In the 28 minutes that separated Clint Dempsey’s penalty kick and a Jermaine Jones rocket that finally provided the United States men’s national team some easy breathing, the rhythmic beat of the drum remained steady and constant.
Situated at the center of the contingent of the American faithful that stretched from one side of the south end of Soldier Field to the other, the perpetual drumming anchored the soccer soundtrack that reverberated from the sea of red, white and blue during the USMNT’s 4-0 Copa America victory over Costa Rica on Tuesday night.
Sensing the urgency Jürgen Klinsmann’s squad required in order to keep their chances of advancing to the knockout round, the USMNT’s fanatical support system remained active.
The stars-and-stripes studded section’s musical repertoire included everything from “Twist and Shout” to a rendition of “God Bless America” and an eventual “I Believe That We Will Win” chant and paused only temporarily to allow for vocal cord relief.
Three of the four U.S. goals – from Dempsey’s penalty kick that gave the Americans a 1-0 lead in the 9th minute to Bobby Wood’s nifty shot to the left corner of the net in the 42nd minute – took place in the face of the on-going display of patriotic pride, which only amplified the more the U.S. pulled away in the shutout victory that played out in front of what appeared to more than a bit shy of the the announced crowd of 39,642.
Graham Zusi scored in the 88th minute to cap the U.S. scoring as goalkeeper Brad Guzan only needed to make two saves as the U.S. picked up a critical three points in a game it had to have and that Klinsmann had referred to as a must-win a day earlier. In the end, the Americans did what they needed to do.
“There wasn’t a thought of ‘What if we would lose the game?’ We never think that way,” Klinsmann said. “Why would you think that way? You have three games. Find a way to get your points … and make the calculation after three games.
“Now we’ve put ourselves back in the driver’s seat with that result.”
Their fans loved every minute. The energy, however, started much earlier in the evening.
Marcus Cranston, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, and his wife, Lila Ashani, traveled to Chicago from Portland, Ore., continuing a soccer road trip that started with the 1994 World Cup and that had taken them around the world before the Copa America made its way to the U.S. for the first time in the tournament’s 100-year history.
Carrying a large American flag, Cranston was dressed in a blue U.S. soccer jersey with “Eagleman” printed across the back and his face hidden by a form-fitting bald eagle mask – an ensemble he has worn to each of his stops for the past two years. The outfit, which recently required minor repairs due to over-use, was a perfect fit to accompany Ashani, who has worn a Wonder Woman costume since 2013 when the couple traveled to the World Cup in Brazil.
Cranston knew he had follow suit.
“That was my order from my wife,” he said.
From Chicago, the couple – who also took in the USMNT’s Copa America loss to Colombia in Santa Clara, Calif., –will now travel to Philadelphia when the U.S. closes out group play Saturday against Paraguay.
Like Cranston, Costa Rican Francisco Elizondo required a road trip to to see his beloved Ticos. Wearing a red Costa Rica jersey covered with player autographs, Elizondo – who traveled from Toronto – blended in with his fellow countrymen, who draped flags over their shoulders.
As was the case with his American counterparts, the number of miles covered to get to Chicago didn’t matter to Elizondo.
“This is our team and I believe you will go anywhere for your national team,” Elizondo said. “It’s amazing for us to come down and hopefully, we will win.”
Unfortunately for Elizondo, the U.S. responded, paced by the three early goals and the constant beat of the American fans who were there for their team at every turn.
The undivided attention certainly didn’t go unnoticed by a team that entered Tuesday night understanding what was at stake and that left Soldier Field appreciative they could put on a show while gaining a much-needed victory.
“It was a perfect night,” said Jones, who was named man of the match. “We played good and the support was good.”
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