It was just last week at 11 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio when I found myself sweating profusely on a Heartland Trailyways charter bus. My migraine was racing and I was short of breath, yet it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Just minutes earlier my phone refreshed and I saw a 2-2 draw between Honduras and Panama. The tagline under the score read, "US Brazil Bound." The ‘Yanks had punched their ticket to the big stage next summer in Brazil. I didn't think I could be any more electrified...
...But I was. Just 30 minutes earlier I was walking out of Crew Stadium after a 2-0 dominating shutout for the United States Men's National Team over rival El Tri, Mexico. It was 90 minutes of optimism, fear, agony and pure joy starting in the 49th minute thanks to Eddie Johnson's header. All of these emotions generated from a sold-out, 24,584 pro-US crowd, including 9,000 American Outlaws from all over the country, and of course the "Dos a Cero" result.
The party started at 3:30 a.m. last Monday when our Trailways bus rolled out of Kansas City. It was an energetic, rowdy group of "AOKC" members from various backgrounds. Some had been soccer fans their entire lives, this road trip marking just another notch in their cap belt. For others, it was their first trip as a supporter, one filled with uncertainty and a bit of magic.
It didn't matter, though. The American Outlaws - Kansas City chapter rolled out at 3:30 a.m. as one big family with one site in mind, Crew Stadium, and one result at heart, three points.
Our bus made its way through downtown Columbus at around 5 p.m. last Monday, just in time to prepare for what proved to be a wild night before party. The gathering was about as American as you could get. Red, white and blue as far as the alley ran, fans double-fisting beers and members cluttered around bar TVs discussing soccer and life in their supporter's groups.
Then the party got started...
"I'm sorry, what place are you in Mexico?" FOX Sports' Rob Stone theatrically asked the AO crowd.
"FOURTH PLACE," the entire back-lot shouted in refrain.
"Hey, hey Mexico. Sleep well, sleep tight. Hope you have good dreams, because when you wake up Wednesday morning, you're going to be in fifth place!"
It wasn't long after Stone left the balcony that 4th Street Patio Bar & Grill went up in a ruckus with chants. If you were a resident even 10 blocks away, I'm sorry, because I doubt you got much sleep that night.
Then, Tuesday morning rolled around and gameday was in the air. The anticipation was killing the crowed during the pre-game festivities at 17th Avenue in Columbus. You could see it in each fan's face. It was a look of both fear and determination. Instead of the streets being flooded with Mexican supporters, it was impassable streets and walkways filled with our nation's colors. The look echoed most analysts' thoughts on this US squad: a group that's risen, but are they ready to take the next step?
By 6:30 p.m. the American Outlaws march was on. Thousands of prideful members flooded 17th Avenue and then left onto the road leading up to Crew Stadium. Before long the seats began filling up with supporters left and right, and then it hit me...
...This is more of a pro-US crowd than I ever imagined.
US vs MEXICO: Yanks Qualify for Brazil, El Tri in Crisis | The Hex, Ep. 13 (via kick)
It was less-than 24-hours earlier that I was discussing with a fellow supporter the likely percentages of US to Mexican supporters. I said 70-30. He thought 60-40.
Boy, were we both wrong.
Kick-off was just five minutes away and the chants grew deafening. I looked up and the crowed was well over 80-20, if not 90-10, in favor of the home side. It was spectacular. I would challenge anyone anti-soccer to walk into that stadium, at that time, and tell me straight-heartedly that they weren't astounded.
If not then, then certainly when the National Anthem began. Without moments notice, some 23,000 red scarves filled Crew Stadium along with the off-key, yet glorious sound of Americans shouting the National Anthem. "Brave" rung out, fireworks shot upwards and "U-S-A" chants echoed from every corner of what Mexico has deemed "The House of Horrors."
In fact, a number of Mexican starters took time from their pregame rituals to look up and gaze at a crowd that few could have ever expected just four years ago.
The match itself was storybook worthy. Both endlines were thunderous despite being some 130 yards away without any form of fluent communication. On the pitch, we survived an early onslaught from the away side, eventually netting two goals, which, of course, led to dozens of "Dos a Cero" taunts. The final whistle rang out, again fireworks filled the skies of Columbus and everyone present knew that this was a landmark moment for US soccer.
What do I take away from the match? American soccer is a force to reckon with, and people overseas are taking notice. Secondly, the American Outlaws are fantastic group of people...no matter any drama with capos or sound systems or the USSF. As someone who's attended countless sporting events, September 10, 2013 will live as one of the most memorable of my life...
...And you bet it was worth every drop of sweat, and worth every migraine pill I had to take on the way back to Kansas City just to see that "Dos a Cero" result.