A visit to the US and Canada principally for the Gold Cup but also including MLS, NASL and USL Pro football fixtures and some baseball.
The trip also included a visit to Sao Paulo for the Copa Libertadores final - see separate blog entry.
Starting in Dallas.
FC Dallas 1 New England Revolution 0
This Major League Soccer game was played in their relatively new soccer-specific stadium in Frisco some 30 miles north of Dallas.
Although the official attendance was given as over 10,000 the actual turnout looked considerably less.
Dallas had their ‘ultras’ in the right hand corner of a mostly open ground with a typical bar/cafe area at one end.
The atmosphere was a bit surreal with a constant flow of people moving around to get refreshments. Many came in late.
As you would expect in Texas it was hot.
Dallas dominated the game with their two Hispanic forwards Castillo and Chavez looking lively up front.
Chavez got the only goal.
Steve Nichol’s New England only applied some pressure towards the end.
The Gold Cup begins.
Costa Rica 5 Cuba 0
The Concacaf Gold Cup began in the massive Cowboys stadium in Arlington.
Outside in the sunshine was a busy fan park.
Inside, aside from the size of the air conditioned enclosed arena, what stood out was the impressive central scoreboard.
For this first of the double headers Cuba did look useful in possession but they lacked a threat up front and eventually were shown to be very naive in defence.
The Costa Ricans exploited their weaknesses and run out easy winners.
Substitute Joe Campbell sealed the win with a fine left foot finish.
Gradually the Mexican fans arrived.
They filled up the stadium on this Sunday night making the attendance over 80,000.
Mexico 5 El Salvador 0
Again the score was somewhat harsh.
Man Utd’s Chicarito, after a quiet first half, scored three in the second including a chipped penalty.
Mexico stepped up after the break and looked favourites for the Cup.
The day finished with a stroll back the hotel and some wine outside on the ‘porch’ on a still warm night.
(Baseball) Chicago White Sox 3 Seattle Mariners 1
Not as stimulating as my last visit to Chicago for baseball (at the Cubs)
But Chicago is always a worthwhile diversion, this time on the way to Detroit.
And it was pleasant enough at what was Comiskey Park to the south of downtown.
Designated hitter Paul Konerko hit a home run for the Sox and they got other runners home with just one reply from the Mariners.
I took the subway back to the hotel for a relatively early night.
Amtrak to Detroit.
Which was tolerable if you allow for about an hour delay because of the almost inevitable freight traffic clogging up the line.
Also Detroit does not have the most efficient public transport system.
So waiting for a bus can be tiresome, not least in the very hot weather.
Panama 3 Guadeloupe 2
Anyway back to the Gold Cup and Ford Field in central Detroit.
Which tends to ‘close’ early except for the area around the stadiums.
Ford Field is home to the Detroit Lions NFL team and is another enclosed arena capable of seating 70,000 though only 28,000 were, eventually, present on this particular night.
And many less than that for the opening encounter.
Which Panama won after going 3-0 ahead against ten man Guadeloupe.
The overseas French region, a non-FIFA member, was playing in its third Gold Cup having reached the semis in 2007.
Guadeloupe managed two responses later in the second period in a spirited comeback but Panama held on for the win.
USA 2 Canada 0
The USA ‘ultras’ arrived behind the goal to watch their team show a strong defence against a watchable Canadian side that lacked a cutting edge.
The Americans went in front after a shot from Altidore eluded the Canadian goalie and they sealed the win when Dempsey converted at the far post.
Plenty of effort from Canada in an entertaining match but the US, helped by some great saves by Howard, did enough.
Afterwards some beers and a chat with the locals.
Via Charlotte to Atlanta.
Atlanta Silverbacks 2 Montreal Impact 1
Prior to the game a tasty meal of fish in a Mexican restaurant in the Chamblee area of Atlanta where we were the only England supporters amongst the relaxing Mariachi band and others.
This was a match in the new version of the NASL, designated as the second level of US football.
The Silverbacks Park comprises two open stands with multi-colour seats, trees around, a walkway at one end and a cafe area at the other. A band was playing near the cafe before the match.
There was a small crowd, of which many arrived late, that seemed to be around 800 but was listed as over 2,800.
This was the first time I can remember experiencing a delay at a game due to the presence of lightning in the area. The caution was excessive as there was only a brief flash some distance away.
Bottom of the table Silverbacks took a two goal lead before Montreal (destined for the MLS - with this team they’ll struggle) got one back.
