By Santos Ramirez
Every four years there comes a summer of anticipation, and, for me, this is primarily based on the playing of the FIFA World Cup, however, this year has the potential for something never before seen in global football. The 100th anniversary of Copa America is the first major tournament since the 1994 World Cup to be held on US soil, and combined with the growing passion for soccer in the U.S., the US Men’s National Team has a recipe to possibly win their first major international tournament. Home field advantage at the international level, has in large part been attributed to the World Cup victories of Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966), Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1998). Knowing the impact provided by playing in your home country, I urge American fans to remain stedfast in their loyalties to the USMNT and show up in masses.
With home field advantage and a “12th man” provided by a huge turnout of passionate fans, the USMNT has advanced from their group in first place to play a quarterfinal match against Ecuador. Throughout group play the USMNT has had to face the strongest Colombian side since the 90’s, a beatable but very pestering Costa Rican contingency and an almost unknown but relentless side from Paraguay.
Whether it’s elevation, climate, or hometown supporters, playing at home has been an advantage during group play, and going forward, can only help as USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann takes on the South American and Central American teams in the remaining knockout rounds.
The sheer size and geographical characteristics of the US make travel for visiting teams secretly difficult and each location has provided a unique home field advantage either by ease of travel or familiarity with the ground, or a “12th man”, composed of each city’s local supporters.
Studies show that eastward travel is the most detrimental to athletic performance, because when traveling east it results in a shorter day, whereas the body is better suited to adapting to a longer day i.e. traveling west. For the USMNT, the gradual movement east throughout group stages reduced those negative effects during the build up of the tournament.
On June 3rd in Santa Clara, CA. the USMNT was nicely acclimated to the coastal California weather after likely conducting training camp in the StubHub Center in Carson, CA. Travel-wise this was an ideal scenario to start with, since travel was short and the players did not have to change time zones.
Unfortunately, the “12th man” was supposed to come from four key supporters groups in the Bay Area, however, at kick-off it was clear the the US would be playing in front of a predominantly pro-Colombia crowd of 67,000 strong. Leading up to the match it was reported that for every one American supporter there were 15 Colombian counterparts. The USMNT faced off against a talented Colombian side in front of a predominantly pro-Colombia crowd with an on-field temperature of 88 degrees. We might as well have been playing in Bogota.
Coming off of game 1 versus Colombia, the USMNT traveled to Chicago, Illinois to face Costa Rica, a team, as of late, that has caused us trouble. Travel wise, there is a two hour time difference traveling east to Chicago, but the USMNT had an extra day to recuperate. Costa Rica had it easier because they only crossed one timezone traveling from Orlando, FL., however, they had one less day to rest, since their first match was on June 4th against Paraguay.
The support in Chicago compared to Santa Clara and Red Bulls stadium back in October, was like night-and-day. Chicago showed up in force and really provided the home field advantage that playing any major tournament in your home country would provide. The goal was for thousands of supporter groups to unite in a historical fashion at the famous, Soldier Field, and that surely happened.
After Chicago the USMNT went to Philadelphia,. to face Paraguay in the final match of Group A at the notorious Lincoln Financial Field. This was the least taxing as far as travel is concerned, and thank God, because due to a DeAndre Yedlin red card in the 47th minute, the US had to play down a man for nearly the entire 2nd half.
The City Of Brotherly Love is known for some of the most notorious sports fans in America. In terms of soccer from the youth to pro levels, Pennsylvania has a rich history of producing quality players and fans.
Knowing how important the “12th man” is, leading up to the match, USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a surprise visit to a pre-game American Outlaws and supporters gathering in an effort to not only to ask for their support on a new level, but to show his appreciation for their presence at the games. It was reported that Klinsmann told them that the only way the US will beat Paraguay is with their support. The US won a hard fought battle 1-0.
Now going into the quarterfinal match against Ecuador, the USMNT will have to travel 3 time zones westward across the country. Based on how Group B played out its not entirely clear whether the better opponent would have been Ecuador or Peru, but the US already played Ecuador in a warm-up match on May 25th and won 1-0.
As far as home town support, I can only imagine that Seattle is going to provide some of the best home town supporters in the country. May even trump the turnout in Philly and Chicago combined. Anyone can trump the abysmal turn out in Santa Clara.
Player wise, our captain and star player Clint Dempsey will be returning home to Seattle where he currently plays with MLS side the Seattle Sounders. This familiarity with the locals and city will ease the nerves and provide an extra boost of confidence going to this single elimination match.
In soccer whether a team is playing at home or away can play a huge role psychologically and physiologically on the player. This summer the 100th anniversary of Copa America is being held right here in the U.S.A. and with the growing passion for the game, the USMNT has a strong home field advantage for this major tournament. At the very the least the USMNT has advanced from their group and solidified a spot in the quarterfinals, however, given the power of home field advantage, the USMNT could go on to win their first major tournament.