The US A team, which is sure to include Donovan when it returns to World Cup qualifying in September, is in charge of its own destiny after dominating Panama 2-0 on June 11 in Seattle.
The U.S. improved to 9-1-2 all-time against Panama and is 22-0-2 in home qualifiers since losing to Honduras in September 2001 at RFK Stadium. They are 36-1-7 since losing to Costa Rica in 1985 at Torrance, Calif.
The match was played before 40,847, the seventh-largest crowd for a World Cup qualifier in U.S. soccer history, in exactly the atmosphere U.S. Soccer hoped it would get by playing the qualifier in Seattle.
Seattle may be the US soccer capital after that match. While other cities, including Dallas, can offer larger venues (Cowboys Stadium, now AT&T Stadium, hosted the Gold Cup semifinals), none can turn out as rabidly a pro-American crowd as the Emerald City.
Seattle can also turn out crowds for Sounders home games that — no kidding — eclipse Premiere League attendance. The Premiere League is the the most watched sports league on the planet. But the Sounders have sold 66,800 tickets to see Clint Dempsey’s home debut on August 25. If the Sounders were in the Premiere League, their sell-out crowds would be the league’s second-largest, a few thousand behind Manchester United’s Old Trafford and a few thousand beyond Arsenal’s state-of-the-art Emirates Stadium. The atmosphere in that stadium as the Sounders take on their rivals, the Portland Timbers, will be electric. If Dempsey manages to score, they’re probably hear the roar in his home town of Nagogdoches, TX.
The atmosphere for the Dallas-Galaxy match Sunday night, while a more intimate-sized 18,000 but near its 20,500 capacity, was everything a soccer fan could want. FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco was close to full and knowledgeable fans cheered, shouted and hooted at the refs as the action warranted (well, except for the guy who shouted “Offside!” every single time the Galaxy scored. It was a half-hearted bleat after Donovan’s third, which looked like it would be the winner as it daisy-cut its way just inches inside the post.). There isn’t a bad seat in the house, its River City Club rivals any nightspot in the actual city of Dallas, and if you’re lucky enough to get seats in the north end you’re near the drum line that thumps its way through every home game. Or maybe it’s luckier to be near the mid-line on the west side below the club, where I was, and hear the band from afar.
But the fact that there is a band, just as there’s a lumberjack in Portland’s home stadium who chainsaws a tree after every home goal, and nearly 70,000 will be on hand to watch two American internationals start pushing the Sounders up the table on August 25, says a lot. The Galaxy came to Dallas off of defeating Italian giants Juventus in the inaugural International Champions Cup and finished fourth in a tournament that included Real Madrid and England’s Chelsea. Dallas is a football city that happens to have successful baseball, hockey and basketball teams. It also has a thriving soccer team that has supplied an American to the massive Premiere League, and can turn out a healthy, raucous crowd to watch the Hoops battle the Galaxy in the Texas August furnace.
Sunday night, in a game full of international players, the American Landon Donovan was easily the best player in action. His teammate, Irish captain and Premiere League veteran Robbie Keane, was anonymous for long stretches and grouchy toward the end. When Dallas’ Blas Perez tied the game for good near the final whistle, Keane looked like he might pop a vein while he argued with the ref, correctly as it turned out, that a Dallas player had been offside during the sequence leading up to the shot.
For the fans, though, it was a fantastic match. FC Dallas dominated for long stretches and led twice. The Hoops and the Galaxy both inched toward playoff spots with the draw. The fans got to see a heroic performance by Donovan, and a few just might have picked up a new addiction: the world’s sport, American style.