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For United States soccer team against Honduras, playing at Soldier Field is all about atmosphere

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They were few but mighty. Their cheering began on the Red Line as far north as the Addison stop. Some with faces painted red, others with American flags both painted on their chests and tied cape-like around their necks, the Sam's Army faithful stood, bounced, sang and cheered from the time they stepped foot on the L platform to the second the clock struck 90.

They were all but drowned out at Soldier Field, however, by a sea of Honduras fans that far outnumbered the Yanks by some estimates of at least three to one.

Since the CONCACAF hexagonal dates were announced last November, it's been questioned whether Chicago is the best place to host a World Cup qualifying match. With nearly 25 percent of its population being Hispanic, it was inevitable that the Hondurans would far outnumber American fans at Soldier Field.

But for the 55,647 who made it to the game, there was no question as to whether any of them wanted to be at Soldier Field.

And for those potential United States fans who weren't among the Soldier Field throngs -- they missed a hell of a sporting event and a historic moment in Chicago sports history.

The numbers tell a significant part of the story:
The second highest attendance for a World Cup qualifying match in the U.S.

The second highest attendance for a soccer game at Soldier Field.

And a 2-1 come-from-behind victory that could very well be the driving force the United States team needs to overcome the anguish of its 3-1 loss to Costa Rica last week and motivate them for the remaining five World Cup qualifying matches.

Any sports fan with a pulse -- even one who has only a passing interest in the sport of soccer -- would have to agree this was, by far, the best show in town tonight (rivaled only, perhaps, by the air guitar regional championship at Metro).

If you've never spent time among soccer's most passionate fans, the endless capacity for love for their favored team is awe-inspiring. Combine your love for the Bears, Bulls, Cubs/Sox and Hawks and you begin to understand how the Honduran fans (and some American fans) feel about their team.

Which leads one to wonder ... how does it feel for those players to step into an away game at home? And not just any type of away game, but one where fans at your home stadium toss confetti, beers, sodas, and trash hither and yon like the unruliest bleacher bum.

Ricardo Clark, who had a pair of heart-stopping goal clearances deep in the U.S. zone, said the visitor-skewed home crowds have ceased to affect him.

"Obviously it would be better to have a pro-U.S. crowd, but experience is the most important thing," said Clark. "I've been lucky to get a couple games in those types of environments and having those fans behind the goal -- that helps a lot."

It helps even more when some of those fans are there to specifically see you - even if you did sit the bench for all but 19 minutes of the game, which was the case for UIC alum Jay DeMerit. The Green Bay, Wis. native entered the game in the 71st minute for Pablo Mastroeni, who left the game after tweaking his hamstring.

DeMerit said returning to Chicago is always a special experience for him.

"This is where I learned how to play soccer, more or less," he said. "Coming from Green Bay growing up I didn't necessarily grow up as a soccer player. I learned the skills I needed to be a pro here. You've got 50 people in the stands cheering for you, hoping you get on. It's a great feeling."

Yet, DeMerit said it wasn't strange for him to feel like he was playing an away game in what used to be his back yard. In fact, it would seem the United States soccer team has been asked this question so often, they instinctively spin this negative into a positive.

"We're all about crowds," said DeMerit. "I'd rather play in front of 50,000 people who are making noise whether it's for us or not.  That's the beauty of this game. The atmosphere is such a special thing. To create an atmosphere like that, whether they're cheering for us or not, it's special thing to be a part of those games."

If it was atmosphere he and his teammates were craving, that's exactly what they got. So when someone questions whether Chicago should play host to future World Cup qualifying matches, ask the players. Or hop on the red line a couple hours before the game.

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4 Comments

Yes if you missed this game you are a lame the fans of honduras were energized as soon as the team steped in the green grass doing waves wouldnt stop screaming i myself was you could say the only fan from honduras that in the second half was trying to get everybody going like at the begining of the game i have much respect for the us fans that did not stop cheering for there team even when they was losing by 1-0 this just tells you how united the united states of america is no like my people from honduras it would of been a big difference if the latin fans would of cheered it was like you said 3-1 people from honduras just want to show to there people what they got if you passed by a car that had a grilled they just look at you and don't even say hi or invite you to there group the us fans started marching from the parking lot it was an amazing experience

I am not sure how this match was marketed in chicago, as we came from out of town to watch it,but that is a poor turnout by Chicago soccer fans for a game like this. There is no way the Honduran fans should outnumer US fans in Soldier Field. It was nice to see how charged up they were no root for their team and good fans both before and after.

I made the journey from Kansas to see this match. Pretty beautiful to see all that blue & white so passionate at the the start of the match! Have been watching (and loosing my voice cheering for) the Nats for years.

1. Compared to where we were in 1990, we should be pretty pleased w/ how many US fans showed up and were cheering at this match

2. I for one see this as a golden age of US soccer. There will come a time when US soccer is far more popular, and fans like myself will be financially boxed out of getting to see these games. I see the cup as being 1/2 full (but I'm thirsty for more! :P)

3. We have GOT to start teaching our kids a few basic soccer songs so when the show up at these games as adults, they know what to sing! ;P
__We Are Red, We Are White, We Are Yankee Dynamite___

4. No, I didn't like the fact that the Honduran fans were able to drown out American fans but in the end, the fact that so many Hondurans are able to feel safe and secure about showing up at a game like this - that so many Hondurans are able to build a better life here in the states... well that's what the home of the free & brave is all about.

i dont understen

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin Allen published on June 6, 2009 11:07 PM.

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