Are we indulging?

Through my recollection of the legacy of “home” games of the U.S.A. men's national team; there has consistently been a perception that, nearly alone amongst other soccer-playing nations, the U.S.A. schedule matches in cities and at venues where the “visiting” team will have significant crowd support.

Many perceptions are false, but this one has more than an inkling of verity.
What is truly stunning is that this used to happen for World Cup qualifying matches! As recently as 2000, a World Cup 2002 qualifying match versus Guatemala was played at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, DC., in the center of the largest cluster of Guatemalans living in the U.S.A.
It has never been easy to play for the U.S.A. in another country [especially in CONCACAF]. It can feel frustrating to have a “home” game where a U.S.A. player perceives that his effort is being discommended.

What the United States Soccer Federation has done is to place international exhibitions {i.e.: "friendlies"} in cities where it will get a clutch of tickets bought by fans of the visitors.
This is exploitation.
I know you have heard the term. Distilled, it is making a profit off of what some people want to view. It may be something you or I do not like. But in an era where other U.S.A. soccer leagues suspend operations due to their financial venesection, earning funds for the organization must be contemplated.

On 11 July, the U.S.S.F. did it again (oops). For the men's national team's first appearance in Chicago, IL. since June 1993 [v. Germany], it scheduled Poland. Whether Chicago is the second (or third) city with the largest contingent of Polish-speaking residents outside of Warsaw is before the bench. But scheduling U.S.A. v. Poland in Chicago is much like scheduling U.S.A. v. Mexico in Houston, TX.
There will be material enthusiasm for the “visitors”.

Having both covered and been in the stands (in a partisan section), this is something which you shall remember.
There is a difference between the atmosphere in the stadium when we play European and South American teams, and when we play a nation in CONCACAF. In CONCACAF, there is the possibility that the two nations may meet in a match with a World Cup berth in the balance.
For the others, the only time when this could happen is in the World Cup tournament itself. (Yes, the U.S.A. have been invited to participate in South American competitions, but we usually have to decline because they occur during our domestic outdoor season. In 2003, we were so overextended that we did not send any team to compete in the Pan-American Games, of which our experience in 1987 was crucial to our eventual qualification for the 1990 World Cup.)

You may be aware that Copa America 2004 is currently taking place in Peru. The U.S.A. were invited, but we declined. Our spot was taken by Costa Rica, who were then coached by ex-U.S.A. National Team coach Steve Sampson. But then, Costa Rica nearly faltered in the first round of World Cup 2006 qualifying, advancing over Cuba only via the away goals rule! S. Sampson was dismissed. Costa Rica are going through the motions in their Copa America matches. They do not want to be there.

The squad has risen to #7 in FIFA's rankings of the world's men's national teams. The U.S.A.'s semi-final round of World Cup qualifying begins on 18 August, with a match at Jamaica. The other nations in this group are El Salvador, & Panama.
The U.S.A. expect a raucous aura for their first match. It will be reminiscent of the attendance at the U.S.A. v. Poland match.
When you start with members of Sam's Army®, who always encourage Sammers to wear red, include the supporters of Poland, whose national color is red, and toss in the spice of Chicago FIRE® fans, who also don red, and who might be rooting for either the U.S.A., or Poland; it is going to be a little wacky in the stadium.

Jamaica are a nation against which the U.S.A. have a sterling record (eight wins [including a massive victory on 13 August 1988 without which none of you would be reading this], five draws, & zero losses). We should be able to get the result there. But quite many of the players on the Jamaican national team play professionally in the U.S.A. They know our personnel. They see our matches versus other nations. They espied this game versus Poland.

For all our supposed superiority, this game versus Poland was nearly lost. By most accounts, the attendance of 39,529 was an even split between fans rooting for the U.S.A., and fans cheering Poland. What was mildly distressing was that despite the run of the play favoring the U.S.A.:

To the first snag: Just what is occurring with penalty kicks? The percentage of these which have been converted has steadily slipped. It used to be that if one penalty in a tie-breaking situation was missed; that was it for the missing side. Lately I have seen teams miss two (or more) during one five-inning sequence).
In the eleventh minute, after the U.S.A. popped the offside trap, sending Josh Wolff in alone on Poland goalkeeper Artur Boruc; A. Boruc tripped him in the box. A penalty was given, and A. Boruc was shown the yellow card. (Some referees might have ejected the goalkeeper.)
Brian McBride strolls up to the ball, and slots it low to the right post, but A. Boruc guesses correctly and saves it.

The save lifts Poland, and sinks the U.S.A. into a mild funk. The match arrives at halftime (with no stoppage time) at nil-nil.

