By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — As DeMarcus Beasley hopped onto Eddie Johnson’s back to celebrate another U.S. goal, as CenturyLink Field shook for the second time on this storybook evening for soccer in the Northwest, it became abundantly clear that this night couldn’t have gone any better.
Not for the U.S. national team, which with a 2-0 win over Panama put itself another step closer to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, not for the Seattle Sounders who had two players — Johnson and Brad Evans — in the starting lineup, and especially not for soccer fans in the region, who more than lived up their reputation as being the loudest and most passionate in the country.
“Obviously, you can’t talk about the game tonight without talking about the crowd,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Unbelievable. The best crowd I’ve played in in the United States without a doubt. So from all the players, a big thank you to everybody who was here, to everybody in this city who makes this a special night for us, because people don’t know what a difference it makes when you play in an atmosphere like this.”
So if you were one of the 40,847 in attendance Tuesday, pat yourself on the back. Or if you’re a Sounders fan who has helped Seattle gain the reputation that more or less forced U.S. Soccer into bringing a World Cup qualifier here, well done. And if you’re part of the decision-making process for U.S. Soccer, you know after Tuesday night that, temporary field or not, remote location or not, Seattle has to be a regular stop for big games moving forward. This was the first World Cup qualifier played in Seattle since 1976. Something tells me the wait won’t be quite as long for the next one.
“Everybody is so impressed,” Evans said when asked what his teammates thought of Seattle’s fans. “It’s really gratifying for them to be outspoken about it, to say, ‘You guys have something special here.’ Why it took so long to get one here, it is what it is, but now that it’s here, you’d better believe there will be more to come in the future. … The crowd was absolutely insane tonight, the guys had nothing but positive things to say about it.”
Of course a big crowd — Tuesday’s was the seventh-largest for a U.S. home qualifier in history — wouldn’t have been nearly as electric if the team hadn’t matched their intensity, and the U.S. was more than up to the task. From forward Jozy Altidore, who scored his third goal in as many games, to Bradley, who sparked several dangerous counterattacks, to Johnson and Geoff Cameron, two new additions to the starting lineup, the U.S. looked very much like a team rounding into form under coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“Obviously we were very pleased with that performance,” Klinsmann said. “I thought throughout the entire game we were in control of it. Every area on the field the guys did their job.”
And if the night wasn’t good enough when Altidore put the U.S. ahead in the first half, it certainly hit its peak in the 53rd minute when Cameron played a perfect ball through to Johnson, who calmly controlled the ball with one touch then finished with the next, much to the delight of the home crowd.
“I’m just so happy for him,” Evans said of Johnson. “He put in the work tonight offensively and defensively, he helped me out so much. … I thought that Eddie and myself did well, and for him to turn it on in the second half and still have that energy and that pace and that endurance to get in behind and score that goal was something special, and to do it in front of your home crowd, he’ll remember that one forever.”
Indeed, Johnson called scoring a goal for his country in a big game in front of a home crowd a “Dream come true.” Until last year, it seemed Johnson’s time with the national team was well behind him — once a U.S. team regular, he hadn’t been called in for duty since 2010 — but going back to last fall, he has revived his national team career and now has a real shot at representing his country in Brazil next summer. That the latest chapter of a career revival that began in Seattle with the Sounders was written in Seattle with his national team is just one of many things that made Tuesday night so memorable.
“To play in the U.S. jersey first of all is an honor,” Johnson said. “To play in front of the fans that I play in front of week in and week out, I couldn’t ask for a better feeling after the goal tonight.”
Johnson’s goal, the fact that two Sounders were in the USA’s starting eleven, a strong performance by the home team, and another amazing performance by the crowd, it all added up to a unique and memorable night that, if U.S. Soccer was paying any attention at all, will be repeated in the not-too-distant future.
“Amazing crowd,” Klinsmann said. “It was just a wonderful atmosphere. The players enjoyed it tremendously. We all did.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.