Though taking a back seat to the Euros, yesterday's USA-Argentina clash was certainly not overlooked by the 78,000+ who sold out the Meadowlands and were able to watch the rarest of soccer oxymorons play out: an exciting nil-nil encounter. As one of those present, I'd like to give a brief rundown of the experience:
1. The atmosphere was absolutely magnificent. I'm not sure how things appeared on television, but inside the stadium, despite being 90 degrees, people were loud and proud throughout the match. It was a true futbol match. In our particular section, we were lucky to have a very vocal group of American supporters and crucially, a kid with one of those ridiculous blow horns. Fantastic.
2. As expected, Argentina brought numbers to the clash, and it's safe to say they made up a little over half of the crowd. While that's still a bit embarrassing, it's a great improvement from the 85% Mexican crowd in Chicago a few years ago, and I happen to feel that American fans need to see the Argentina supporters in their element if they ever want to learn how to party right at an international match (drums, flags, chanting, dancing, etc.). And I think we all know that South Americans know how to party. In the parking lot after the match, most Argentina fans had no intention of leaving despite the rain and thunder. They pulled out their coolers and grills, blasted their salsa music, and got right back to it.
3. Decent number of cute girls. Sporting both Messi and Donovan jerseys. That's what international friendlies are all about. And the atmosphere was extremely friendly in the crowd, with both sides giving the other a good-natured ribbing. Lots of chants, but it was done smiling, and without bitterness.
4. In the first half, there was a palpable buzz every time Messi touched the ball. The combined sound of 40,000 Argentinians holding their breath and 35,000 Americans muttering "here we go." Though Cruz was the one with all the good chances, it's really fascinating to watch Messi because he completely controls the tempo of the game when he's on the ball. Not to mention the fact that he draws every American defender towards him which allows him to pass the ball out and let someone attack the flanks. In the first half, our wingbacks were totally invisible, and as my friend Jake commented: "It feels like we've been playing a man down since kickoff."
5. Tim Howard had a great game in goal. Not only did he make some great saves, but at no point did he ever feel vulnerable, if you know what I'm saying. He did an excellent job organizing his defense, and I was totally impressed.
5. Perhaps the highlight of the game was when the people in the row directly in front of ours unleashed a massive tubular balloon into the crowd. The entire stadium watched in awe as it was slowly taken by the air currents, first hovering high above the field, and then slowly drifting down near field level, and then, completely improbably, floating into the Argentina goal to uproarious cheers and laughter.
6. At halftime, there was a requisite intruder on the field. Wearing an Argentina jersey and waving a blue and white flag wildly. He did pretty well, but got absolutely CRUSHED by a security guard who blindsided him just when he thought he had gotten away. This is the kind of stuff you miss on television.
7. The ref was extremely overzealous. I'll need to see replays, but I was shocked by the sending off of both Mastroeni and Mascherano. And though it could have just been American clumsiness, a lot of the fouls called against the USA looked pretty bogus. This doesn't excuse the fact, however, that they tend to give those up right outside the area. We just can't do that.
8. Though it pales in comparison to Lionel, Donovan is the US player who by far gets the most buzz from the crowd when he's on the ball. He's instantly recognizable, even from a distance, because of his bizarre receding hairline and the uniqueness of his gait. At this point, I have to concede that he'll never really be a great player, but he has moments, and he's exciting to watch.
9. The final ten minutes of the game were amazing. The heavens opened up and started dumping rain on us, thunder and lightning boomed across the skyline, the US started applying pressure which culminated in a series of corners, and the US fans just went plain nuts. Outnumbered though we were, this was the point at which the USA started absolutely dominating Argentina in terms of crowd noise and enthusiasm. If by some chance we had scored, I swear to God the place would have come crashing down.
10. I have no voice left whatsoever.
Another day of amazing football ahead, and I can't wait. I may have to take back what I said about the Group of Death; the Nederlanders look a little toothless at the moment with no Babel, Robben, or van Persie. Also, people are discounting Romania, but they have a rock at the back in Chivu, and a world-class striker in Mutu up top. Sometimes all you need are those two things and a little bit of luck. France needs to be very careful (or not, both Juan and myself would be ecstatic if they got taken down).
Also, I don't necessarily agree with Juan's Portugal pick, but I can't think of anything better at the moment and will thus hold my peace. At any rate, if it means we get to see these girls for the duration of the tournament, then I'm all for it.