By the 65th minute, B. McBride had been substituted out for Brian Ching. The U.S.A. were getting more and more of the play, but the finishing touches were still absent. In minute 72, J. Wolff was switched out for Brian Mullan. This was B. Mullan's first appearance for the U.S.A.

When it seemed that the outcome of the match would either be a nil-nil draw, or the U.S.A. would finally sink one of its opportunities in the Poland half, came the shock.
A ball crossed forward from the right wing saw U.S.A. GK Tim Howard shift from post-to-post. The ball was then played laterally toward the center where a shot was blocked by the U.S.A.'s Carlos Bocanegra. The carom was switched to the left wing. A by-line cross saw a lunging T. Howard get his left hand to the ball, but it spilled forward to where Piotr Wlodarczyk got enough of his foot on it to nudge it past T. Howard, and slowly over the goal line. Poland led nil-1.

The U.S.A. made more offensive substitutions. Clint Mathis came on immediately afterward. In minute 82, Eddie Gaven made his first appearance for the full men's national team (after having been on the U-17 squad).
The U.S.A. assailed the Poland goal. Another foray was deflected over the end line for a right wing corner kick. Landon Donovan took it. His arching ball into the box was struck at vertical stretch by C. Bocanegra. It went down and toward the left post, where Poland's Michal Golinski tried to repel it with his left foot. But the ball had too much placement for him to prevent it completely crossing the goal line. The final whistle came 1-1.

What do I think will be the end result of this match for the U.S.A.? Everybody should practice taking penalty kicks. There should be more full-scale simulations to tear open defensive clusters, especially in the last 25 yards to goal. This could also involve more long-distance shots at goal, to try and pull out some deep defenders.
I am not especially distraught about this result. If something flaky is going to occur at a “home” match, let it be an exhibition versus a European team.
If this happens versus Panama on 13 October at R.F.K. Stadium, then I'll be furious.

Match-up: U.S.A. v. Poland
Date: Sunday, 11 July 2004
Competition: International Exhibition
Venue: Soldier Field – Chicago, IL.
Kickoff: 6:06 pm [CT}
Attendance: 39,529
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 80°F

Score line: 1    2     F
U.S.A.      0    1  =  1
Poland      0    1  =  1

Poland – Piotr Wlodarczyk                  76'
U.S.A. – Carlos Bocanegra (Landon Donovan) 88' [Corner Kick]

U.S.A. [Nike®: White | Blue]: #13 Tim Howard; #6 Steve Cherundolo (#3 Chris Albright, 46'), #23 Eddie Pope, #4 Carlos Bocanegra, 
#15 Bobby Convey; #25 Pablo Mastroeni (#9 Clint Mathis 76'), #5 Kerry Zavagnin (#17 Eddie Gaven 82'), #10 Landon Donovan, 
#7 DaMarcus Beasley; #20 Brian McBride (Capt.) (#11 Brian Ching 65'), #16 Josh Wolff (#8 Brian Mullan 72')
Subs not used: #1 Zach Thornton, #12 Cory Gibbs, #14 Chris Armas.

Poland [Puma®: Red]: #1 Artur Boruc; #2 Mariusz Mowlik, #4 Dariusz Dudka (#14 Michal Stasiak 73'), #5 Pawel Kaczorowski, 
#17 Jaroslaw Bieniuk (#3 Rafal Lasocki 64'), #6 Tomasz Jarzebowski, #16 Patryk Rachwal (#13 Maciej Scherfchen 79'), 
#18 Marcin Burkhardt, #10 Sebastian Mila (#11 Michal Golinski 62'); #9 Piotr Wlodarczyk (#7 Wahan Gevorgyan 89'), #8 Ireneusz Jelen.
Subs not used: #12 Waldemar Piatek, #15 Lukasz Madej.

Stats Summary:        U.S.A.   Poland
Shots                   15        7
Saves                    3        4
Corner Kicks             6        6
Fouls                   21       24
Offside                  8        2

Poland – Artur Borucb (caution)           11'
Poland – Patryk Rachwal (caution)         35'
U.S.A. – Pablo Maestroeni (caution)       72'
Poland – Tomasz Jarzebowski (caution)     84'

Referee: Silvio Petrescu (Canada)
1st Assistant: Amado Deluca (Canada)
2nd Assistant: Zoran Kristo (Canada)
Fourth Official: Michael Kennedy (U.S.A.)

I thank Mr. Jim Moorhouse of the U.S.S.F. for facilitating my ability to cover this international exhibition.