It was a match of very moderate standard played on a ‘3G’ pitch.
A visit to the Modern Art Museum beforehand followed by some refreshment then :
El Salvador 1 Costa Rica 1
This turned out to be a long night as the first match was delayed by 30 minutes due to the threat of a storm.
The games were played in the, mostly open, Bank of America stadium in central Charlotte, home of the NFL team.
El Salvador led against the run of play, played better in the second half but succumbed to late Costa Rica pressure and conceded an equaliser.
Mexico 5 Cuba 0
Two from Dos Santos and two more from Chicarito Hernandez and the Mexicans ended up comfortable winners.
Although Cuba did stay close for the first 30 minutes Mexico ran away with it in the second half.
That was despite Mexico having five players suspended for possible drug abuse.
Incidentally it was later reported that one of the Cuban players had defected (by jumping out of a window)
In the end 46,000 fans attended with the Mexico fans being good value as usual.
Some wine in a sports bar to finish.
Via Charlotte to Tampa, via car to Orlando.
Past the various Disney attractions and sundry ‘Worlds’.
My companion read the latest issue of ‘Slammers’ - containing mug shots of the most recent prison inmates or fugitives, some of whom I’m sure we noticed on the bus to Charlotte airport.
After an early look at the outside of the historic Citrus Bowl we partook of some food in central Orlando before returning to :
Orlando City 1 Antigua Barracuda 2
A venue for the 1994 World Cup the Citrus Bowl, with its two massive sides, is some venue for the third-tier Orlando City but they pulled in an enthusiastic following on this Friday evening.
We had a band, the ruckus ultras and a ruckus in the game with 3 (or 4 if you count a coach) sent off including an unused substitute.
The next fight I would see was at the end of the Copa Libertadores final in Sao Paulo.
Adrian Heath’s Orlando, with ambitions to eventually move into the MLS, passed it around neatly but couldn’t create much as the Barracudas took a two goal lead.
Eventually the home side got one back but not a second.
Though they did stay top of the ‘American’ division of the USL Pro.
A drive back to our Tampa hotel for wine and trail mix on the ‘porch’ in the Florida heat.
Canada 1 Guadeloupe 0
In the morning a drive to St Petersburg where we enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the pier area plus a look at the baseball stadium, home to Tampa Bay FC of the NASL.
Then back across the impressive bridges to Tampa.
The Raymond James stadium is another large NFL venue with 3 tier sides and smaller ends.
One of which has a replica ship, after all this is the home of the Buccaneers.
Again Guadeloupe had a man sent off, this time for a reckless tackle in the first few minutes.
De Rosario scored the only goal from the penalty spot in the second period.
That was the only way Canada looked liked scoring.
USA 1 Panama 2
Watched by a crowd of 28,000, who produced a lively atmosphere, this was a famous result for Panama who beat the US for the first time.
It was also the only time the Americans have lost a Gold Cup group match.
Panama deserved it after outplaying the US in the first half .
They did have some fortune with the goals, the first coming from an uncharacteristic Tim Howard error and the second from a penalty after a rash tackle by Ream.
Clarence Goodson headed in from a corner and the US applied the pressure but they couldn’t get the equaliser.
Post match wine enjoyed by the pool.
Tampa to Newark.
On the flight I chatted to an elderly couple from North Carolina (‘are you going on the boat trip ? ‘ ‘No I’m staying in New York to see some soccer’. ‘Uh ?’)
They were going on a cruise to the Bahamas (‘they don’t accept dollars you know’)
During the course of the conversation the lady mentioned that she had been a telephone receptionist in DC at the same time as Edward 8th and Mrs Simpson had visited, although she had seen them she was too shy to meet them.
Less historic Newark was hot and humid.
FC New York 0 Richmond Kickers 2
Over to Manhattan for some excellent, spicy, Korean food before getting the subway to near St Johns University for this USL Pro encounter.
New York, with Sam Stockley ex- Barnet and Colchester Utd at right back, had limited chances and lost to two quick goals late on in the first half.
Interestingly the scoreboard at the Belson stadium (comprising a couple of small open stands) kept note of the shots, corners and saves.
It was a pleasant enough evening in Queens with some away fans boosting the (small) attendance
Guatemala 4 Grenada 0
Another visit to Manhattan and a journey over to Staten Island on the ferry followed by some shepherds pie and Belgian beer.
Then a return to Newark and a stroll to Harrison and the Red Bull Arena.
