A trip to the USA and Mexico including seeing the latter stages of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the first leg of the final of the Copa Libertadores and a visit to Yankee Stadium to watch Frank Lampard make his MLS debut.
Along the way I discover some conspiracy theories and improve my Spanish (and Mandarin)
Red Bulls too, good.
Harrisburg City Islanders 0 New York Red Bulls II 2 United Soccer League 2,177
After arriving into JFK the next day I took the Amtrak train through Pennsylvania, past Philadelphia, to Harrisburg for this USL (third level) encounter on City Island.
Which is in the middle of the substantial Susquehanna river.
The local soccer stadium is next to the baseball park and it comprises a number of semi-temporary seating areas with a ‘VIP’ area behind one goal.
When the rain shower happened there was little cover but thankfully the deluge didn’t last long.
As the match began it was a story of better Red Bulls buildup but missed chances for the home side.
McLaughlin and Foster were the guilty men - they should have given the Islanders a first period lead.
But those misses proved costly as the visitors continued their superior football into the second half and eventually they went ahead when Stoltz drove in a loose ball from inside the area.
A through ball to Bedoya allowed him to score the clincher.
Harrisburg’s cause was not helped by the dismissal of Leverock for a rash challenge.
But overall the Bulls deserved the victory and they leapfrogged Harrisburg into the playoff positions.
I made the somewhat tricky walk back to my hotel, along dark roads, though boosted by a couple of margaritas in a pleasant riverside bar.
Back at the hotel the Mennonites were presumably discussing how to save the world.
The next day I dodged the saviours and had breakfast in a downtown diner before getting the Amtrak, via the old-style station, back to NYC.
19th July Trinidad & Tobago 1 Panama 1 (Panama won 6-5 on penalties) CONCACAF Gold Cup
The first of a double-header of quarter finals at the large MetLife stadium in the Meadowlands, New Jersey.
It was watched by a fairly sparse crowd although as the game wore on more Mexicans started to arrive.
In a way the match was a contrast between the aerial prowess of the Trinidadians, particularly Kenwyne Jones, and the possession-based approach of the Central Americans.
Initially it was Panama who went ahead, benefitting from a mixup in the opposition defence which allowed Luis Tejada an easy chance.
But eventually the threat from crosses would result in a headed goal from the dreadlocked Jones
after 54 minutes.
That was after they had missed some earlier opportunities.
However the most glaring was by Dallas FC’s Blas Perez at the end of the 90 minutes.
He should have clinched the tie but volleyed wide from close-in.
And so we went into extra time with Panama in the ascendance although they couldn’t breakthrough.
That meant a penalty shootout and a series of small dramas with a mix of ballooned shots over the bar and some poor attempts.
As we went into sudden death Daneil Cyrus had his chance to close it out but he failed and Panama were reprieved.
As always the end came with failure and this time it was Lester Peltier who had to make the walk of shame to be consoled by his teammates.
Meanwhile the Panama players and staff congregated in a large huddle to celebrate.
19th July Mexico 1 Costa Rica 0 Gold Cup 74,187
And so to the second match, delayed due to the extended finish to the first game.
Again it was a penalty that decided the outcome.
But it looked very controversial when the Guatemalan referee awarded a spot kick for what might have been a push in the area.
After the many Costa Rican protests the Mexican captain, Andres Guardado kept cool and delivered the coup de grace.
Cue the typical Mexican celebrations (beer showers)
It was the final minute of extra time.
Before all that it had been another close matchup with both sides missing chances.
Joel Campbell showed some pace up front for Los Ticos but Bryan Ruiz was generally more subdued.
While for the Mexicans Carlos Vela was guilty of profligacy near goal.
As the game wore on Mexico had the edge , striking the ‘woodwork’ on a couple of occasions.
And when we arrived at extra time they had the edge.
But as the clocked ticked to thirty minutes penalties loomed
Until the cross from which the officials judged Costa Rica had transgressed.
And so Mexico will meet Panama in Wednesday’s semi in Atlanta.
