Subject: USA v. Costa Rica - I was THERE!
Date: 11 Sep 1997 06:37:06 GMT
From: (Howard H. Hamilton)

I arrived in Portland on Saturday afternoon and spent
the night talking soccer and other things with the
local and out-of-town Sammers who were there for the
night.  It was great to see old friends from a few 
years ago, and people who I had only known in email
and pictures on a webpage.  

On Sunday, I arrived early and joined up with Sam's
Army, decked out in my red Sam's Army shirt, Sam's
Army scarf and a big Uncle Sam top hat.  We had a
spontaneous pep rally outside Civic Stadium, replete
with drums, noisemakers and chants, and then marched
around the stadium to our entrance.

Civic Stadium looks like a classic baseball field,
with the overhang over what would be the main and
baseline stands.  It looks awesome for a soccer match,
almost like the roofed stadia that you might see
in Europe.  Sam's Army was one the opposite side of
the main stands, in some wood/steel bleachers surrounded
by large signage and a mural of six US players.  What
really caught my attention was that Alexi Lalas, the
sport's most recognizable and marketable player in
the USA, wasn't in the mural!  

Both teams came out to a crescendo of those plastic
sticks (courtesy Nike) and some confetti machines,
the anthems were sung, and Costa Rica kicked off.
A lot has been said about American soccer fans and
their understanding of what goes on in World Cup
qualification, but it seemed that everyone knew
the importance of the match.  There was a roar that
filled the air before kick-off, but it was also
tinged with tension, uncertain of what the next
90 minutes would reveal.

I had read some previews to the match that said
that the US would try to get an early goal to 
rally the fans, but could expect problems if
they couldn't crack Costa Rica's zone defense
in the first thirty minutes.  That is what
happened - the US had a few chances, but they
were snuffed out by either a tight Costa Rican
defense or a lack of finishing.  (Or in Roy
Lassiter's case, offside.)  The first good chance
I can remember was Ramos' freekick outside the
box, which squeezed through the wall and required
a save by Lonnis.  Costa Rica looked threatening
at some stages, but their possessions didn't
result in much, and the balls which threatened the
small box were scooped up by Kasey Keller.  Pope,
Balboa and Dooley did a great job in winning the
ball away - perhaps the best I have seen the central
defense play in all of qualifiers.  The final 15
minutes produced a few scares but no real chances,
and the tension in the stadium increased until
halftime.  0-0.

I spent halftime chatting to some Costa Rican fans
who managed to get into the Sam's Army section.
They were very nice folks, especially the two
really cute Costa Rican women I talked with (and
took pictures of).  I think I need to reconsider
my vacation plans for next summer.  :)

The second half started, and the US started to
step up the attack.  The closest we came to a goal
was when Pope flicked on a Ramos(could have been
Sorber) corner, and the ball trickled across the
goalmouth and over the endline.  OOhhhhhhh!!!
Will we get another chance??  I start to get
nervous, my stomach is tying into knots and I'm
bending over from emotional exhaustion.

60 minutes.

Costa Rica continues to do a good job defending,
but the US seems to be doing a better job cracking
their shell.  If only they can convert!!  Wegs is
running out of steam, Lassiter is becoming more
and more ineffective.  To our credit, Costa Rica
isn't causing too many problems for Keller.  I
start thinking that this might end 0-0.  I pray
for a goal.

65 minutes.

Sampson is about to make a substitution.  I plead
with the football gods that it is not Burns.  The
Sammers behind me say, "Anyone but Burns".  The
referee's assistant holds up his flag for a sub-
stitution.  It is Burns for Reyna.  I did not
understand that at all.  Replace a midfielder for
a crap defender?  [I would find out later that
Reyna was hurt, which you sometimes can't tell
from the stands...]  A few minutes later,
Sampson subs Preki for Lassiter, Cobi for Wegerle.
I pray that Burns does not hurt us.

70 minutes.

