Monday, July 29, 2013

USA & Canada July 2013

Four matches in the Gold Cup, some Major League Soccer in Canada and the US plus four baseball games.

Moderate impact.

7th July 2013   Montreal Impact 1 Chivas USA 1    MLS  18,932 (zero away)

Beginning with a visit to Canada.

The then leaders in the MLS East took on the lowest ranked team in the West.

Montreal were a couple points clear of New York and had games in hand on their rivals.
They had the MLS top scorer, Italian striker Marco Di Vaio leading the line.

Impact play at the expanded Stade Saputo which adheres to the modern US style football ground being around 20,000 capacity with plenty of bar and refreshment areas.
In an echo of European grounds there is a special section for the local ‘ultras’ behind one goal.
The stadium is in the same complex as the 1976 Olympic Park.

Decent numbers attended but it was not full on this multicultural-themed day.
The theme fitted this bilingual city.

As you might expect from their low league position Chivas lacked some confidence and they started cautiously with the home side having more possession.

Both sides misplaced too many passes.
The shooting was often well off target and the play somewhat naive, lacking some intensity, at least compared to the higher level European leagues.

The first period ended goalless as the light rain slightly discomfited the fans in the mostly open seating.
Not the ultras though as they keep the rhythm going together with the occasional flare.
They even managed, at times, to get the other areas joining in with the chants.

Chivas went ahead on 55 minutes, against the run of play, first hitting the bar then scoring through Eric Avila.

After Di Vaio had missed a header Nyassi was brought down and Impact got the chance to equalise, sub. Bernier sent the goalie the wrong way from the penalty.

Wenger came on for Montreal in the last five minutes or so and he missed a couple of good chances to score and make a name for himself.

So it ended 1-1.

I took the metro back to my hotel in the Latin Quarter followed that with a light snack and a beer whilst watching some of the Gold Cup in a sports bar.

In summer Montreal is certainly a vibrant city to visit and at this time there was a jazz festival going on in the centre mixed in with other activities including an impressive outdoor display by local circus performers.
Add in the ambience of the old port area and you have a very attractive Canadian city.

None but the Braves.

8th July  Miami Marlins 1 Atlanta Braves 7 (14 innings)  15,745

From Montreal, via Toronto to Miami for some baseball.

As is normal the route, via the border entry controls was a slow process and on this Monday it did seem particularly pedestrian.

But when I did finally arrived in Miami it was hot and my hotel near the airport was comfortable.

The renamed Miami Marlins now play at Marlins Park on the site of the old Orange Bowl.
Described as contemporary, rather than ‘retro’, it is considered to be the greenest such facility in the MLB.

Although it has one of the smallest capacities in the league there was no problem getting into this Monday evening encounter against the Braves.

My pre-game meal was a Cuban sandwich and plantain chips - enough to keep most Cubans fed for a week.

The teams traded single runs midway through the first nine innings and for a while it looked like the Marlins would forge ahead when they had men on bases but the Braves pitching controlled the situation.

And so we went on (and on), with the roof now closed, towards 11.25 pm before the Braves ultimately outlasted the home side and scored three doubles at the top of the fourteenth.
Atlanta thus remained top of the NL East and Miami continued to languish at the bottom of the league.

Cards hold the aces.

9th July  (baseball) St. Louis Cardinals 9 Houston Astros 5   43,836

Florida to Missouri.

Via the metro train (‘no concealed weapons allowed’) to my hotel near to downtown.
And then onward to the red-themed Busch stadium.

Where St. Louis stayed clear at the head of the NL Central after this solid performance.
They scored at regular intervals including a two-run homer by Holliday.

It left the Astros 9-1 down until the ninth when they provided a late flourish to make the score more respectable.

A large crowd turned out on this Tuesday evening, many left before the end as usual some horizontally on stretchers due to the oppressive heat.
Perhaps they should have built an air-conditioned arena as it was certainly very hot and steamy.

Next door the old one had disappeared and the site was becoming the inevitable car park.

