Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dos y cero: More Mexican Misery



photo courtesy of Bill Vieth/isiphotos.com

Here's a recap of my recent trip to Columbus, OH to watch the US national soccer team defeat Mexico in World Cup soccer:

Tuesday
6 p.m. CST
- Bill becomes the early leader for trip MVP by borrowing an I-Pass from a work colleague and packing a cooler of snacks and drinks from his work place. Turns out his iPhone charger also works for my iPod.

7 p.m. CST - We pick up Tom St., who has his camouflage gear and combat boots with him. That's the difference between Tom St., a two-time Cold War vet, and myself, a mere Columbus vet from 2007.

9 p.m. CST - Between the I-Pass and midweek night traffic, we whip through Chicago with stunning ease.

9:35 CST - Upon entering the Skyway Tollway, it's not open-road tolling like most Illinois toll gates. This does not dawn on me until I nearly break a toll gate. My anti-lock brakes are my only saving grace. Bill and Tom St. fear for their lives and won't be sleeping in the car any time soon.

Wednesday
Sometime after midnight EST
- Between the lack of night traffic and the 70 mph limit in Indiana, we quickly reach the Indianapolis bypass. It's time for a pit stop, only to find myself with loss-of-balance issues upon leaving the car. Tom St. and I both are sick and I appear to have sinus-related issues. Bill takes over behind the wheel, probably to the relief of Tom St..

Just before 2 a.m. - Going nearly 80 through Indiana puts the fuel light on. Bill tries the next exit in Sunman, a one-stop-sign town with a gas station that is closed. The next exit has an open gas station and we breathe another sigh of relief as we wonder why we didn't just fill up in Indy.

Between 2:30 and 3 a.m. - We take the scenic route but eventually arrive at the house of my friend Tim, who volunteered to put us up at his house in Cincy. He also stayed up to take care of work stuff and greet us as well. A round of NyQuil shots puts everyone out quickly.

Later that morning - Coffee, OJ, and Krispy Kremes await us. One of the benefits of having a sister that's a nurse is that a diagnosis is always a phone call away. I get drugs at Walgreen's and we stop for food, OJ, a parka for Bill and ....Jo Ann's Fabrics. Why? I joked with friends that we should get soccer cards like the officials have, except throw in a green card for our Mexican friends. I watch in horror as Tom St. and Bill decide to make these poster-sized. I come to terms with the idea that if you're going to rub someone's nose in it, there's no sense being bashful about it. You've already crossed the line.

3 p.m. EST - We stop for gas and the skies look forboding. We also see a couple Mexican soccer fans but don't realize that's forboding at the same time. The good news is the drugs have taken effect and I've regained my bearings after being wobbly.

Shortly before 4 - We get to the parking lot and there are Mexican fans....everywhere. We decide to walk to the front gate looking for merchandise in the rain and walk past Mexican fans unfurling a huge flag. I start our chorus of 'dos y cero', the scores of the last two US-Mexico matches as well as the score when we knocked them out in the 2002 World Cup in Korea. My 6-foot-6 frame means the Mexicans respond with little more than dirty looks and the incessant blowing of horns.

4:30 EST - On the way back to the car, we find a building on the state fair grounds with a huge canopy and get out of the rain. It looks to be a good spot to spray glue the colored yellow, green and red poster boards to the thicker backing. Two Mexican fans walk by and their expressions turn sour when it dawns on them what the green is for.

5:20 - The wind shifts and despite eight feet of cover under the canopy, we nearly get wet. There's nothing but pure precipitation everywhere in the sky. It looks like a hornet's nest. Turns out it was a tornado watch. Fortunately, it passes as quickly as it comes on.

6 - It dries up. Seems like a good time to head for the gate.

6:20 - I hold the cards while Tom St. and Bill shop for merchandise. A Mexican fan ask what the big posters are for, which are turned with the white backs outside to the viewing public for now. I respond only with a huge smile.

6:55 - After just telling Flatlander by phone that it was wet and nasty earlier but it appears just dry and windy now, the skies open up again. Once more, the storm quickly departs and dries up after the brief but intense dousing.

7:05 - The anthems are played. We're relieved to find that what looked to be a 90-10 Mexican crowd split from the parking lot appears to be more like 60-40 US, like four years ago. Guess we were just in the Mexican parking lot.

6th minute - US keeper Tim Howard is forced to make a huge foot save early. The Everton netminder once again puts goalkeeping at the bottom of the list of American worries. This would be the best chance the Mexicans, who shrivel in Crew Stadium, get on the attack.

22nd minute - Landon Donovan, the player Mexico despises more than any other, lines up a free kick at the far end from the corner we're sitting in. I see a US player in the wall and hope Donovan takes that opening. He does, but he barely misses wide.

34th minute - Nery Castillo, who has given the US fits in past, goes down injured. One less headache for the suspect American back four.

43rd minute - One of my friend Mario's unwritten rules of soccer, which is two headers in the penalty area almost always leads to a goal, comes to fruition. DaMarcus Beasley's corner is headed from the far post back to the crease by Donovan, where Oguchi Onyewu heads it on goal. Mexican sieve Oswaldo Sanchez can't control the shot and Michael Bradley slams the rebound into the roof of the net. We erupt as the goal comes at a back-breaking time, just before the half. Mexico counters quickly but it ends 1-0 at the break.

65th minute - Rafa Marquez was our pre-match pick to enable us to use our red and green cards and the Mexican captain makes me look prophetic. It wasn't a difficult pick. Marquez always snaps when playing the US and we just watched him get sent off playing for Barcelona two Sundays ago at The Highbury, Milwaukee's superb soccer bar in Bay View. This time, Marquez goes in late on Howard with studs to the knee, setting off a skirmish between the two squads. The Guatemalan official had been loathe to book anyone all game. But Marquez gets a straight red from him and Mexico is a man short the rest of the way. Marquez once again proves to be an over-the-hill liability and he will cost the Catalans, who are destroying the Spanish league, the Champions League if they play him. You heard it here first.

66th minute - Because it was at the far end, we're not sure it's a red card until we see Marquez jog off. Up go to poster-size red and green cards. We're estatic and we're the envy of our section, except for the Mexican fans behind us. Not only do they know that Marquez just sealed their fate but then they had to endure our little stunt on top of it.

88th minute - One of the reasons I enjoy taunting Mexican fans is what is going down right now. When the US beats them, I have never seen a more unsportsmanlike group of ....douchebags. I don't know any other way to put it. Because the ref won't card anyone, the Mexicans are taking as many cheap shots as possible. The fans are every bit as classy, throwing beers and whatever else they can on the pitch.

90th minute - Bradley seals his man-of-the-match performance with the brace, a knuckling shot from the top of the 18 that dips under Sanchez, who looks like an idiot on the play. Sanchez is famous for trying to kick an American player while he was celebrating his teammate's goal. Sub Jozy Altidore and Donovan take fouls on the play to set it up. We're in a screaming frenzy at this point and start chanting 'dos y cero' once more.

Post-match - Bradley could have been the MVP by defusing one Mexican attack after another, say nothing of pumping in both goals. His dad played the formation I expected, a 4-5-1 with Brian Ching up top while Clint Dempsey, Beasley and Donovan join the attack from the midfield. Sasha Klejstan, fresh off an impressive hat trick against Sweden, appeared a bit out of place as a holding midfielder alongside Bradley to buffer the back four. But Mexico was relatively punchless once again in Columbus as it would be a major shock if the US didn't make it to South Africa next year. No better way to start the journey.

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