Wednesday, July 26, 2017

USA July 2017

Major League soccer, the CONCACAF Gold Cup plus some baseball feature in this trip.

USA July 2017

It began with a flight to San Francisco and a remarkably quick passage through US passport controls.
From there I took the Caltrain down to Silicon Valley and my hotel in Mountain View.
An evening meal at ‘Pacific Catch’ in San Antonio ended the (long) day.

Naturally you wake up early but fortunately Starbucks is open at 5am.
After that I took the bus into downtown San Jose for a burst of culture in the Museum of Art
(pieces on meditation and some impressive Diana al-Hadid works)
Suitably mellow I fed the inner man in a ‘European’ pastry cafe.

1st July  San Jose Earthquakes 2 LA Galaxy 1  MLS  Stanford stadium 50,617

Before later making the short ride to Stanford University.

This California clasico drew a substantial crowd to ‘the Farm’, an updated version of the stadium used in the ‘94 World Cup.
Choreo and fireworks featured as did a large parade of military veterans at half time.

However LA looked to spoil the party when they went ahead on 11 minutes after Belgian Jelle van Damme volleyed a great opener.
Though San Jose edged the first half possession 65%-35% they didn’t create many chances.

All that would change after the break.
Tommy Thompson stroke the woodwork and gradually the home side applied more pressure.
Their breakthrough came on 75, following a LA breakaway, when Chris Wondolowski’s left footer was deflected past Diop for the leveller.

Then much to everyone’s delight San Jose got the winner in the final moments.
After a series of attacks sub. Shea Salinas was in space to smash home the decider.

On the balance of play it was a deserved victory and the contest ended badly for van Damme who was dismissed at the close, presumably for excessive protests.

Meanwhile your correspondent had no arguments with the wings and margarita in ‘Chilis’.

2nd July San Francisco Deltas 2 Puerto Rico 0  NASL  1,915

Wearing flowers in your hair was a favoured option in 1967 in Haight-Ashbury as you nodded along to the Grateful Dead guitar solos.
But in the vicinity of the historic Kezar stadium there were few hippies around.

The modern clientele in the Kezar pub were not wearing beads or flares and seemed to be sticking to beer and shepherds pie (as I did)

A couple of blocks away was the stadium, once home to the 49ers and the Raiders, it featured in the movie ‘Dirty Harry’ and witnessed concerts by Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Santana, Neil Young, the aforementioned Grateful Dead and, of course, Throbbing Gristle.
Hopefully the hippies wrapped up in their kaftans.

Because it certainly can get chilly in the SF wind.
As it did on this Sunday afternoon.

We watched two teams featuring a mix of players from Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France and Guyana.
But it was a tall American Tom Heinemann who would get the goals.
He rose to head in mid way through the first half before striking home his second at a similar juncture of the second period.

It was a solid win for the Deltas who were seeking to finish second behind Miami in the ‘Spring’ portion of the NASL season.
For the visitors from the Caribbean another defeat leaving them with just one win to date.

Next up via San Jose international to Dallas and a connection through to Atlanta from where I took a train to downtown.
No need to struggle for directions here because there are a number of helpful volunteers and, unlike at the Confeds Cup, they are well informed.
I snubbed Hooters and the Hard Rock Cafe and indulged at an upmarket fish restaurant.

The following day many took part in a July 4th morning jog around the city while I visited the thought provoking Civil and Human Rights Center.
For many a poignant and emotional experience where you were reminded of the power of the speeches of Martin Luther King and read about the struggles of those such as Rosa Parks.

Also featured are the great and the not so great (heroes and dictators) while the world map highlighting levels of freedom in each country, though in places inaccurate, at least prompts discussion.

Afterwards I took a look at the impressive new Mercedes Benz stadium before taking the train to Georgia University.

4th July Atlanta Utd 4 San Jose Earthquakes 2  MLS  Bobby Dodd stadium  44,974.

And an historic site having held college football games for well over 100 years.
It certainly has the look of a traditional stadium with large areas of terrace.

Outside the streets were packed and due to delays, security as usual was tight, the kickoff was put back.
Inside the atmosphere was one of the best I had witnessed in the MLS.

And not only that it was also a very watchable contest.

Beginning with Tommy Thompson scoring for the visitors after only two minutes.
Danny Hoesen might have added another soon after before Sarkodie received a second yellow card for a foul at a significant point in the encounter..

That meant San Jose played for about an hour with ten men.
Eventually that would take its toll as Atlanta got on top.

On 56 minutes a Martinez header setup Carmona for the equaliser before the Venezuelan striker converted a Garca cross to give the home side the lead.
Albeit short lived as a long cross by Lima was brilliantly volleyed home by Chris Wondolowski at the far post to make it 2-2.

However Utd, back by good support from the fans, weren’t to be denied.
Substitute Gressel’s delivery was headed home by Spurs’ loanee Anton Walkes to be topped off by another from Martinez in added time for a joyous finale.

So Atlanta maintained their excellent home record and San Jose ended with nine men after Bernardez was dismissed for what looked like a stamp.

