Ryan O'Hanlon will file dispatches from Honduras, where he is covering the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team's opening World Cup qualifying match, all week.
The bus ride to the stadium is like every other bus ride through this place: an uncomfortable kind of third-world tourism. We’re in this big, dark, cold transport, and we’re wearing shoes and button-down shirts, holding bags with computers. Outside, there are a lot of people without those things, and all these places we pass by—an all-purpose store with a male mannequin in a speedo and advertising for giant carpets called USA Factory, a McDonald’s branded with a faded cartoon of Ronald McDonald spinning a basketball on his hand, a place called Robert Tire—seem and are funny to me, but probably make sense to everyone watching us as we go by.
Earlier this morning, we had breakfast with—or at least, near; it was a rectangular table thing, so some people were far away—Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. He answered a lot of questions, from things ranging from the future of Landon Donovan (probably the greatest American player ever, who is currently on an open-ended, maybe-forever hiatus from the sport), the country’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, and the near-impossibility of switching the current Major League Soccer schedule (starts in March, ends in November) to match with the major European leagues (starts in August, ends in mid-to-late May).
He seemed a funny-enough guy—at least, he made me laugh, like, more than three times. Toward the end, he was asked a question about Americans in particular being content with just being average on a world scale, happy making a living as professional soccer players, and not really concerned with getting better. He didn’t answer the question, but he did say that American players—and just Americans in general—are more-coddled than players from other countries because America is America. For the best Brazilian or Argentinean players, a successful career is often a fight out of poverty.
The conversation continued for another 10 or so minutes after that. Everyone went back to typing out notes on their laptops. Others checked their iPhones to make sure they were still recording. And I took a sip of my orange juice through a straw.
WE GOT TO THE stadium three hours before kickoff—so early because the stadium was supposedly going to fill up (meaning, seats are full, hallways are full, stairways are full, and there’s barely enough air for everyone to breathe). Cars started parking about a mile out, just filling up those empty green fields we saw yesterday without anyone directing anything but also without any real noticeable chaos. (That’s how things were all day.) Fans yelled at our bus, not in a menancing way, just in the way that you yell because this is one of the few times when that is a socially acceptable thing to do.
Locals sold Honduran flags and gear all the way from the hotel to the stadium—the amount and extent increasing as we got closer. The jerseys were all bootleg. Honduras wears Joma; these didn’t have a brand. Most of the vendors had a couple American flags, too, which wasn’t all that strange because it’s worth a shot/always diversify. But there were a few Honduran kids in the stadium holding out a big red-white-and-blue flag while wearing Joma Honduras shirts. They wanted to get on TV, I guess, because their buddy, a sort of chubby kid with a side-part and some overly-gold, definitely-frost-tinted, and possibly-women’s sunglasses held up a sign with a picture of a dead Uncle Sam (his eyes were “x’s”) getting hit in the face with a soccer ball that read: “HOY SI TIO SAM.”
This was two rows in front of me, and a row in front of most of the other journalists, right in line with midfield. They gave us two rows of seats under an overhang, but only one with a counter for computers. One thing we had: many outlets. One thing we didn’t have: much Internet. The stadium Wi-Fi was mostly not-present and totally spotty whenever it was.
So, most of waiting for the game was listening to a tiny, all-bass-heavy selection of music on shuffle: one straight-up mariachi-type song, a pop-ballad centered around the word “volveremos,” something by the Honduran Ke$ha and the Honduran Akon—seriously, both of their whiny-but-not-actually-whining voices, just in another language—and some kind of Honduran soccer anthem (I understood “seleccion,” the Spanish word used to refer to national teams) that sounded like a commercial for a waterpark. And the majority of the music was this last song. I still have it in my head: Starts with a bicycle horn. Guy yells. Response: HONDOORAS. Repeat that three times. Then some verses sung in this happy-battle-chant way, followed by—always fucking followed by—“vamos vamos todos.” I’m pretty sure if I ever hear those two words as those three words ever again, I’ll start sweating and immediately feel like I have a laptop on my lap no matter where I am. I’m also not sure my body will ever again function properly without the rhythm of that song to go off of. We shall see.