COLUMBUS – Ricardo Iribarren had just arrived from Argentina with no knowledge of the language, culture or the team he joined.
All he knew was that Columbus had lost to the Tampa Bay Mutiny in his first game with the Crew and that fireworks were exploding over the Florida sky that night as he walked off the pitch at Houlihan’s Stadium.
“Right after the game I didn’t know what was going on,” he recalled. “I thought that was the way they celebrate games. They beat us 4-1. Well, they are happy. Then they told me the meaning of that.”
It so happened that his first game in the United States came on July 4, 1996.
That was Iribarren’s introduction to Independence Day, American style.
“I was surprised. It’s kind of exciting to see all the people together celebrating,” said the Crew assistant coach.
Argentina’s independence from Spain is observed July 9 but not like in the USA.
“We are not that crazy like you guys,” said Iribarren. “It’s not that big a deal. In Argentina it’s like, ‘Okay, it’s a holiday. No work.’ ”
Andy Iro doesn’t get it either. Of course, the Crew defender from Liverpool, England, has his reasons for not understanding the hoopla.
“It’s a little overdone, I think,” he said.
Always one to playfully stir the Anglo-American pot, Iro said the Brits get along fine without their former colony.
“Every day is a celebration back home,” he joked. “All you guys seem to do is get us in trouble, get us into wars, get us into debt. We’re happy we got rid of you.”
Iro and other international players quickly grasp the meaning of Independence Day and the activities that come with it. But first, the Crew will have its own pyrotechnics after Saturday’s game vs. Chicago in Crew Stadium. It wouldn’t be fireworks without the Fire.
The July 5, 2008, match against Chicago finished 2-2 to start a string of five straight regular-season draws in the series. Four of them were 2-2 and three of those, including the most recent in Chicago on Sept. 20, saw one side rally from a two-goal deficit.
“We have a lot of offensive players and they have the same,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “That’s what the people like to see. As coaches you like to keep the sheet to zero.”
Both teams are coming off midweek U.S. Open Cup matches so fielding the freshest lineups will be vital. The Crew could be buoyed by the return from the injured list of not only Argentine defender Gino Padula but defenders Frankie Hejduk and Danny O’Rourke.
It should make for another entertaining match against the Fire, befitting the festive holiday weekend.
“It’s usually a big game, a big crowd,” the Crew’s New Zealand midfielder Duncan Oughton said. “It’s fun to play and there’s fireworks. Who doesn’t love fireworks?”