Captain America. Wonder Woman. Red, white and blue-clad luchadores. Even the dreaded stars-and-stripes male romper.
Soccer fans from North Texas and beyond wore their patriotism on their sleeve, if they were wearing sleeves at all, at AT&T Stadium Saturday as the U.S. Men’s National Team advanced to the CONCACAF Gold Cup finals with a 2-0 win over Costa Rica.
The U.S. moved into Wednesday’s Gold Cup final in Santa Clara, Calif., against the winner of Sunday night’s semifinal between Mexico and Jamaica.
The crowd of 45,516 was forced onto the edge of their seats from the first minute on, as U.S. forward Jordan Morris ricocheted a shot off the right goal post to barely miss out on a 1-0 lead right off the bat.
Gasps of exasperation filled the stadium until the 72nd minute, when Nacogdoches native Clint Dempsey placed an absolute dime on the left foot of forward Jozy Altidore, who beat Costa Rican keeper Patrick Pemberton low from just outside the six-yard box for the game’s first goal. To that point, the ageless U.S. keeper Tim Howard had been the man of the match, thwarting three legitimate Costa Rican chances along the way.
As Altidore shed his jersey and sprinted down the sideline in a show of American might, the crowd could breathe again, and belted out chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and “We love you, we love you, we love you,” roughly to the tune of the song, “I Will Follow You.” It was Altidore’s first goal in his last 10 international appearances.
Dempsey would tie Landon Donovan’s all-time international goal-scoring record (57) 10 minutes later on a 20-yard free kick that crept inside the right post, just past Pemberton’s fingertips. Dempsey did all his damage in just under 25 minutes of playing time, coming to the rescue as an extra attacker after the American offense languished for the game’s first hour. Dempsey was named man of the match for his trouble.
If the World Cup is the Christmas of soccer’s four-year calendar, fans Saturday treated the Gold Cup semifinal like Halloween. It was the perfect excuse to don a cape, a red, white and blue glam-rock wig, or, heck, even a chicken hat.
“When we need to have fun, the chicken hat comes out,” said Josh Ramsey, 38, of Dallas. “And when the chicken hat comes out, everybody has fun. Simple as that.”
His drinking buddy for the evening, 31-year-old Dustin Mills of Denton, was sporting a patriotic take on the 80s hair metal look: red, white and blue fishnet gloves and a matching wig.
“There’s no going half-way when it comes to representing the U.S.,” Mills said.
But the Gold Cup also represents the final international tournament for teams in the region before national teams the world over make qualifying for the 2018 World Cup their sole focus.
“This is a miniature World Cup,” said Matthew Crain, 28, of Oklahoma City in between compliments on his clashing plaid and striped ensemble. “A win here shows the world that we’re not a team to be taken lightly. Next year, are we going to storm into Russia and run away with the World Cup? Maybe not, but we’re a hungry team and a hungry fan base, and this is the tournament to show that we’re still a very good soccer country.”
The passion that at times spilled over into patriotic nuttiness was on the face of so many thirty- and fortysomethings throughout the crowd as the Americans on the field failed to take advantage of the match’s big moments through its first 60 minutes. It’s the kind of passion that makes a 46-year-old go out in public in one of those male rompers that took the internet by storm at the beginning of the summer.
“I’ve been a fan since I was about 10,” said the romper-clad Patrick Rosch, also from Oklahoma City. “But this is just the second chance I’ve had to see the national team play.”
What’s that they say about absence making the heart grow fond enough to step out in a patriotic onesie?
Luckily for the ridiculously-clad masses, the result was the one they all had come to see.