I had enjoyed a couple of beers beforehand in what is clearly a real baseball city followed by some chicken and chips inside the stadium.

Mariners sunk.

11th July (baseball)  Seattle Mariners 7 Boston Red Sox 8 (10 innings)  25,367

From hot St Louis to mild Seattle via Chicago O’Hare.
Where I made a revisit to Safeco Field to see the Mariners take on the high flying Red Sox.

The early afternoon game fitted in well with the evening games in the Gold Cup.
Baseball started at 12.40pm and finished about four hours later. I had a seat in the sunshine for most of the game.

Plenty of Red Sox fans were there to see their team retrieve a three run deficit to achieve parity by the fifth innings.
Then we had a period without any score before Boston hit the winning run in the first extra innings to maintain their lead in the AL East.

I had just a short walk to CenturyLink field for the football..

Martinique misery.

11th July Panama 1 Martinique 0  Gold Cup  CenturyLink Field  

A small crowd watched this first game of a double header in the vast home of the Seattle Seahawks (and Sounders)

Both these sides had, surprisingly, won their first matches in the group.

Martinique, tall and athletic, (including ex-West Ham striker Frederic Piquionne) could consider themselves unlucky to lose this one as they were denied a clear penalty for handball.

Ironically for them it was a late penalty given to Panama that decided the outcome when striker Torres converted.
It didn’t help the Caribbean team that they had a man sent off (two yellows) in the 2nd half.

So Panama moved through to the quarter finals.

Oh Canada.

11th July  Mexico 2 Canada 0   Gold Cup  28,354

The second match saw a sizeable influx of Mexican fans and they generated their usual level of support.

Canada had a lively, but small, group dressed in red in a corner of the stadium.

It was the Mexicans who were definitely the superior team, scoring from a corner in the first half and getting a penalty in the second to confirm the win.

The Canadians looked very limited although they did hit the post with one good effort, apart from that their only threat was from occasional set pieces.

Mexico also hit the woodwork as they got back on track after their surprise loss to Panama.

I enjoyed some post match refreshment in a nearby bar where the noise level was typically heightened with the mexican/american celebrations.

Seattle itself certainly has plenty to offer, with a pleasant summer climate, some excellent restaurants and bars and a lively music scene.

I went on to visit the Seattle Center home to the Space Needle and an excellent museum that celebrates local stars especially NIrvana and the lamented Jimi Hendrix.
And there is a superb sound lab where any budding rock stars can assess their talent using actual professional equipment.

The EMP also now combines music with a sci-fi, fantasy and a horror exhibition.

On eventually, by bus, to Vancouver BC.

And talking of horror when they remake ‘Dawn of the Dead’ they need only travel to Vancouver and to East Hastings Street to find plenty of ready made zombie extras lurching around.

Fire doused.

14th July  Vancouver Whitecaps 3 Chicago Fire 1   MLS  20,206 (zero away)

No horrorshow though for the Whitecaps who play at the BC Place stadium close to Rogers Arena and near to downtown.
In effect the ground is setup as a ‘soccer specific’ stadium with the fans cosily packed into the lower levels whilst the upper reaches are sealed off by neat canopies.

In the Whitecaps eleven were familiar names Kenny Miller (of Scotland) and ex-West Ham and Aston Villa midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker.
Both played a part but it was Brazilian striker Camilo Sanvezzo who did the damage with two goals.
That was after an even first period.

Vancouver went on to add a third to leave Fire well beaten although Ghanaian Patrick Nyarko did head in a late consolation for the visitors.

Notwithstanding my comments about the ‘zombies’ Vancouver definitely has redeeming features.
Not least an interesting chinatown area with its murals, Sun Yat-Sen park and vibrant night market.
And an excellent harbour area together with a quality Art Gallery.

Zelaya slayer.

15th July  El Salvador 1 Haiti 0  Gold Cup  BBVA Compass stadium Houston  21,783

An early start to get the flight to Houston for another Gold Cup double header.

Southern Texas, as you might expect in mid-July, was very hot.