The July 4th fireworks ended a happy night for the home fans.

5th July Orlando City 1 Toronto 3  MLS  25,029.

Over in Orlando the local side now play in their own soccer-specific stadium near to the vibrant Church street area of downtown.
On this Wednesday evening they fielded Brazilian star Kaka plus ex-Derby forward Giles Barnes while Toronto lined up with Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou.

Inspired by Italian Sebastian Giovinco it was the highly ranked visitors who would prove the more competent.
Just after the quarter hour he threaded a pass through the home defence allowing Altidore to score the opener.

Toronto struck the woodwork before the drinks break and although Orlando had good possession they failed to trouble Bono (Alexander not Sonny) in the Canadian’s goal.

A couple of minutes after the interval it was 0-2 when Altidore returned the favour for Giovinco deliver into an empty net.
Although Kaka did provide the pass for Carlos Rivas to score off the post Toronto soon restored their advantage.
And again it was Giovinco, this time from an excellent,measured, free kick.

That ended the scoring though sub. Hamilton might have added a fourth.
It was a solid three points for the Canadians and they look to be strong challengers for the MLS Cup.

Then it was on to Music City for the start of the Gold Cup.

Before that I spent time in the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame.
Where you can load up on Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Shania Twain and get educated with help from Taylor Swift.

Downtown your knowledge is enhanced by the pounding music and the non-Sharia bachelorette parties.
And you can stock up on your cowboy boots - buy one get two free !

(baseball) 7th July  Nashville Sounds 3 Memphis Redbirds 2  AAA 11,596  

Meanwhile a sizeable crowd turned out at the First Tennessee Park just north of the centre for some minor league baseball.
And a light saber for the kids - as part of the Star Wars theme.

The Sounds notched a home run in the 4th to level before going ahead only to be pegged back in the 7th.
Then a run in the 9th gave the home team a victory over the Pacific Coast league leaders.

I decided to forgo the fireworks and took the bus back to my hotel.

On another warm and dry day in Music City I opted for a history update in the Tennessee State museum.

8th July  USA 1 Panama 1  Gold Cup  47,622

Before crossing the river to the Nissan stadium for my first game at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
For a match that was played at a very steady pace in very hot conditions.
So hot that we had a couple of drinks breaks.

This was a US team without many of the established stars (Dempsey, Altidore, Howard etc)
It was the likes of Kelyn Rowe that caught the eye with some decent shots.
And it was from a Rowe delivery that UK-born Dom Dwyer gave the hosts the lead.

However their opponents, after a period of pressure, levelled following work by Barcenas and Torres enabling Camargo to force the ball past Guzan.

As the game moved towards the finish both sides generally seemed to accept the outcome..

8th July  Martinique 2 Nicaragua 0  Gold Cup  5,515

Not too many stayed for  the second of this double header (I guess the downtown attractions were too compelling)
In which the French overseas region proved a bit stronger and more threatening.

A Parsemain header and a nice run & shot by Steeven Langil (of Waasland-Beveren) secured the points.
While for Nicaragua their best moments usually came from Chavarria.

For me an early night before a 6.30am flight to San Diego.

9th July Curacao 0 Jamaica 2  Gold Cup.

At the airport I chatted with a couple of UK businessmen (Steve & Lee) before making my way to Mission Valley.
Not too far away is the Qualcomm, previously known as the Jack Murphy stadium, the ex-home of the Chargers and Padres and host of three Super Bowls.
It is a traditional NFL- style ground with a vast carpark that was gradually being occupied by the many Mexican fans.

Curacao were making their debut at this event and they would put up decent show though, ultimately, without troubling the scorers.
At times looking a little lightweight they nevertheless managed a number of threats to Andre Blake in the Jamaica goal.
Elson Hooi and Trencin top scorer Janga both went close.

But the Reggae Boyz, despite having less possession, delivered the goals.
Both were decisively finished, from Romario Williams then sub. Darren Mattocks.

9th July  Mexico 3 El Salvador 1  Gold Cup  53,133

As the first match drew to a conclusion the stadium filled up with the Mexican fans, dragging themselves away from the carpark bbq’s.
This was a Mexico team that comprised only locally based players, due to their country’s participation in the Confeds Cup.
They also had to do without their leading coach being on the sidelines, Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio having been banned for six matches.

Not that it mattered too much as El Tri soon set about penetrating the opposition defence with Hedgardo Marin heading in at the far post within 8 minutes.
But almost immediately El Salvador were level after Nelson Bonilla was put through to slide the ball past Corona for the equaliser.

Though that was as good as it got for El Sal as the well-backed Mexicans dominated possession.
They would go ahead on 25 from an excellent far post delivery, excellently volleyed in by Elias Hernandez.
Though Sepulveda might have added a third that soon followed after the interval from sub. Pineda.

Mexico then tended to show off some flowing moves but without increasing the score.
El Salvador ended well beaten and Mexico looked in good shape.

For your correspondent plus some German colleagues the evening finished with a couple of beers in a nearby Ale house.