I took the NY transit back via Secaucus to Penn Station and the landmark Hotel Pennsylvania.
Although it was after midnight, in the city that never sleeps, the bars were busy.
21st July New York Red Bulls 1 Philadelphia Union 1 (Union won 4-3 on penalties) 9,272 (c. 400 away)
Still in ‘New York/New Jersey’ this US Open quarter final was watched by a moderate crowd in Harrison, although it did include a surprisingly large number of Union fans.
The Red Bulls team featured a couple of English strikers, Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Both would have a mixed match.
Early on the Bulls the possession and certainly had more play in the opposition half.
And the home side then gained an advantage when Union striker Conor Casey was dismissed for a rash tackle.
Unfortunately the Bulls failed to capitalise on that advantage.
They missed various chances and then went behind when Nogueira drove down the left and crossed for Cameroonian Erik Ayuk to convert for the lead against the run of play.
Following that setback the Bulls lost some momentum and could have gone further behind if Brian Carroll had taken a good chance.
But as we entered added time at the end of the second half the Bulls finally equalised.
Lloyd Sam was on hand to swivel and score from close range.
And so we went into extra time in which Emanuel Sanchez of the home side hit the post.
It would be the closest they came.
The penalty shootout began badly for the Bulls, with Wright-Phillips clipping the bar, and they never caught up with the Union.
Lloyd Sam was another who failed from the spot, and although Brazilian Fred also missed for the visitors the Union generally kept their nerve.
Philadelphia thus go on to meet Chicago Fire in the semifinals of this 102nd edition of the Open Cup.
I decided not to stay for the Fiorentina v PSG friendly and walked over to Newark Penn station and eventually on to the airport and my hotel.
Reggae Boyz redemption.
22nd July USA 1 Jamaica 2 Gold Cup Georgia Dome 70,511
From Newark, via Charlotte, to Atlanta.
Then on to downtown, via the train, and to the Quality hotel.
Within walking distance is the to be demolished Georgia Dome while next door the replacement stadium is being constructed.
Only about twenty years old the Dome area will typically revert to a carpark.
Inside the US fans no doubt came expecting to celebrate victory and a likely showdown with Mexico in the final.
But in the battle of the German coaches it was the less-regarded Winfried Schaeffer who got the better of the more noted Jurgen Klinsmann.
Both goalies played a part.
Ryan Thompson rode his luck for Jamaica while Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan’s error in overstepping his area allowed Giles Barnes to neatly chip in the resultant freekick.
That made it 2-0 to the Caribbean team.
And that was the halftime score - presumably many though the US would retrieve the deficit.
They started the second period well enough when a shot from Johannsson was parried by Thompson only for captain Michael Bradley to eventually force in a reply.
But as the half wore on the US failed to develop enough chances although a Bradley shot was saved onto the post by Thompson.
So the Reggae Boyz became the first Caribbean team to make it to the Gold Cup final and the local fans were left to work out how it happened.
Conspiracy theory #1.
22nd July Mexico 2 Panama 1 Gold Cup
The second semifinal launched a range of conspiracy theories.
It began with the dismissal of top scorer Luis Tejada for what might have been an elbow on a Mexican defender.
Clearly the Panama thought not and we had the first of a series of disruptions.
After much argument and protest Tejada finally left the pitch.
Panama then set about a convincing rearguard action against the much higher ranked Mexicans.
They even took a surprise lead when captain Roman Torres headed in at the far post.
Mexico became more and more desperate, and their massed ranks of fans similarly edgy.
Then, in the final seconds, we had another period of mayhem as US referee Mark Geiger awarded a manically disputed penalty (it looked like a Panama defender had been pushed before falling on the ball)
The Panama players and staff went apoplectic.
For some time it seemed they would walk off but eventually, after a long delay, they resumed play.
The coolest man on the pitch, Andres Guardado, stepped up to convert the penalty.
Into extra time and the final drama - another penalty for Mexico (this time more plausible) and another icily taken kick by Guardado.
The Panama team all joined in with ironic applause for the referee.
