It was soccer, just soccer, no brawls, no ejections, no crumbling of the stands, just a match unlike those undesirable ones played in Europe and other lands
By ARNIE LESHIN, Santa Fe Today
It was no doubt the biggest sports event at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara since the 2015 Super Bowl. It was a classic soccer match unlike what you read, see and hear about in other parts of the globe.
When it reached the semifinals, the CONCACAF Gold Cup figured it to be the United States against rival Mexico in Wednesday night’s championship, except that while the red, white and blue was shutting down Costa Rica, 2-0, El Tri from south of the border was surprisingly ousted by Jamaica, 1-0.
And with the way the USA and Mexico usually packed the place, it wasn’t expected to be this way, not with Mexico eliminated. Guess again, for the stadium where the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers play was near capacity, 63,032, just short of the sold-out Super Bowl attendance.
Northern California was a long way for the Reggae Boyz faithful to travel, but despite all this, the Jamaicans mixed in with the crowd like you see at the annual Penn Relays in Philadelphia. They sang, they chanted, they even high-fived American fans that took up three-quarters of the throng.
No known incidents in the stands that were still standing at game’s end, a 2-1 win for the USA. There were no sight of fans coming onto the turf, no attacking the referee in charge and the sideline umpires, no ambulances needed, and it was a sports event that was a pleasure to watch.
It wasn’t what takes place in Europe when nations like Germany, England, Italy and France take the field. Trouble even starts before the opening whistle when the teams trade verbal remarks to go with what the hyped-up fans shout out. Once on the field of play, it often becomes a pushing, shoving, tripping, mouthing off event, just what the crowd wanted.
It sets the tone for what is to come. There have been matches that hadn’t even reached halftime when the stands began to crumble, crashing to the ground as injuries mount up, even deaths, and when the game resumed, fans had to resort to getting assembled where it was safe.
Matches have been postponed, even cancelled. Fans had paid good prices, but many were taken away in ambulances. It’s been seen many times by USA viewers, and it’s something scary to watch. And it’s nothing new, its been going on for ages.
It’s soccer at its worst, worst than a hockey game that becomes a boxing match, worst than charging the mound after a batter was hit by a pitch, worst than a sideline tussle in football.
Thankfully, nothing like this occurred when the USA won its sixth Gold Cup title, once less than Mexico, and Jamaica still has yet to win one.
It was just two countries happy to be in the finals, two allied countries who met at mid field for some pre-match hugs, who did the same after the USA celebrated. When the awards were presented, there were applauds for everyone who reached the podium, whether in red, white and blue or in yellow and green, the colors of Jamaica.
Imagine fans of both lands greeting each other with hand shakes, some even hugged, everything was orderly, and stadium security had an easy night.
And who knows who the Mexicans, whether there or at home, were rooting for, it had no affect on the result.
The match itself was close despite the USA having possession 82 percent of the time, having taken 31 shots to Jamaica’s 10, having taken nine corner kicks to Jamaica’s five, and with Jamaica’s top player, star goalkeeper Andre Blake, going off with an gruesome finger injury 19 minutes into the first half.
On the ground was Blake as he was being attended to and obviously in frustrated pain. Standing close by were several American players, many offering kind words to him, and it was nothing like you see over in Europe and other countries. There, when a rival player goes down, it results in an attack on the referee and sometimes even an apology in order to avoid the yellow, even red flag.
There were no cheers on the USA sidelines, only respect for Blake as seldom-used goalie Dwayne Miller headed for the goal. Not long after, the 35-year-old made a remarkable save on a soaring shot booted by veteran Clint Dempsey, the super sub. In the 73rd minute, Miller made an excellent save on Jordan Morris’ rising 17-yarder targeting the near upper corner.
In fact, Miller, sometimes facing a barrage of shots, more than held his own except for the goal by Jozy Altidore in the 45th minute to bring a 1-0 lead and an eruption from the crowd. But five minutes after intermission, Je-Vaughn Watson kicked a goal beyond the reach of keeper Tim Howard, and the Jamaica fans roared their approval as the American faithful took a collective deep breath.
Now it was knotted and as the minutes ticked down and extra time would be applied, along came Morris in the 88th minutes to send a 14-yard kick into the corner of the goal and the loud and joyous cheers followed for those decked out in red, white and blue and other USA clothing.
For 22-year-old Morris, it was a familiar scene in a familiar area, for in the 2010 NCAA championship, he scored twice to bring Stanford the title.
And the men of head coach Bruce Arena continued their unbeaten streak. Since Arena returned as head coach in January, the USA has played 14 matches, winning nine and playing five ties.
As dominate as Arena’s team mixed of newcomers and veterans was, Jamaica never quit. Its defense often raced downfield to stop the aggressive
USA offense, often helping its goalie (s) with saves just outside the goal. Its speed was raised havoc at the other end. The open field was Jamaica’s fiend. But it fell short of getting the ball downfield to attack as the USA did.
There were some tears, some smiles from the Raggae Boyz, and who knows what might have resulted if Morris hadn’t come through with little time left?
It came after Gyasi Zardes crossed and defender Jarmaine Taylor’s header struck the unsuspecting Dempsey’s foot and caromed to Morris, who with his team-best third goal of the tournament, set off a wild celebration on the field, on the sideline, and in the stands.
And that was fine. At least this match was played as a “friendly”, not as one that contained what counties in Europe and elsewhere think is good for the game. No, it was this one that was good for the game. Everyone left the stadium injury free (except for Blake) and it was a time worth spending in watching probably the world’s most popular sport.
Yo, mon, it was truly a good show.