My voice is still scratchy. My headache has gone down but when I try to test my voice it comes back. I'm still dead tired...but the good kind. As I sit back and bask in the ambience that is our confirmed qualification for World Cup 2014 in Brazil, I can't help but look back and realize the magical night that was Tuesday, September 10th. Columbus was set and a city that this Michigan man normally can't wait to leave was a circled destination on the calendar. It's USA-Mexico. It's one of the top 10 soccer rivalries in the world in my biased opinion. It's THE game for 99% of US soccer fans. And, in Columbus, a USA-Mexico match just has this defining aura, where the only retort you ever have to have in your arsenal is: "Dos a cero." Three times, the US has played Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium. Three times, the scoreline was the same: USA 2, Mexico 0. This time around, the perspective for me would take on a new added element, one that was shared by my friend Max: we were going to be capos to hopefully lead the entire stadium in organized cheer.
It was something I was excited to do, to help Columbus bring the noise to a whole new level. They didn't need our help, but when the match was announced, I pledged my support and told them whatever they needed, I was there. After the events of #Capogate went down, I quietly confirmed with Columbus leaders and AO National that I was all in... I wanted to be a part of it however I could, supporting their efforts in areas that they needed. It was at that point I, along with my friend, was asked to help organize the capos.
The buildup to the match was intense, but behind the scenes, we were working hard to come up with ideas to keep the crowd energetic for the whole match. With over 9000 supporters split up on the north and south end, we zealously talked over ideas to get the entire stadium on the same page, chanting loud and proud. It was a challenge, but a necessary one. Meanwhile, we wanted to make sure Columbus was involved throughout the process, soliciting their input and even arranging for them to take the lead during the match with some local flavor.
Gameday. The Project X-style night-before party at 4th Street bar hits daytime in high gear, with a satellite tailgate at a parking lot down the street from the bar to handle overflow and a parking lot full of tailgaters at the stadium. Entering the stadium early because of some intense security, we were able to survey how this was going to play out. US Soccer had set up speaker systems around the stadium and a mic in front of the north end stage where my friend and I were going to rock out. Normally for DC United matches, we have a platform and no mic, leaving us to communicate naturally via hand signals and visual cues...and overpowering loud voices. So, this was a new experience for me. Still, from the moment I entered the stands, you could feel just the energy. It's that energy that cranked me up, got me to a level I probably have never experienced before. And, after that tifo went up, I was handed the mic to begin the first chant of the night... no mic check to see how loud my voice would be on it. I held the mic down by my waist like a gunslinger ready to draw his pistol out the holster and then I started the "I Believe" chant. For an entire stadium. I don't know about you, but that moment will rank up there for me, yelling so loud that people watching on TV were blowing up my phone because they could recognize my voice. It's still surreal and it always will be. But, no time to dwell on that, we were off.
Max and I held the mic, kept the party going in the stands and traded off with each other once we reached exhaustion. We didn't have stands to see everything because of the security restrictions, so it was one of us running up to the band or the drums to make sure they knew what we wanted to do or to have them take the lead. When I wasn't on the mic, I was making sure people on the ends of the north bleachers knew what was up, because the speaker system kept going in and out. We had a network of capos spread out around the stadium, so it was really heading towards them so we could give each other visual cues or communicate on what was working and what wasn't. It was a true workout... with that, putting every decibel of voice into each chant and running around in the 90 degree heat, I probably drank about 2 gallons of water during the match. In the 2nd half, the speaker systems finally gave out and the mics were shut off, which only meant one thing... we had to bring it even harder.
When the first goal came, it was probably the first time I had turned around towards the field in the 2nd half (I probably got to see about 10 minutes of the entire game). When the ball bangs off Eddie Johnson's dome into the back of the neck... I had an out of body experience, a euphoria that was shared by almost all of the 24,500+ people in attendance. At that point, we all knew what we wanted, and the levels just kept going up and up. Then, Landon Donovan poked in goal number 2, leading to a bedlam I probably will never understand in the stands. All I remember is jumping up off a railing into the stands from the bottom of the bleachers, hugging anyone and everyone my arms could curl around. Then, I started pacing the walkway crying happy tears. As I mentioned I would a couple weeks ago, I took a couple moments to look at the crowd going nuts, the field and the scoreboard and take it all in, wondering if this 4th Dos A Cero life was real. It was.
At that moment, I let it all go. The crowd let it all go. Dos a cero chants ran into the night along with chants of "We Are Going To Brazil" and "You're Not Going To Brazil" songs aimed at the Mexican players. The headache I had from losing my voice and yelling so loud for 2 hours was reaching hairsplitting status, but I kept going, we all did. When that final whistle came after (in my opinion) Dempsey purposefully missed an easy penalty kick to preserve the 2-0 victory, it was done. But the party had just begun. I was so exhausted I could barely stand. But, I had truly given my all for the USMNT and the scoreline we all wanted but never believed would happen again came true. About an hour later, we learned that thanks to a 2-2 Honduras-Panama draw, we were on the plane to Brazil. Officially qualified. And Mexico was in 5th place in the Hex with 2 games to go. Seriously, this really can't be life.
In the last couple of days, after getting back to DC (and work and life), people have decided to lash out-subliminally or directly-at me and the other capos, calling us lazy, unprepared, "out of tune drunk frat boy(s)," and other stuff in an attempt to demean what we put into it. To that I say: I'm right here. Was everything perfect? No. Was it a learning experience? Absolutely! It should have been for all of us in AO. But, people will always try to bash people who lead in the absence of others. It comes with the territory, and I can handle constructive criticism. I'm a big boy and it won't bother me to have an intelligent discussion about what worked and what could be improved for next time. Still, people may choose to come at me or come at my friends who sacrificed their gameday experience for the greater good of helping contribute to what some have started to call the best pro-US crowd EVER. If you want to do that, fine. Start with me... because it's a fight I'm ready to have.
There's no doubt I'm going to remember September 10, 2013. I was a part of something truly special. I can't thank the Columbus supporters enough for giving me the opportunity to do you proud and help you guys put on the greatest show in international soccer. It was a ton of fun and I had a blast. I have my ticket, I have my commemorative scarf, I have still have that headache and I have no voice. That's the only proof I need that I brought it at a level that haters could only dream of attaining. And I'd gladly do it again if asked. So hate if you want, but what your hating will never achieve is the perspective I had for Dos A Cero 4 in Columbus. It's one I'll never let you take away from me and it's one I wished everyone could have had. How lucky am I to get to directly be even a small part of a night that will forever live in sports history? Pretty damn lucky, if you ask me. See y'all in Kansas City!
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- D.C. United Scouting Report: LA Galaxy
- D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy lineup: Is a diamond in our future?
- World Cup Qualifying: United States vs. Mexico - USA WINS DOS A CERO
- Richmond Kickers Nate Robinson, Alex Lee, and Juan Arbelaez training with D.C. United
- Filibuster Podcast - Week 28: Resigned sighing, LA Galaxy, and USA vs. Mexico