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.
Again, from then on the sounds stayed the same—chaotic drums, untraceable horn spurts, and yelling-just-to-do-some-yelling—but they rose a couple decibel levels after the goal, and never dropped back down after. To give you a sense: the ref blew the first-half whistle, and the stadium MC came on the PA system, bellowing something to the effect of “Vamos Honduras.” But the ball was on the other side of the field when the ref blew his whistle, and the players near it (a few American defenders, and the Honduran attackers) kept playing. Then the ball got kicked out of bounds, and they still kept playing. One of the Hondurans grabbed the ball to throw it in, and then they played for maybe five more seconds before the ref was able to run over and finally stop it.
The bike horn honked and “VAMOS VAMOS TODOS” started up again.
THIS GAME WAS A national holiday. A guy next to me in the press section was wearing a Honduras jersey, all the Honduran cameramen were cheering for Honduras, and a bunch of the journalists we saw yesterday at the press conference, trudging through the mixed zone and taking pictures of the brief snippet of training we saw, were wearing jerseys at the game. It’s a bizarre thing from an American press perspective, sure, because impartiality seems important and it definitely is. But I don’t know if that really matters here.
Yesterday, the stadium, like I said, was this beautiful thing, but only really beautiful because of all the stuff you could project onto it and with how it contrasted with everything around it. But for this game it was this living thing, in that it kept together tens of thousands of living people, who were almost all—the “U-S-A” chants of the 50 American fans were drowned out pretty quickly—hoping for the same thing to happen. And it did.
A few minutes after a stadium-wide “SI SE PUEDE” chant, Honduras scored what ended up as the winning goal. A long ball split the American defense, a Honduran attacker beat American keeper Tim Howard to the ball and touched it toward the center of the goal. Omar Gonzalez, a 24-year-old still playing in Major League soccer and who was playing in his first-ever competitive game for the United States, hesitated for a second, and was beaten to the ball by Jerry Bengston, who slid it into the open net.
Food, water, ripped up cardboard, basically anything throw-able, fell down from the upper levels. The stadium shrieked as one again, and the base sound level moved up even higher. Journalists cheered with fans. Two people made out a couple of rows in front of me. That imaginary Uncle Sam murderer in the J-Lo shades jumped up and down, just like everyone else. The stadium wasn’t moving, but everyone in it, except for about 25 of us, was.
The game ended 11 minutes later, and that shriek came up one more time. The drums kept beating, a pattern something like the drunken footsteps of a guy walking home, and if you had a horn, you blew into it. Then for a few seconds, everyone chanting together: SI SE PUDO. And then they left, because the game was over, and even with a game like this, you’ve still got to get home before the rest.
IT’S TOUGH FOR THE U.S., this loss, because they have better players and this game was a big deal as far as U.S. soccer in the media goes. At his press conference, which I watched, sitting in front of a dozen or so TV cameras, on the floor, five feet in front of the coach, Jurgen Klinsmann said all the things you’d expect him to say. (While seated between two five-foot-tall blow-up bottles of Coke and Salva Vida beer. They also had beer on the press conference table, which American officials quickly removed.) The team needs to play better. The team will play better. He’ll make changes if he needs to. And etc.