I wrote my experience attending a World Cup qualifier (Costa Rica vs. United States) a while ago on a message board, but wanted to document it here...
I meant to write this earlier, but I´ve been busy. Still traveling around Costa Rica. I´m in the north right now (La Fortuna, right next to Arenal volcano) and it is POURING! Never seen rain like this. Guess that´s what happens in a rainforest. :)
But it was beautiful in San Jose two nights ago. I was worried that it would rain. It had started to rain while I ate downtown 5 hours or so before the game. When I got to the stadium, 3 and a half hours before game time, storm clouds were rolling in. They decided to go away, however, and the weather could not have been better for a soccer game.
I saw some white dudes drinking beer outside of the entrance gate. I figured they were Americans, so I went and chatted with them for a while. Grabbed some beers. Drank. More Americans showed up and we had a little crew chilling in the street. Some Costa Ricans, both fans and street vendors, gave us some friendly shit talk.
Security at the stadium was great. Not pushy, but well-organized. Everyone was required to get rid of their coins in their pockets so no one could throw them at players (or other fans), and I believe the money was donated to some charity.
I loved the stadium. Yeah, it´s old and worn down, but what a great layout. There are no shitty corner seats. You´re either behind the goal or on the sideline. I found some people waving American flags at the very top of the stands (which were just concrete bleachers), so I went to join them. Interestingly, two of them, both wearing US jerseys and waving a giant US flag, were Ticos. Never found out why they were cheering for the US...
While the layout is great, the stadium itself is in disrepair. Some of the concrete steps actually wobble a bit, and the steps are HUGE. As everyone knows, the atmosphere is great, however. Fans are right on top of the action. I think the new stadium being built will be multi-purpose, with a running track around the stadium, separating fans from the field. While this will be better for visiting teams, it seems like it will put a damper on the atmosphere.
But not too much. The fans are incredible. They are loud, patriotic, singing, chanting... and considerate. They showed us no hostility (not in my area, anyway) and even seemed welcoming. It actually seemed like they enjoyed having us there to root against.
We represented well, I thought. We ended up drawing a decent crowd of Americans in our area, with several big flags. We got the "U-S-A" chant going several times, and then were quickly drowned out by the Ticos singing songs to shut us up. The songs spread quickly throughout the entire stadium, with one side behind the goal bouncing up and down like maniacs. Some people in our area were bouncing too, making the stands shake. This was a good 90 minutes before game time, and lasted all the way until the game started. Or, until the first 2 minutes. We got a bit quieter after that--and then even quieter about 10 minutes later.
The Costa Rican fans had a chant (one of the many): "Oleeeeeeee, ole ole ole oleeee, Ticooooooos, Ticooooos" We decided to adopt the chant, but couldn´t quite figure out what to replace Ticos with. We tried Estados Unidos--too much of a mouthful. We tried USA--didn´t sound right. Then someone--I don´t know who--came up with a great one. "Oleeeeeeeee, ole ole oleeeee, Gringoooooooos, Gringoooooos" Even the Costa Ricans around us liked it. I saw several of them turn to us and laugh. Of course, they then drowned us out.
I saw several Americans behind the goal, representing in the middle of a sea of Costa Ricans. Three in particular were wearing USA flags wrapped around their backs and skipping up and down in front of the front row. Back and forth. Back and forth. I saw some American flags on the other sideline, too.
When Gooch got fouled in the box at the end of the game, we waved the flag like maniacs and started the "U-S-A" chant. Hey, we had to cheer for something, right? It was also quite sarcastic. I mean, we knew we got our asses kicked and had no chance of evening the score, but we took our one chance during the game to celebrate. Why not? Some of the Ticos looked at us like we were idiots and held up three fingers, but we didn´t care.
Not much interesting happened after the game. I ran into some other Americans, and we remarked how far our country has come when it comes to soccer. One guy asked "How many Americans were here for the qualifier 20 years ago?" I answered "Maybe five." He replied "Yeah, and all five were probably friends and family." Yeah, we lost. We were expected to lose. We played even worse than expected. But the experience was magnificent, and it was a good sign for US soccer to see so many Americans at the game. No, we still don´t travel like English fans, but compared to 20, or even 10 years ago, I think it´s a positive sign.
Now I need to attend a home qualifier...