06/25/2013 05:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Day the Nats Came to My Town Matches Great World Cup Memories


Last week, the USA Mens national side visited my home town of Seattle. Much has been written by both people who were there, and people who were not about the occasion.

I have seen World Cup games before both qualifiers and finals in places like Wembley Stadium, Hampden Park, Stadio delle Alpi in Turin, Stade de France in Paris and at various other venues enshrined in the tragic history of Scottish international football.

I attended the Euro 1996 final at Wembley between the Czech Republic and Germany and the ultra memorable England versus Republic of Ireland match in Stuttgart at EURO 1988. Those were great atmospheres, days which more than a quarter of a century later, still leave an indelible stamp on my memory.

For some of them I had to travel great distances. For others, I walked to the stadium.

Every game was different. Every atmosphere was unique. Yet none will live any longer in my mind than the day the USA national team came to my adopted city of Seattle.

Let's start with a little piece of self-introspective honesty.

Seattle football fans can get a hard time from others who live outside the city. There is a reason for this and it's not really all our own fault, well not entirely.

Some fans post lopsided and biased gibber on chat boards or on and there is no point in denying that a disproportionate amount of it comes from people purporting to be Sounders FC fans.

Now, it's not above Portland fans to make up a moniker and write something really really stupid pretending it came from a Sounders fan, so they can change log-ins and poke fun at the rubbish they just wrote. (Look sheepish if you have ever done that at this point. No-one, not even the NSA can see you. Honest.)

2013-06-25-demspeypout.jpgIt is also impossible to deny that some Sounders fans are newish to the game and say dumb stuff.

Still it reflects on the whole Seattle football community I think unfairly.

Neither fact should ever be allowed to counter the existence of a very longstanding and hardcore Seattle public that loves the game and has always done so.

They were there in massive numbers in the NASL days.

They are there every weekend when their children are playing soccer at school or junior level.

They are there in rave green to cheer on the Sounders, home and away.

They spend a disproportionate amount of their time and money on football.

I never had any doubt for a minute they would fill the stadium on Tuesday. I also never had any doubt that the faithful, and increasing in number, members of the American Outlaws would flock to the Emerald City from all round the country to agglomerate the numbers.

No, the attendance did not surprise me. But everything else did.

On the way to the stadium, some local grumbles about the place looking like July 4th floated around the emeraldcitynet.

Firstly, that was simply not true. A mere handful looked like they were advertising a Memorial Day mattress sale.

Secondly, have you ever been to a Scotland match? There are fans that look like they leapt off the front of a shortbread tin. International matches are the Halloween of football culture.

So the abundance of red, white, blue, stars and stripes was highly appropriate but there were an even greater number in USA replica jerseys, which one could narrowly define as the professional way to support your nation.

I just saw no reason for that cringe factor from purists whatsoever. There was also no jingoism. The Panama fans mixed comfortably among the crowd. Isn't it nice to see a collection of patriotically dressed people who are actually pleasant to foreigners?

Home fans were in the majority, not like the bad old days of American home internationals; treating visitors with a warm welcome. But most of all, there with a deep knowledge and appreciation of the game.

Tuesday was what international football should look like everywhere. And it happened here, in America. In Seattle.

Among the many stories of the night, came one from a rivalry closer to home which will resonate with our readers especially.

Dylan Vanderhoof was one of the American Outlaws of Seattle diehards who helped make that astonishing tifo banner with the five historic logos of US Soccer.

Despite all the hard work over many weeks, there is always that uneasy feeling that a perfect tifo display will not go off perfectly on the night.

He told us:

"I was running the aisles to make sure each of the five overheads had two people at each corner, one to guide the banner up, one to queue the next section. We seemed a little shorthanded, so I was a bit worried. I got to the last one, the aisle where 123 meets 124. We were by then asking people we didn't know to volunteer.

One of my guys had assigned the banner in 124 to a guy who then introduced himself slightly hesitantly as a Timbers Army Capo.

"Fantastic. You'll know what you're doing then," replied my guy before both parties laughed at the situation"

Vanderhoof reflected on the story with some satisfaction and offered an invitation to the aforementioned Timbers Capo:

"We had a good laugh about how nice it can be to set aside club drama for a couple days. That's about all the conversation I had time for really, and I didn't run into him again I'm afraid, or I'd have bought him a beer."


That story is symptomatic of the night. The support was magnificent, before, after and during the game. That offer of the beer still stands, Vanderhoof told us.

