Where do I begin; or better, how do I begin to explain what it was like to be in the stadium yesterday to witness the USA’s 1-0 win over Algeria.
It was game day, and the game was being played in our temporary hometown – a 15-minute walk.
Three hours before kickoff, I was already antsy. I wanted to get out to Hatfield Square to see how fans were arriving; check out the atmosphere hours before kickoff. Two of us took off while the rest of the crew applied the facepaint and otherwise prepped.
We walk on the street that borders Hatfield Square – it’s been closed off to traffic. The pedestrians – all Algerians!
I don’t know how it was coordinated, but the hundreds of Algerian walking the street were dressed almost exactly the same: in a white jersey and green sweatpants. They waved flags as they walked around chanting in their language. We understood the words Washington and Algerie – that’s it.
We decide to walk towards the stadium in search of what for sure had to be a large group of American fans, somewhere.
On our way we stop at a bar and see the first Americans fans, quietly eating at a couple of tables. This was definitely not the scene I had anticipated, and it was bit concerning given that it was only two hours from kickoff.
We begin to see more Americans flags as we approach the stadium, but not too many. We spot ABC / ESPN / Univision crews on the street. We also notice the raised level of police presence – and watch how closely cops are looking for scalpers.
Walking a little further, we find a shopping plaza with a restaurant that hosts about 200 hundred decked-out American fans. Finally!
We catch up with the rest of the group – they had all been at Hatfield Square for the past hour, and tell us it was a boring environment. We walk in to Loftus Versfeld Stadium about 30 minutes from kickoff, wondering how this crowd will look.
Coming out of the tunnel into the stands, we’re realize we’re in a sea of red, white, and blue. There are so many Americans, all already loud and ready.
The U.S. National Anthem comes on and from above a large U.S. flag begins to be unrolled down from row to row. We’re now under this 20’ by 40’ foot flag, singing the anthem louder than can be imagined - joined by the other thousands of neighboring American fans.
The chanting starts before kickoff. “USA, USA, USA…USA, USA, USAAAAA…USA, USA, USA, U.S.Aaaa, U.S. Aaaaa.”
We breathe a sigh of relief when Algeria hits the crossbar in the first minutes.
“Oh when the Yanks, go marching in. Oh when the Yanks, go marching in.”
We grab our faces and hold our heads when they call back Dempsey’s goal.
One guys pulls up the England score on his phone – they are winning, and we need them to tie.
We briefly sit down in amazement when Dempsey’s shot hits the post, and his rebound is wide.
“Stand up, for the USA. Stand Up, for the USA. Stand up, for the USA, stand up, for the USA!!”
We’ve had so many chances, but it’s not going in.
We look at each other, that look that says we’re all thinking the same thing: it could be one of those days where the ball just won’t go in.
We don’t stop, and neither does anyone in the entire section. We yell louder, making sure everyone can hear us. Our group has loud voices: what we start is quickly picked up and spreads through the section. The vuvuzelas have nothing on us today!
We’re in stoppage time, but the energy the players are showing makes the crowd stay strong and loud. We sense it. There's still a level of confidence that it CAN happen.
Tim Howard catches a soft shot, and we see Landon take off down the right. Howard hits him in stride, like a quarterback to wide receiver. Landon’s first touch advances the ball. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are right next to him. It’s a counter attack that has so much promise.
The chanting stops, it’s now quiet, it seems.
Landon passes right to Jozy, who enters the box. We couldn’t stand any taller, but try to so by getting on our toes.
Our heads move slowly as the players run by down below. Our eyes see Dempsey running in the middle. Jozy sends cross – which I think is a shot. Dempsey, the keeper, and a defender collide. Everything is in slow motion.
The ball is sitting 10 feet away from the keeper, who is on the ground. From the stands, we all think we can reach it to knock it in. Landon is there, and neatly touches it in the back of the net.
Hysteria in the stands. We have no idea how the player celebrated. A brief look at the assistant and central refs, and it looked like the goal stood. Did we really just see this?
Our group ends up rows apart – jumping up and down the entire section. Someone grabbed me from behind and gave me a massive bear hug. I have no idea who he was. I actually see an older American male crying two rows behind - he couldn’t even scream, couldn't believe this just happened. Tears of joy. The little kids in front of us were hugging each other. It's just a reaction - you do whatever comes to you to celebrate. You lose your head in emotion and joy!
We miss the final three minutes, just going crazy. Waving whatever we have up high, chanting, singing. Some just can’t. They can only hold their heads, mouths closed. Yes, you just witnessed that, I try to tell a few.
For the next 45 minutes, you would think the USA won the World Cup – it was so awesome to look around and see the madness, and be part of it. Three quarters of the stadium had emptied, but the U.S. fans remained in the stands. We see the players on the field looking up at the big screen watching the replay. They come over to the sidelines and give their routine waves and appreciation to. I wondered how cool the stands had to look to the players.
We see some fans from Colorado, evident with the big state flag they are waving, and stop for photos. After some 30 minutes of celebrating in a near empty stadium, fans begin to walk out. But, most stopped on the concourse – thousands, it appeared.
Our group, many who have been to many world cups, looked on from the side, smiling. To see so many American fans – and celebrating like the biggest soccer countries in the world – it was something to step back from and notice once again how far soccer in the U.S. has come. It was, just amazing.