The Central Americans couldn’t mount another big effort although they showed plenty of energy as they chased after the referee at the final whistle.
Geiger was soon protected by security and ushered off.
Further scuffles took place and (up to a point) you could sympathise with the response.
Panama could expect some sanctions from CONCACAF - though afterwards the referee did acknowledge his mistakes.
Not that it would cause Mexico much pause since they were in another final, albeit in exceptional circumstances.
The match finished, belatedly, at 11.50pm and I settled for bed soon after.
The next day it was a flight to Indianapolis, via Chicago.
On the Friday, after a visit to the impressive Indiana war memorial and museum, I watched the local minor league baseball team, the Indians, lose by a single run (caused by an error) to the Louisville Bats.
The large number of kids, in the mostly full ballpark, enjoyed the post-game fireworks.
Afterwards I sampled a couple of mojitos downtown.
Subsequently I transferred hotels, stopping at the Starbucks along the way.
(and talking of conspiracy theories) Where this dialog ensued…
‘Have you heard of the Illuminati ?
‘well they are like the top freemasons, controlling everything. They’re preparing the new world order’
‘you mean Jay-Z is taking over the world’
‘and Taylor Swift’
‘yeah, they’re part of the Illuminati.
Its the doomsday scenario - I know many people in Arizona who are stocking up and getting ready’
‘so martial law is coming soon ?’
‘yep, make mine a frappuccino’
Meanwhile back in the real world…
25th July Indy Eleven 1 New York Cosmos 1 NASL 10,206
A sizeable crowd watched at the Michael A. Carroll stadium on a hot night in Indy.
They saw both sides miss numerous opportunities, particularly the visitors who also had goals disallowed during the second half.
The first period had ended with a flurry of action as the Cosmos went ahead with a nice combination move finished by Walter Restrepo.
But the Eleven hit back immediately when Dylan Mares was put through to score the equaliser.
After the interval we had a clash between Honduran Norales and Uruguayan Guenzatti that culminated in both being shown a red card.
With ten-a-side the pattern of play was maintained with more chances missed and Cosmos generally on top.
However it ended like all of the previous clashes between these sides - as a draw.
Back at the Marriott the Brickyard 400 faithful were discussing average speeds.
Mexico set the beat.
26th July Mexico 3 Jamaica 1 Gold Cup final Lincoln Financial Field 68,930
I took an early morning flight from Indianapolis, via DC, to Philadelphia for this final of the Gold Cup.
It was not the final many had expected with Jamaica becoming the first Caribbean team to participate in such a conclusion.
But ultimately it was the expected result with Mexico winning their record seventh such title.
And this time there was no controversy, no doubt a relief for the Salvador referee and CONCACAF.
The Reggae Boyz started promisingly enough with some useful crosses and it seemed their physicality might be a factor.
But as the first half progressed Mexico got their slicker passing going and got on top.
The opening goal, after 31 minutes, was a finely controlled volley by the ever-sanguin Andres Guardado.
That lead was doubled soon after the break when the talented prospect, Jesus Corona, drove in left footed past Ryan Thompson.
That left a lot for the Jamaican team to do and the task was made a considerably harder when Reading defender Michael Hector misjudged a cross allowing Oscar Peralta an easy finish.
Effectively, on the hour, it was game over.
Mexico should have added more but Jamaica did gain an unexpected consolation from substitute Mattocks with ten minutes remaining.
It was never going to affect the outcome.
So the vast ranks of Mexican fans, in a record crowd for soccer in Phille, could enjoy their time in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’.
While the US supporters could contemplate a Confederations Cup playoff for their team against ‘El Tri’ in Pasadena later in the year.
The next day I took the Amtrak across to New York and from there flew, via Dallas, to Monterrey in northern Mexico.
29th July Tigres UANL 0 River Plate 0 Copa Libertadores final 43,000 (c. 100 away)
The first leg of the 2015 Copa Libertadores, played in hot and steamy conditions, was a game of few chances.
Perhaps the defining moment came late on when talented wide man Jurgen Damm was released after a defender’s error.
