As you’ve probably heard by now, the US national team lost 2-0 to Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey last night, a gut-punch World Cup qualifying setback on home soil that significantly complicates the Yanks’ road to Russia 2018.
There’s plenty of cold flesh for postmortem dissection. US center backs Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron were both exposed and exploited on Marco Ureña’s goals. Goalkeeper Tim Howard set the stage for the opener with an aimless long ball, then compounded it with dodgy positioning on Ureña’s tightly-angled shot. Christian Pulisic tried to do too much on his own in the face of constant double- and triple-teaming. The Jozy Altidore-Bobby Wood strike duo looked disjointed and rusty.
But it turns out that a great many of those who watched the disaster unfold feel compelled to point fingers in another direction entirely. Witness some hot takes about the US Soccer Federation’s choice of venue:
Did not feel like a #USMNT "home" game with 50% CRC fans, better off in the Midwest somewhere, unfortunately— David F. Bernal (@DavidFBernal) September 2, 2017
The #USMNT should play home games in either seattle portland or columbus only. Anywhere else is pretty much an away game on home soil— G - O (@giochaochibye) September 2, 2017
Terrible night for #USMNT starting with playing in NY. Gave Costa Rica close to a home game.— Alex Isaacson (@aj_isaacson) September 2, 2017
Put simply, this is a bad look, and a poor set of excuses for a US team that conceded they were “outplayed and outcoached” by the Ticos – who were 1-7-2 in qualifiers on US soil coming into this game.
The USMNT have come a long way from the old days of playing “home” qualifiers vs. Mexico at the LA Coliseum in front of dominantly pro-El Tri crowds, and it’s in large part because of the federation’s increasingly sophisticated management of venues and ticket sales.
The American Outlaws, the devoted band of ultras whose members travel thousands of miles every year to support the USMNT in a range of locales, turned out en masse on Friday, as usual. Yes, there were also ranks of Costa Rican supporters in attendance, as is nearly inevitable no matter how carefully tickets are allocated. And at some point, it’s the home team’s job to inspire their fans and dispirit their opponents’ – to literally give their supporters something to cheer about.
It was the visitors who did that this time.
Red Bull Arena is a truly gorgeous facility, arguably North American soccer’s greatest theater. It’s just big enough to give ample opportunities for those interested in catching a huge qualifier like this one, and just intimate enough for the fed to guide ticket distribution towards fans of the home team.
RBA sports an immaculate pitch, incredible sightlines and a swooping, noise-catching roof. And yes, it’s a hop and a skip from the heart of Manhattan, and thus relatively accessible to the millions of soccer fans across the greater New York metropolitan area.
Those masses are the reason Gotham, one of the most diverse human communities on the planet, has two MLS teams. They’re the reason big international games constantly come to the Tri-State area and usually draw bumper crowds. And beyond all that, being just as quintessentially American as any other patch of US soil, the USMNT fans there are just as deserving of a home qualifier as anyone else.
But millions of flag-waving, passport-holding US citizens carry other allegiances, or dual loyalties. Whether they carried a love of a different national team from their old country, or had it passed down to them through their family roots, such situations are a unique part of American soccer, a big reason why our landscape is like no other on earth. The USMNT can in fact reach many of them – by playing with quality, style and spirit.
USMNT captain Michael Bradley expressed these sentiments far more movingly than I can, back in 2015 when his team was preparing for the CONCACAF Cup clash with Mexico at a Rose Bowl with marginally more El Tri fans than Yanks supporters.
“It makes it a unique challenge for us. But it's something that we embrace,” he said.
“Certainly when you talk about the United States in a bigger way, one of the beautiful things about our country is the ability for people from all over the world to come here and live and work and in some ways make new lives for themselves,” added Bradley. “And that's something that I'm personally very proud of. So when it means in a footballing sense that every now and then we play with a few less fans, then we deal with it.”
We’re all familiar with this century’s proud tradition of home domination at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. But it seems that at some point that fortress morphed into something supernatural in the minds of USMNT fans. The Yanks still had to step on Crew SC’s home field and do the business, something they failed to do in Mexico’s hex-breaking win there in November.
I suspect those who believe opposing supporters can somehow be engineered out of US home games haven’t thought this all the way through. Trying to impose some kind of loyalty test on every person seeking a seat in a USMNT qualifier leads us to some dark, ugly places that don’t reflect the best of American soccer.
We’re different. We’re not like other countries. And in this case, we lose an important part of ourselves when we try to be.