Another fan on Tuesday morning recounted his experience at a fan rally on the eve of the game, putting me totally in my place:

"I've met people from Minnesota, Iowa, Texas and New York," he said. "This is the biggest gathering of US soccer fans I can recall. And they're here to see American players."

"Great," I replied. "And where are you from?"

"Four blocks away," he said, needlessly adding, "Where did you fly in from?"

During the game itself, the support was incredible.

There seemed to be an absence of silent observers, or customers. Everyone sang; everyone stood, everyone clapped.

One moment stood out for me.

I've been present when 25,000 Scots marched in unison through the Champs Elysee in Paris to the skirl of bagpipes and stopped the traffic and briefly the heartbeat of Parisian women. I've seen scantily clad Brazil fans sambaing their way to the stadium and briefly stopping the drink beat of Scotland fans.

I've heard 20,000 Irishmen singing the Fields of Athenry in Stuttgart as they were seconds from beating England in 1988. Even happy Germans dancing in the streets of Karlsruhe when they won the World Cup.

This moment equaled any of that.

About 70 minutes into the game, a drum beat twice, slowly, from the Brougham End. Barely heard above the din, a few of the locals knew to respond with one short clap; hands raised above their heads.


For what seems just long enough to have forgotten the last drumbeat, it happened again. Still eerily, still slowly, still seemingly somewhat disconnected from the game.

A few more clapped than last time. They shout 'Hey' in time. After a slightly shorter interval, it's repeated. More clap. The interval is shorter for the fourth beat.

The gap between the beats is lesser, agonizingly lesser. People are by now eagerly anticipating the next chance to clap.

"Is the hair on the back of your neck standing up right now? ... You can play in a sandpit for all I care if you're in front of this crowd." comments Taylor Twellman on the television coverage.

Soon 42,000 people are by now clapping and shouting at the behest of American Outlaws drummers Rommel Alcobendas and Jon Danforth, who occasionally writes for Prost Amerika on supporter culture.

"I was waiting since before I was born for Tuesday night, a real USMNT qualifier in Seattle. It was breathtaking," Danforth said.

"Once the crowd picked up what we were doing, the response was incredible, and the players fed off the energy to create some of the best chemistry I've seen. It was beautiful."

He was perhaps being a little modest according to Vanderhoof:

"I think, when we do that at Sounders matches, it's kinda expected. Something about this felt different. I guess because there were at least 15000 people in the stands who had never been to a Seattle match before. You could see a little confusion at first, even in the AO section, then people stared to figure out what was going on. By the time the 3rd or 4th clap came along, the crowd was silent except for the clapping and chant. It was hard not to get chills from the energy once everybody picked it up.

I don't know what made it feel louder than what we get with the Sounders, but it certainly did to me, maybe just because of the impact of the match, that it's the whole country we're clapping for, or maybe because there were thousands of new participants who added some new enthusiasm to it.

Either way, it's no surprise that the announcers stopped for a bit on the broadcast and let the crowd speak for them. What we were doing was all that needed to be said."

Even among the hacks in the press box, most of whom had watched five years of Supporter Culture evolve in Seattle, there were glances as if to say, 'Is it just me, or is this special?'

It was special. Very special.

It's too early to tell for sure if the pitch will overrule the fans as a factor in US Soccer returning here.

Certainly, the Americans eventually seemed to adapt to the surface after about 25 minutes and start to play some decent football while Panama continued to flounder.

2013-06-25-bradforhuffpo.jpgGeoff Cameron got better with every possession.

Certainly, it is also not beyond US Soccer to use less than 'perfect conditions to play beautiful football' to their own advantage, as they did by scheduling the Costa Rica match in Colorado during Denver's igloo season.

Nothing is ever perfect in the growth of the sport in the USA.

There is usually a trade-off of some sort to be made, to take things to the next level.

US Soccer had to cap the attendance because there was a baseball game.

There can never be grass at the Clink because of the shared nature of the venue with another sport.

But there was little that was less than perfect about the atmosphere and the crowd in Seattle on Tuesday night; those from here, and those from there.

All that was missing for a great atmosphere was the bagpipes. But I can wait just a wee while longer for another USA versus Scotland friendly, thank you Sunil!

The repeat on Tuesday in Salt Lake City was - what's the word - perfect.

They are still a few carnivals left before Brazil though!

More USA v Panama:

Photo Gallery: USMNT v. Panama

USA v Panama - Tactical Analysis

Jozy Opens the Door to Brazil

USA 1 : 0 Honduras

USA v Honduras Photo Gallery