Though he immediate surroundings are not great the visiting fans produced plenty of atmosphere both outside and inside the stadium.
For this visitor the ground felt like an excellent medium-sized European stadium with its compact, symmetric covered two tiers.
Guatemala mostly controlled the first game against a Grenada team containing a number of English lower and non-league players.
Honduras 0 Jamaica 1
In a superb atmosphere generated by the large number of Hondurans Jamaica were very well organised by coach Theodore Whitmore and merited the victory.
They got it from a cracking left footer (albeit off the goalies’ back) by striker Ryan Johnson of San Jose.
Jamaica also missed a dubiously awarded penalty but Honduras played their part in a fast paced, enjoyable match.
I get re-routed via Baltimore after my original South West flight is cancelled.
Though I get there at around 3pm, in time to easily make the evening game, it meant waiting 4 hours at Newark airport - not the best experience of the trip.
Canada 1 Panama 1
The 2nd ever game at the Livestrong Sporting Park stadium (Sporting Kansas City, the MLS club based here, have a partnership with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong charity)
This one wasn’t too memorable as Canada again struggled to convert .
De Rosario did eventually - from another penalty after a push in the area.
But already qualified Panama stepped it up in the second half and they scored in added time following a scramble in the goalmouth.
The draw would mean Canada failed to qualify for the quarter finals.
USA 1 Guadeloupe 0
This time Guadeloupe kept eleven men on the pitch and they restricted the USA to one goal - an excellent strike from Altidore in the first period.
Clint Dempsey managed to miss various chances though it matter little in the end as Guadeloupe struggled to get close.
The US ultras helped to fill the stadium which with the standing spectators reached 20,000.
It is a part-covered ground with one typically smaller end above which is a walkway.
(baseball) LA Dodgers 2 Cincinnati Reds 7
An early flight from Kansas got me to my Los Angeles airport hotel by about 10.30am.
I decided not to take up the car-hire option, instead going by cab to the Dodgers for the 12.10 start.
Although I did ‘compensate’ by getting the free shuttle, bus ($1) and walking back to Century Boulevard.
This took much longer but did allow me to ‘admire’ downtown LA and in particular its decaying art-deco architecture.
Meanwhile back at the Dodgers stadium - one of the largest in Major League Baseball - I could enjoy the weather and the setting of this iconic stadium positioned on a hill above the surrounding area.
Inside I was fortunate to be able to see memorabilia from the history of the Dodgers including pennants from their World Series wins and scorecards from the nineteenth century.
Evocative enough as, no doubt, is their famous move from Brooklyn to the LA sunshine.
And as it happened it was ‘retro day’ with the players in old style uniforms and the refreshments at half price.
The crowd stayed quiet as the Reds got in front and stayed there.
I needed an early night so opted for an omelette, some wine and apple crumble at Dennys .
(baseball) Arizona Diamondbacks 3 San Francisco Giants 2
It was up to 106 degrees (41 centigrade) in Phoenix.
Not a day for walking too far but at least it was a very dry, desert, heat.
I strolled around the centre (slowly) and took in a couple of happy-hour margaritas. before the ball game.
The roof was partially closed on Chase Field and they turned up the air con.
In the game the Dbacks scored a home run double early on, got pegged back then won it with a Justin Upton homer.
That woke up the crowd.
It was still 95 degrees as I meandered back to my hotel by 10.15pm.
Where it was close to 40 degrees (f) cooler than the Phoenix high.
More like Europe
But very pleasant to join the crowds on this Friday afternoon checking out the shops along the harbour area of downtown.
Prior to the game I sampled the king prawns and chips.
Then walked past the impressive Qwest Field (where teenagers were queuing to see the latest rapper) to Safeco Field.
(baseball) Seattle Mariners 4 Philadelphia Phillies 2
Inter-league baseball brings out the fans even including some away supporters.
It was the first time the Phillies had visited for about six years and they were also the leading team in the Major League.
But they were second best on this evening as the Mariners, led by the speedy Ichiro Suzuki ,ran in some early runs.
The Phillies got some back later on and they did get close in the ninth with men on bases but the Mariners got it done.
The walk back to the centre, looking back at the stadiums and downtown skyscrapers was impressive.
This was just a short visit but Seattle clearly merits a longer look.
More European style rain and cooler conditions.
But I perked up after some breakfast eggs and bacon on 2nd avenue prior to getting the bus to the Amtrak station.
More rain on the way to Vancouver on the bus (replacement for the train & probably more reliable) and through the border reasonably smoothly.