The games were being played at the home of the Dynamo, orange-themed  BBVA Compass stadium, one of the newer soccer-specific grounds in the MLS.

And the El Salvador fans turned out in force to cheer on their team providing a vibrant atmosphere.
Their team hit the woodwork twice, first when Blanco Pineda contrived to miss an open goal and secondly when a very long range effort from Romero Castillo caught the Haiti goalie off his line.

But eventually the Central Americans got the winner via a penalty, Zelaya Garcia scoring at the second attempt.

The result would ensure progress for El Salvador and (eventually) elimination for Haiti.

Texas Calypso.

15th July  Honduras 0 Trinidad & Tobago 2

The blue and white Honduras fans replaced the blue and white of Salvador.

Honduras, already guaranteed qualification for the quarter finals, rested some players.

Trinidad had Stoke striker Kenwyne Jones up front and they, in true Tony Pulis fashion, played to their strengths.
This meant a first half of around 200 Honduras passes as against 46 from Trinidad.

But the direct approach worked despite Jones missing three or four good chances.
Though it did help that the Central Americans had a man sent off in the first half.

First a Jones penalty then a one-two in the 67th minute for Molina to score and Trinidad were on four points and into the quarter finals.

Near the end we had a brief rain shower which accelerated the exit of the fans.
It did little to cool down the temperature.

Afterwards I walked back to the centre and caught the light rail back to my hotel in the Reliant Park area.

Cuba libre.

16th July  Cuba 4 Belize 0  Gold Cup   Rentschler Field East Hartford   

Another early start to get the Airtran/SouthWest flight via Orlando to Hartford Connecticut.

Cuba needed to win by four to progress to the quarter finals and they did just that, but only by scoring in the last minute.

Tiny Belize had some support but not many fans from Cuba, as you might expect, seemingly made it into the US.

Cuba took some time to go ahead but it was worth waiting for as Ariel Martinez shot in superbly left footed on 38 minutes.
His second was also a cracker and he completed his triple after a defender was dispossessed.

Just before that Belize had a man dismissed and probably contributed to their further capitulation.

And so to the final minutes; a long ball is headed back across goal and defender Molina is there to convert right footed.
Cue joyous Cuban celebrations.

Maybe not cigars all round but a famous win nonetheless.

Brek free.

USA 1 Costa Rica 0   Gold Cup  25,432

The second match in Hartford saw the US edge out Costa Rica.

The key moment coming in the 82nd minute after the Ticos went very close with a header.
The US, with Landon Donovan playing a key part, immediately went up the other end and Brek Shea broke away to score the winner.

Up until then it had been a fairly even game.

Rentschler Field had filled up to some extent with a mix of Costa Rican and local fans.
Sam’s Army, the US ultras, were positioned behind one goal.
The stadium itself had the look of a large, traditional, college stadium with its vast open seating.

US would now face El Salvador in the quarter finals and Costa Rica would meet Honduras.

A couple of beers in Hartford downtown to finish and bed by 1.30am.

Hounds on leash.

17th July  Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0 Orlando City 0   USL Pro   c. 1500 (no away)

On the Wednesday I settled for a 3rd level football match in Pittsburgh.
It was a short flight from Hartford and Pittsburgh was on the way to Chicago.

The Riverhounds  play in the Highmark Stadium, close to downtown, and although small it is in an attractive position close to the river (and Station Square) with views of the downtown skyscrapers.

Orlando are coached by Adrian Heath, of Everton fame.

But it was the home side who should have won this goalless but entertaining encounter.

Striker Jose Angulo missed a number of chances, including a penalty, as the Riverhounds, supported by a small group of ‘ultras’ behind one goal produced more threats.
Orlando, top of the league, could have won it late on but CJ Sapong’s header was well saved.

Some days later Pittsburgh played cup holders Wigan in the same stadium.

I resisted the churrascaria in Station Square and enjoyed a couple of beers near to my hotel in Oakland.

Marlins on the hook.

19th July  (baseball) Milwaukee Brewers 2 Miami Marlins 0  30,316

Via Chicago and an amtrak train to Milwaukee.