After a ‘free’ day in central San Diego, dodging the numerous rough sleepers, I ventured over the border on the Tuesday.

(baseball)  11th July  Tijuana Toros 4 Campeche Pirates 3  Mexican League   8,201

Take the Blue Line then walk across the border and you’re in Tijuana.
Easy enough.

Downtown is fairly close as is the Cultural Centre which provides a comprehensive history of the Baja California region.

Much further on, near to the edge of the city with a mountain backdrop, is the Gasmart stadium, home of the Toros.
A taxi ride can take over 30 minutes in the traffic.

But once there its like a carnival with jugglers, men on stilts, dancing girls and plenty of tacos.
Its certainly not quiet.
For 80 pesos you join 8,000 or so enjoying themselves amongst the constant mayhem.

On the field the home side, the top team in the Mexican League, eventually edged their opponents with one home run and a run , from a walk, in the 6th.

Afterwards I escaped via a quick taxi ride to the border.
Where it was an easy stroll through (whereas there was a long queue for the cars) and I was back in the US.

In San Diego ? Then a trip to Tijuana and a fun visit to see the Toros is definitely recommended.

Another day in San Diego followed, this time taking in the harbour area and in particular the popular USS Midway aircraft carrier.
Afterwards the meal of choice was a goat Biryani washed down with a couple of glasses of vino tinto.

Breakfast in Tom Toms, a bus to the airport and I was on my way back to San Jose.
And on the food front an evening attempting to munch down a sizeable rack + large chips at the Smoking Pig bbq.
No need for much breakfast, or lunch or much else after that.

14th July  San Jose Earthquakes 4 Eintracht Frankfurt 1  Friendly  14,355

This time the Earthquakes were playing at their own ground, close to the International airport.
And the Avaya stadium is a neat setup well suited to the MLS.

Though not a big lover of friendlies this was generally watchable, particularly the early stages (i.e. before the numerous substitutions)
San Jose proved a lot sharper, of course to be expected, with a Bernardez header and a Wondolowski penalty soon giving them a two goal advantage.

Towards the end of the half both sides missed great chances, de Guzman for Eintracht and Salinas for the Earthquakes.

Into the second half San Jose added a couple more, an Amarikwa penalty and from an o.g.
We saw a bunch of new players, including a group called in from Reno 1868.

As for Frankfurt, who made various changes as well, it did look somewhat embarrassing.
Striker Haller did go close before they finally managed a consolation through Danny Blum.

For once there was good transport, including buses back to near my hotel.

San Jose - Phoenix - San Antonio.

And a hotel near Market Square, which is a little piece of Mexico.
(On a day of some serious showers) Margaritas were the order of the day.

16th July  Jamaica 1 El Salvador 1  Gold Cup

In the morning you can join the queues for the main entrance to the Alamo, if you want your picture taken, or stroll in via the rear entrance (its free either way)

Brought up on John Wayne and Davy Crockett all this has plenty of resonance and the buildings are well preserved with informative background text.
There is a special section dedicated to Bowie (Jim not David, and the knife not the Spiders from Mars)

Not too far away is the Alamodome.
36 degrees outside, it was much cooler inside.

The situation was that, for these third group games, Jamaica were already through and El Sal needed either a low scoring loss or a draw.
In the end parity was enough against the Reggae Boyz.

The central Americans led through Bonilla after 15 and it took the Jamaicans (mostly US-based) quite a while to get going.
Eventually a handball in the area was awarded and Mattocks delivered the leveller.

Subsequently, apart from one good save by Blake, the match drifted towards a draw.
Which was a good enough for both.

16th July  Mexico 2 Curacao 0  Gold Cup  44,232

Meanwhile the stadium filled up with the El Tri contingent.
Naturally there would have been few fans from Curacao but any who were there, together with the neutrals, would have enjoyed their efforts.

But despite hitting the woodwork and going close on a number of occasions they couldn’t quite break through the Mexican defence.
Especially in a vibrant second half.

You had to feel for them but they could take back a series of spirited performances and no sense of being outclassed during their first appearance at the Gold Cup.
A Sepulveda header and a late conversion by Alvarez gave the Mexicans the points, much to the enjoyment of their many fans.

To finish, alongside some fellow diehards, a return to (a quieter) Market Square and some refreshments.

17th July (baseball)  Houston Astros 7 Seattle Mariners 9  MLB  24,701  

Finally a return home via Houston and a stop at the closed-roofed Minute Maid Park.

With the Astros running away with the AL West I expected a slightly larger crowd but I guess they are waiting for the playoffs.
Anyway those that attended saw the batters on top.

We saw 6 home runs, mostly to left field, and numerous changes of pitcher for both sides.
The Mariners led 4-2, were overtaken in the 6th before ending the 9th at 7-7.

They then pummelled two HR’s off Sipp in overtime to get the victory.
That stopped the train in its tracks.

And we subsequently strolled back, at 11pm, through a quiet downtown.

So ended this visit to the Home of the Brave.

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