Good evening everybody! Just want to start out by apologizing for my absence. Who knew that internet connection was spotty in the African bush? I hope you enjoy my USA vs England experience!
Key USA World Cup Dates
June 22, 2006, Nuremberg, Germany- The USA drops a 2-1 decision to Ghana, extinguishing the team’s, the fan’s, and the country’s hopes of a quarterfinal berth for the Stars and Stripes.
October 10, 2009, San Pedro Sula, Honduras- A lumbering bald headed savior named Conor Casey scores two goals in a 3-2 victory of Honduras, to help the USA secure a birth for World Cup 2010.
December 4, 2009, Cape Town, South Africa-The USA is drawn into a group that includes Algeria, England, and Slovenia. The USA vs. England matchup instantly becomes a tournament favorite and sets up a replay of the classic 1950 meeting which saw the USA upset England, 1-0.
June 12, 2010, Rustenburg, South Africa-USA opens up its 2010 World Cup Campaign with a gritty 1-1 draw with England.
USA vs. England
Rustenburg, South Africa-After travelling from Los Angeles, California to Johannesburg, South Africa and not sleeping in a real bed for well over 48 hours, you would think that a nice long sleep in would be a sure thing, but that wasn’t the case on June 12. Christmas had come early this year and everybody knows you don’t sleep in on Christmas.
It had been 1,451 days since the Stars and Stripes had stepped on to a pitch in hopes of hoisting the most coveted prize in all of sports, the World Cup. After a disappointing early exit from World Cup 2006 which saw the US drop decisions to the Czech Republic and Ghana, and draw with the eventual champs, Italy, it is safe to say that everyone involved with United States soccer had been counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the we got another shot on the world’s biggest stage, and if the stage wasn’t big enough already, who did we share it with?…Fabio Capello’s England.
My day started off the same as it does before any big match, an early morning run and some last minute reading and research about the USA squad and our opponents. The running ensures me that if I’m called upon to lace up the boots and score a much needed game winner, I will be in tip-top form. The reading and research is for just in case Bob-O Bradley dials me up before or during the match for some tactical advice. Needless to say, neither of these were necessary on this day.
On this monumentus day, filled with mostly Americans, the Apollo hotel was quickly full of USA jerseys, scarves, jackets, Uncle Sams, empty beer bottles, and Vuvuzelas, all of us more than a little excited for our short two hour journey to Rustenburg, to take part in what some believe was the biggest match in USA soccer history. Then our journey began and the excitement and celebration quickly turned into frustration and irritation. The ride that was promised to take two hours, slowly climbed to three…four…five hours, after an overcapacity coach bus; made a stop in the African boonies to pick up a couple Mexico supporters, got lost several times along the way, stopped for a handful of bathroom breaks (due to the fact that a bus full of drinking Americans had no toilet), stopped at a supposed local mall for food and soccer watching, which turned out to be the Rustenburg DMV, and a lost parking pass led us to searching for parking up and down the dirt roads of rural Africa. By the time the bus found parking and we all began our walk to Royal Bafokeng Stadium, tempers of most were at a boiling point and our guide for the day was in tears. What a great start to the biggest match of our lives!
Royal Bafokeng Stadium was built in 1999, holds 45,000 people and sits just outside of Rustenburg, South Africa. The exterior looked amazing, lit up in the African night sky. The interior was a bit aged and left a little to be desired but no worse than left field in Dodger Stadium or The Rose Bowl, but it was the surrounding area that absolutely blew my mind. If you have ever seen a feed the children of Africa commercial on TV, you know exactly what the area looked like. Surrounding this beautiful 250 million dollar stadium were tiny wood and tin shacks stacked on top of each other on a maze of dust roads, and while I thought the locals might be a be a bit angry at these USA and England fans invading their neighborhoods, it was the exact opposite. There were smiling, cheering, laughing Africans out in front of every home, and the hospitality didn’t stop there. Locals opened up their homes for visitors to park and hang out before the match. One residence we passed by had put together a Rustenburg blowout combo which included, three beers, two lemonades and popcorn for $8.00. You’re definitely not going to find a deal like the in the States. It was a surreal experience for everyone involved, and I am very glad I got to take part in it, especially the cheap beer!
Inside the stadium, the fan contingent was split fairly evenly, and the mix of the USA’s red and white and England’s white and red looked like a battle scene from Braveheart, when you find yourself asking, “How do they know who to kill and who not to kill?” There were Uncle Sams, Cowboys, Indians, George Washingtons, Abraham Lincolns, Queen Elizabeths, Monty Python Knights, a green man, and even a few dressed up as drunken, arrogant, rude England fans. Maybe it was because of the three dollar Budweisers inside the stadium (that’s right I said three dollars), but of all the soccer matches I’ve been to in my life I’ve never come across a more drunk, pompous group of fans than the English, but as we’ve seen from the team’s play the first two games of the tournament, they won’t be in South Africa for much longer.
The build up to the kickoff of a World Cup match is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. Hearing the different songs and chants of each country, seeing the signs, flags, and outfits, and witnessing the announcing of the starting lineups and singing along with the national anthem, gives even a manly man like myself goosebumps.
I won’t get into the match itself because the analysis and breakdown has already been beaten like a dead horse, but on June 12, 2010, when Clint Dempsey scored the first goal in USA’s World Cup campaign, the 1,451 days since the USA’s last World Cup match was well worth the wait. I was very proud of the effort our boys put forth to get the point from such a storied and talented English side, and consider myself very fortunate to have been one of the few lucky Americans to have witnessed such a great moment in US soccer history, put on at a great venue, by a great host country.
Thanks for reading! Make sure you check back soon for details of my African safari adventure and my take on the African animal starting XI. Make sure you sign up for an account on the 90:00 Soccer website and share your thoughts on my journey.