. Introduce yourselves. Get some eats. March in with the crowd at 11:30. More than anything, ENJOY YOURSELF! Once you’ve experienced a qualifier live, you will want to attend another…and another…and another.

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