Preki is starting to make some good moves, but
they aren't resulting in much of anything.
I am too nervous to sing with the rest of the
Army.  I bounce only to relax my fraying nerves.
I'm starting to bite my fingernails.

75 minutes.

Pleeeeeease, pleeeeease give us a goal!!  The
atmosphere is growing more tense with every
passing minute.  Maybe Costa Rica will get out
of here with a point.  My Gawd, we're so close
to breaking through.  Please let it happen
before the referee blows his whistle.

Then, it happened.  I don't really recall the
buildup, but Preki has the ball on the right
wing.   He shows some skill and dribbles past
the Costa Rican defender.  He then plays it
to Balboa.  For some reason, I sense a goal.
Then, as soon as he receives it, Balboa taps
it out to an onrushing player who strikes at
the ball.  I don't know who it is, but his
strike is low and pure, and the ball glides
inches on the grass and into the back of
the net.



Immediately, my hands go straight up, and I jump
at least a foot in the air.  It is pure bedlam in
the Sam's Army section, as the rest of Civic
Stadium fills with a loud roar.  I'm hugging 
people I know, I'm hugging people I don't know,
I'm jumping and screaming and crying.  There
were so many emotions I was going through
at the moment - tension, relief, joy, ecstacy.
All the while, I have not focused on the field,
and I still do not know who has scored.  At the
same time, I do not care who scored; what mattered
was that WE scored.

After the goal, the final ten minutes went pretty
fast.  Costa Rica, realizing that they needed a 
goal to achieve their mission, finally attacked.
But the central defense was still solid, and Keller's
hands were still secure.  Now the US has possession
and is looking for the final fatal strike.  Preki
again shakes off a defender and tries a curling
shot with his left foot...Oooooooooohhh!!!  Just
over the far post.

We play some more, and after one minute of injury
time [I had expected four, but I'm not complaining],
the Uruguayan referee blew for time.  The stadium
burst into total separation, and the Sam's Army
section was going beszerk.  Our drums start playing,
Sammers are dancing to the beat of victory, and
Sammers are hugging fellow Sammers, realizing
the importance of this win.  Steve Sampson,
Hank Steinbrecher and the rest of the national
team come over to greet us, and they are met
with an even louder ovation.

It was not the best game in terms of technical
technical merit, but for pure drama and suspense
it was perhaps the best match of the qualifiers.
This match had "The Moment" which I had not
yet seen in a US qualifying match - a critical
goal scored at a critical time.

After the game, I drove back to Seattle, and
found out that Tab Ramos indeed scored that
goal.  Here are some of my other memories from
the trip:

- Some of the Sammers (Okay, Big Dog) taking over
  a city block to play soccer under the street lights.
  That was awesome.

- Juan in the big cartoon Martian hat banging away
  at a bass drum.

- The Sammers who flew from the east coast for this
  game (including Atlanta, South Carolina, DC and

- Meeting my Real Madrid (yeah!) and Real Betis pals
  from the Spanish soccer mailing list.

- Big Dog's patriotic hair coloring.

- Commandeering a Tri-Met rail car and singing Sam's
  Army songs (with other Sammers and our fellow
  Portlanders) at 9am.

- Forgetting my match tickets and having to wait
  30 min for a return train to my hotel.

- The speeding ticket I got on the drive to Portland.

- Blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics united as one
  to support our national team.

What I will take with me from this game is the talk I
had with a Costa Rican gentleman at halftime (he was
a gentleman in every sense).  I asked him what he 
thought about the game and he said, "This isn't about
the game.  This is about people coming together.
About being a family."  Indeed.


And with that, I'm relocating to Stanford University to
begin graduate school.  I hope to be back when/if I find
housing in the Bay Area.  Probably not as much as before -
grad school can be a drain on free time - but I should
be back for the Jamaica game.   
Howard Hamilton
Howard H. Hamilton  --  --  Renton, WA (ex-S. Fla.)
Georgia Tech BS '97, Stanford MS '98, PhD?
"There are some ideas that are so preposterous that only an
 intellectual could believe them." - George Orwell