Going in the other direction looked a lot slower.
My hotel was near the Chinatown area (East Hastings) and though they never looked like a threat some of the locals did resemble the ‘living dead’ or stars of ‘Slammers’.
I adjourned to a local British pub for some hummus, a couple of pints and to watch R McIlroy in the US Open golf.
Then a bus to the stadium.
Vancouver Whitecaps 1 Philadelphia Union 0
A return to the MLS and to the Empire Field, which in a previous incarnation as the Empire Stadium, had hosted a famous race between Roger Bannister and John Landy in 1954.
This temporary stadium is reminiscent of the one built for Fortuna Dusseldorf being constructed in 111 days to hold around 25,000 (20,000 on this night)
It will host the Whitecaps until they move to the much larger and more central BC Place Stadium later in the year.
Despite being last in the Western Conference Vancouver clearly have a good following and a strong rivalry with their rivals to the south - Seattle and Portland.
The Whitecaps played well scoring through Swiss Alain Rochat in the first half.and containing the much higher ranked Union to few opportunities.
Shuttle bus back and a relatively early night.
A flight via Seattle to Portland and the use of another efficient light rail system to get to downtown.
Where I catch up on the internet in the main library which is helpfully open on Sundays.
Outside there is quite a buzz about the city with music and lots of locals enjoying the ambience.
I enhance the experience by having a couple of ‘ Walking Man homo erectus imperial IPAs’
in a micro-brewery whilst watching more of Rory McIlroy in the golf.
Suitably enhanced I was in the mood to sample some more MLS.
Portland Timbers 3 New York Red Bulls 3
This was one of the best games and atmospheres I had experienced at a US league game.
In fact it was near enough to watching a game in Europe with a sellout crowd including a large, vibrant ‘ultras’ end.
We had songs and chants plus a lumberjack to saw the log every time the Timbers scored (admittedly not something you see in Europe)
Thierry Henry strolled around for the Bulls, showed some classy touches, scored a fine goal and then got sent off.
Portland had gone ahead 3-1 after New York had looked superior in the first half.
But the visitors, helped by the Henry magic and a missed home penalty, got back into it.
They finally equalised from the ever reliable Canadian De Rosario via the spot.
Excellent entertainment in a great city.
7-Eleven and bed.
From Portland , via Dallas to Sao Paulo (see the separate blog)
Return to the US via Miami and New York then Amtrak to Phillie.
Philadelphia Union 3 Chivas USA 2
PPL park is in Chester, a suburban train ride and shuttle bus from downtown Philadelphia.
The train takes you past a rusting industrial landscape to the new stadium beside the Delaware river and an impressive bridge.
Around the stadium a band played and a good crowd came to watch the top ranked Union overcame their visitors from the west coast in a very watchable game.
The home side have the Sons of Ben and the River End ultras.
We all saw a fast, attacking match with Chivas getting it back to 2-2 after Justin Braun beat goalie Mondragon to a long ball.
But DR Congo substitute Danny Mwanga had the last word with a well struck winner for the Union.
It was a long trip back to downtown, via the shuttle, a bus to the 69th street terminal (where there was plenty of activity including fans leaving after watching the US lose to Mexico in the Gold Cup) then the subway to the centre by about midnight.
New York again.
Amtrak to New York.
Actually I went to Newark initially to check-in at my hotel.
New York Yankees 6 Colorado Rockies 4
Then it was a fraught trip across to Brooklyn using the PATH train (poor weekend service),
battling through the Gay Pride Parade (don’t ask) and onto the subway to Yankee stadium.
Not what I needed after at the end of a long trip.
I arrived at about 2.20pm when the game was scheduled to start at 2.05pm, checked the situation & found the only available tickets were priced at $250 (!)
However my luck changed firstly to quickly get a $125 ticket from scalper for $50 then to find that there had been an old-timers game before the start of the main event which now began at 2.30pm.
So I calmed down with a large, frozen margarita (I was asked to show ID - I was tempted to show my bus pass)
And as it turned out the seat was excellent - row 1 of the second tier, close to the batter.
In warm, sunny weather I could enjoy the Yankees swotting some home runs in front of a packed crowd (47,894)
A tedious journey back to Newark but the compensation of a quality rib-eye steak as my last meal in the USA on this visit.
By the time I got home, and including the Sao Paulo trip ,the estimated miles covered was 29,000 (46,600 km) and, not surprisingly, I was tired by the end.
more pics at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/813189540