Seventy-three thousand fans at MetLife Stadium (Rutherford, NJ) last Sunday night, July 19, and a worldwide audience of millions saw an abhorrent act by fans during the Mexico-Costa Rica CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal game. Spectators, mostly Mexican, tossed water bottles, cups and other objects onto the field during Mexico’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica on a 90th minute penalty kick. It was the second such abhorrent and dangerous act in the past week by fans during two Mexico games.
In a tense battle between the teams — scoreless after both teams, particularly Mexico, had missed a number of scoring chances — a fan breached the security lines and ran onto the field; as the guards escorted him out, bottles and cans, aimed at the security guards, rained on the pitch. It was an ugly site that tarnished an otherwise very competitive game, one that CONCACAF and U.S. soccer would have been proud of. Instead, what was a very enthusiastic atmosphere suddenly turned dangerous to fans and players alike
This was the second such disruptive action in a week of one of the best CONCACAF tournaments to date. During the Mexico-Trinidad and Tobago game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday, July 15, in the last group stage game, Mexico was leading, 4-3, with less than a minute to play, and as Trinidad and Tobago forward Joevin Jones prepared to take the crucial corner kick, water bottles, cups and other objects were tossed at him to distract the kicker. Credit to Jones, he ignored the regrettable actions of the Mexican fans and focused on delivering an accurate kick that teammate Yohancy Marshall turned into the equalizer for a 4-4 result.
Ironically, this Mexico-Trinidad game was one of the most exciting in the history of the CONCACAF tournament, and the standard of play mirrored the improved game coming out of the of the Caribbean. Although Jones ignored the vile act of the fans, FIFA, MLS, U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF cannot afford to. Guardians of the game must immediately address this situation, otherwise, left unchecked, these and others vile acts will be a detriment to U. S. soccer. Throwing bottles and other objects onto a soccer field is harmful and disdainful to the game and most importantly to the fans. It will be a sad day if American stadiums have the feel of outdoor barracks, with high wire fences and iron stanchions to guard against bottle-throwing and the like, as is the case with stadiums in some foreign countries.
U. S. soccer has developed over the past 13 years by leaps and bounds, much to the credit of the quick growth of MLS. The best foreign players come here to conclude their careers. The quality and legitimacy of U.S. soccer is manifested in the improvement of the U.S. senior national team’s recent successes on the world stage: the men’s squad has qualified for every World Cup tournament since 1990 and the women’s awesome display on the field recently in Canada earned them an unprecedented third World Cup title. American fans are enjoying the game more than ever before, staging public viewing sites around the country when the national teams play. There is much at stake here, very much to protect!
American soccer is a good product, a new product that could set new standards for the game as a refreshingly enjoyable entertainment event. The best foreign teams come here during the summer for the Guinness International Cup, a preseason tournament to prepare them for their fall seasons; they are here because of the peaceful atmosphere at games, free from hostility, which allows for effective preparation. Hence, the world’s best clubs are in the tournament: English teams Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs; world club champion Barcelona of Spain is here and so is Fiorentina of Italy, Club America from Mexico and PSG (Paris Saint Germain) from France.
These teams endear the American fans to the game with their high standards of play, Americans appreciate the firsthand experience, and very importantly, American youth players improve by watching their heroes up close. The caretakers of the American game must deal with the abhorrent behavior that I witnessed the last two weeks in CONCACAF. They have a chance to be a new beacon for the game and infuse new ideas to enhance soccer as the wonderful spectator sport that it is; so far, MLS and U. S. soccer have done an excellent job of marketing the game and making it a wonderful experience for fans here. There is much at stake and abhorrent acts such as I saw during Mexico’s last two games have no place in American soccer. American soccer officials have a responsibility to protect the ‘beautiful’ game and maintain its beauty.
Panama-Trinidad and Tobago
In the opening game of the quarterfinal doubleheader at MetLife Stadium, Trinidad and Tobago took on Panama, which came away with a 6-5 win from penalties to advance to a semifinal matchup against Mexico on Wednesday in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Jamaica will play the USA in the other semifinal at the same venue. The winners play in the CONCACAF final on Sunday, July 26, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia at 7:30 pm.
The sweltering heat that put the temperature around 92 degrees slowed the game considerably, but Trinidad and Tobago had a slight edge in position. In the 30th minute, a long Daniel Cyrus throw-in caused a ripple among the still crowd when Trinidad captain Kenwyn Jones out-jumped everyone in the penalty area only to see his header skid just over the crossbar. A minute later, it was Panama’s turn to awaken the crowd; a long pass over the Trinidad defense was met by Panama forward Luis Tejada, who shot just wide of the left upright, and moments later Panama failed to get a shot off in a scramble in front of the Trinidad goal.
In the 44th minute, a mistake in the Trinidad and Tobago defense led to Tejada’s goal for a 1-0 Panama lead; Trinidad defender Sheldon Bateau found himself facing his goal and desperately cleared the ball onto a Panamanian forward as the ball bounced kindly to Tejada in front the goal. Trailing 1-0 in the second half, Jones wasted no time in pulling Trinidad and Tobago level at 1-1 when he headed in a Khaleem Hyland cross from a free kick and beat Panama’s netminder Jaime Penedo. Both teams had numerous chances to score, with Panama creating the better chances. The best opportunity of the day fell to Panama’s Blas Perez, who found himself unmarked in font the Trinidad goal but side-footed a an easy cross, just wide of the left goalpost from about five yards.
The regulation game ended 1-1 and the teams played through a goalless 30-minute overtime period, then it was on to penalty kicks. The teams were tied at 3-3 after the first five players from each team kicked; in sudden death, Trinidad and Tobago had three opportunities to win the game with a kick but shots from Daniel Cyrus missed the goal and Lester Peltier’s shot was tipped onto the crossbar by Penedo.
In the Caribbean Cup tournament at Jefferson Sports Complex in Flatlands, Brooklyn on Sunday, July 19, Team Guyana continues its good play by rolling over Team Panama, 4-1; Anthony Abrams and Devon Millington each scored twice to lead the victors, while Eduardo McCalla tallied for Panama. Team St. Vincent and the Grenadines won on a forfeit against Team Trinidad and Tobago. On Sunday, July 26, in a 3 pm start to the first game,Team St. Lucia plays Team Dominica and defending champion Team Jamaica takes on Team Haiti.