He eluded Barovero in the River goal but hesitated slightly and the angle became too difficult and the chance for glory was missed.
Before that the Argentinians had applied some pressure but mainly, especially in the second half, they concentrated on defence and frustrating Tigres.
The Mexicans, playing in their first such final, did clip the bar from a deflected cross in the first period but mostly we witnessed not much of real significance from French striker Gignac or his fellow attackers.
The sellout local crowd, ‘a sea of yellow’, played its part - with massive flags, of Mexico and for Tigres, displayed beforehand - and plenty of vocal support.
Though not at the visceral South American (e.g. Argentinian) level.
Tigres do still have a decent chance to become the first Mexican side to win this prestigious competition although they will be up against it, with no ‘away goals’ rule and an intimidating atmosphere in the second leg in Buenos Aires.
Playing as a visiting side in the Estadio Monumental, especially one in yellow and blue, will not be easy.
I left at the final whistle, as the fireworks lit the night sky, and went back to the San Agustin area via metro then taxi.
The TV sports channel were analysing the limited significant moments in the match.
Go with the Flo.
(baseball) 31st July New York Mets 2 Washington Nationals 1 (12 innings) 36,164
From Monterrey back via Dallas to New York and a stay in the Flushing area of the city.
Whereas in most of the capital you work on your Spanish here you get to know some Mandarin.
Nearby is Citi Field, the home of the Mets.
Where the top two in National League East met on this Friday night.
It was a tight game with action in the fourth when the Mets had runners on bases but only managed a single score.
Similarly the Nationals threatened in the eighth but solely secured the leveller.
And so we went into overtime until the bottom of the 12th when Wilmer Flores, to much joy, smacked a great walk-off home run.
The significance of Flores scoring this run was lost on your correspondent, only later did I learn it was a particularly emotional moment for the Venezuelan who had thought he was being ‘traded’ to another team.
After about four hours of baseball the game finished at around 11.10pm.
Frank does New York.
31st July New York City 2 Montreal Impact 3 MLS 27,645
Earlier I had visited the excellent Museum of Modern Art, which was full of people trying to understand the Yoko Ono exhibits.
Then from one New York ballpark to another.
And the home of the Yankees and the temporary home of the NYC.
Who have clearly garnered plenty of support in their short existence.
No doubt helped by having Andrea Pirlo and David Villa in their lineup.
Another European star, Frank Lampard, would finally make an appearance albeit for only the last 20 minutes or so.
But this New York team showed significant defensive vulnerability from the outset.
Firstly a long ball found Ghana striker Dominic Oduro and he ran through the middle, past the goalie and slid in a comfortable opener.
Then a Romero forward pass setup Piatti to chip over Saunders for number two.
That left the home side two goals down at the break with little to offer in return.
They did, however, perform better in the second with David Villa converting a disputed penalty after 68 minutes.
He would also get in some shots that tested Bush in the Impact goal.
But the visitors would later get a spotkick of their own, again it seemed fairly dubious.
Piatti coolly slotted it for his second.
Although NYC did get an immediate reply from the praiseworthy McNamara it never looked enough to get them a point.
In fact Oduro and Piatti had threatened throughout and they could have had more goals for Montreal.
As for the NYC star men, Andrea Pirlo showed a considerable appetite for the ball and he will no doubt benefit from playing more with his teammates (and vice-versa)
While Frank Lampard produced some combinations with Pirlo he also exhibited some evident rustiness.
The loss and a defence to sort out leaves NYC still with work to do to get into a playoff position.
I delayed my departure and had a comfortable ride back on the subway to Flushing.
(passing Citi Field on the way - this time I did not go to the evening baseball game)
Instead it was very spicy fish and a Happy Lemon slushy for ‘dinner’.
So ended ten football matches and two baseball games.
Did the Illuminati pull the strings for Mexico’s Gold victory ?
Could it be related to those coded messages in Taylor Swift’s songs ?
Meanwhile I rushed home to stock up for the ‘End of the World’ as we know it.
More pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/3596707662