Where the Brewers, bottom of the NL central, met the Marlins, bottom of the NL east.

Prior to the game I struggled to consume a beef brisket sandwich - ‘enough to keep most Cubans going for a week’.

A sizeable crowd turned out on a hot night and they saw the home team produce two home runs in the four and fifth (by Francisco and Gomez) to get it done.
The Marlins struggled to get going and they were well held by the home side whose relief pitchers completed the win.

Due to its relative out-of-town location the ballpark is served by various minibuses that transport fans back to the downtown bars.
Alternatively, as I did, you can take the bus and then go to a bar.

And in a suitable riverside location on a hot summer night you can enjoy some beer and watch the boats go past.

Earlier I had enjoyed visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum with its well presented  ‘30 Americans’ exhibition and a good selection of German Art.
Having been reminded of  ‘Easy Rider’ in the EMP in Seattle I wasn’t suitably attired for the Harley-Davidson museum.

On Fire, signed DC.

20th July  Chicago Fire 4 DC Utd 1   MLS    17,190 (zero away)

After their defeat in Canada Fire were back at home in Toyota Park.
And they were soon piercing the porous DC defence.

Joel Lindpere supplied Chris Rolfe in the first few minutes and that was followed by a great run by Larentowicz who set up Lindpere for the second.
The Estonian provided another assist as Rolfe broke clear to deliver number three.

DC shored up the defence in the second half but still conceded a fourth after sub. Amarikwa was brought down for a penalty, taken by top scorer Magee.
Luis Silva did curl in a fine goal for DC but it was only a consolation.

Despite having good possession the team from Washington were well beaten.

Toyota Park, Bridgeview is definitely not the most convenient location for a stadium in Chicago and as the rain came down it proved frustrating trying to find a taxi afterwards.
Having come on the bus from Midway subway I probably should have gone back the same way but was advised taxis were available.

Belatedly back in Chinatown the restaurants were still quite busy (though alcohol-free), even at 11pm.

Donovan delivers.

21st July  USA 5 El Salvador 1    M & T Bank stadium Baltimore  Gold Cup   70,540

A morning flight from busy Midway to BWI.

The older style light rail takes you through downtown to my hotel in the midtown area.
Passing the stadiums the El Salvador fans were gathering early.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann praised the venue, the home of the Ravens, near to downtown Baltimore and the city itself, but was less sure about the wisdom of having quarter final double headers with four sets of fans in one stadium.

It would definitely have been a more focussed atmosphere if the four groups of fans had been allocated each of the four sides of the ground.
But nevertheless there was plenty of noise and for the many in blue & white, a goal to cheer.

That was after the US had gone two in front through defender Goodson, up for a corner, and young midfielder Joe Corona.
El Salvador had their moment when Zelaya converted from the penalty spot before half time.

And following the break the Central Americans had a spell when they might have equalised but the US would soon exploit their defence weaknesses.
Firstly via a Eddie Johnson header (having been on as sub. for only 14 seconds), a Landon Donovan shot and finally, from another Donovan assist, a Mix Diskerud effort.

USA thus progressed to the semi-finals.

Costa fail to smell the coffee.

Honduras 1 Costa Rica 0

The second of the double headers and my final game of this trip.

As before the Honduran fans were there in numbers together with the Costa Ricans and some remaining US supporters.

This was always likely to be a close encounter between these Central American rivals.
The key moment came in the fourty ninth minute when Andy Najar scored from the edge of the area.
That set up a better second half, the first being fairly cagey.

Though Costa Rica pressed and applied plenty of pressure near the end the Hondurans held firm and they would play the US in the semi-finals.

Back in the harbour area of Baltimore I joined friends in the pleasant ambience for some liquid refreshment.

The next day, before my evening flight home, I took in the Babe Ruth museum with its excellent archive material and the Legends museum close to Camden Yards.

In total over 17,000 miles (27, 400 km) were travelled including the return flight from London.

As usual it was hectic but memorable.

more pictures at

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