October 16, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
Home at last
KANSAS CITY,Kan.---For as long as the United States has been playing World Cup qualifiers, it has been looking for someplace where it would truly have a home field advantage.
|Livestrong Sporting Park was packed with US fans for Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Oh, the team has hosted matches in many places, but none have felt like a real home, not in the multiethnic melting pots most of this vast country’s large cities tend to be.
Columbus has perhaps been as close as it has come, a place where the U.S. could play Mexico in the freezing cold, blowing wind and blustery rain/sleet of February and feel at home. A place where the U.S. could fill the stadium, with mostly fans of the red-white and blue, who were more than eager to remind the Mexicans of previous losses by chanting “dos a cero,” but the true advantage in Columbus almost always seemed to be the weather more than the fans.
Not so anymore. Sam’s Army, the American Outlaws, the lady dressed as the Statue of Liberty, the guy in the Uncle Sam hat, and the countless many wearing the U.S. hooped jersey now have a home. It’s called Livestrong Sporting Park.
And the American players, who have often felt like visitors in their own country, playing in front of stadiums packed with Honduran, Mexican and Guatemalan fans, have a home too, replete with a plush locker room equipped with cushy chairs that have their own internet and audio hookup.
And then there’s the crowd, which, more than the amenities, gave the U.S. team the real feeling that they were playing at home.
“It was awesome,” said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard. “16,000, I could not believe it. You could have told me maybe 40,000. I think for the whole team, it’s a great positive atmosphere.”
All weekend long, if you were in Kansas City, you knew a major soccer game was going on. From the media coverage, to the open practice the U.S. held on Sunday, to the out of town fans who started to arrive first as a trickle and then as a wave.
For the U.S.’s European-based players, playing in Kansas City reminded them of playing at home for Everton or Tottenham Hotspur.
“Just like home,“ Howard said.
“It’s great to play in front of crowds like this…to have that support.”
That support started with the singing of the national anthem and continued right through to the standing ovation at the end of the game.
The entire stadium buzzed for every corner kick, and while the three pockets of Guatemalan fans made some sporadic noise, they were all but drowned out by the most vocal fans in the Sporting supporters’ end of the stadium.
“We knew that they were going to be loud all game,” said Dempsey, the game’s hero with two goals and an assist. “I can’t say enough how much that means. We appreciate that.”