Fan Culture / Local / World Cup / World Cup - International

Who Are Ya? (World Cup Sendoff Edition)

The aftermath of Saturday’s final stateside tuneup for the U.S.A. saw a lot of traveling soccer fans in Center City on a day that made Philadelphia soccer history. The many USA jerseys seen about the city were complimented by those worn by a scattering of Turkey fans.

[On the eastern sidewalk adjacent to Rittenhouse Square, I stop four friends checking out the city after coming from the Linc.]

Ben Clack

Ben Clack

Where do you live? Where are you from?

I live in New York City—Queens, New York. I go to school at St. John’s and play for their top soccer team. I’m originally from Dallas, Texas.

Is that Div. 1? Are you guys any good?

Yeah, we’re D1. We’ve got a great program and we had a pretty good year, which ended in us going to the NCAA tournament. [Ben contributed a goal in The Red Storm’s 2-0 win against Providence in the second round of the Big East Tournament. His team scored five goals in the competition, shutting out the opposition ahead of a scoreless draw against Notre Dame decided by PKs (5-3) in their favor for the crown. St. John’s rewrote the record books with their 8th straight title ahead of being ousted in the first round of the NCAA tourney 1-0 by Boston College.]

Speaking of Queens, I’ve heard of the movement led by The Borough Boys—a group taking a page from our Sons of Ben—to try to sway Don Garber and the MLS to award an expansion team to Queens. Besides those guys, are there a lot of soccer mad fans up there? Is Queens ready to host an MLS team?

Even though I’m not from the area, I can tell there’s a lot of passion there for the game. The great thing about Queens is that, with all the diversity, with so many people coming from various stretches of the globe, everyone brings their unique take and appreciation of soccer to the area.

Wow, hopefully we’ll see a New York derby in the future. What are your thoughts on the national team following their final tuneup matches prior to heading over to South Africa?

I’d love to see them go in with another win [against the Aussies on the 5th]. It was clear the first match [against Czech Republic] was an exhibition for people Bradley wanted to check out. Today it was more about their set lineup, the guys that are going to be at the forefront, and they looked pretty good.

We saw how much better the squad looked in the second half once the formation—judiciously tweaked during today’s tuneup match should the tournament call for adjustments—and the lineup was altered back towards more of what the players and the fans are used to. Also, we have an unprecedented depth in the squad that could help carry us past tough opposition. Despite all this, what are you concerns ahead of June 12th?

I just hope they don’t get stage fright again and get affected by the level of the competition, the spectacle that is the World Cup. In ’06 too many players just disappeared. At least, given the way Dononvan has been playing for instance, I don’t have the feeling that’s going to happen again.

From the game today and recent matches, who else would you single out?

I’ve been liking what Benny Feilhaber has been bringing to the middle. Today he played solidly for us. I think he’ll be very important for the team and their prospects.

And how do you think we’ll do?

I think we’ll get out of the group stage. If we can all buy into the same game plan we’ll do well. Having watched a lot of the qualifiers, I like what Bob Bradley is doing, the defense first, counterattacking style he has implemented. Hopefully they can all follow that.

[At Fado, where the manager sent a waitress over to me, the guy with the soccer ball,  for a ‘Who Are Ya?’ of her own.]

Jay Erwin and Stephanie Cunningham

Who are ya?

Jay Erwin; Stepahnie Cunningham.

Where are the two of you from?

Jay: D.C.

Thanks for giving us our first home win.

Jay [affably ignoring me]: I thought D.C. played really well against Milan in their recent friendly.

Yeah, but Milan’s season is over…they’re here on vacation…D.C. is—supposedly—in full swing. And there’s no Huntelaar, no Pato, no Gattusso, amongst others for Milan, and of course, no Gooch, though he hardly played for them due to form, and then injury [I was wrong about Pato. I was surprised to later find out he didn’t make the cut for Brazil though he failed to provide a goal in his meager three qualifying appearances—all substitutions—while his goal talley for Milan dropped to 12 from a previous total of 15].

Jay: Well they did have Ronaldhino in the lineup [Seerdorf as well]. Given how D.C. is 1-8, it’s pretty impressive and will hopefully give our team a needed boost [indeed it did, as D.C. edged out Chivas 3-2 later on Saturday night via an 89th minute penalty kick].

So you guys are both originally from D.C.?

Stephanie [a gleeful spark in her eyes]: He’s from D.C. I’m from Detroit. [Pause. Smile]. I hate the Flyers.

You just didn’t have to go there [i.e. try to capitalize on the pain of the ’97 Stanley Cup Finals]. You know I couldn’t hate Detroit since Steve Yzerman is one of my favorite all time players.  But it looks like there’s a bit of a downturn in Detroit of late. Thanks for Ville Leino, though. The Wings sure know how to scout those Scandinavian countries.

Stephanie [smiling]: Yeah they do. [Detroit won the Cup two years ago with a large Swedish contingent].

Getting back to the national team, what stands out from today’s match against Turkey?

Jeff: Today’s game showed some weaknesses on D, particularly in the first half, where Turkey came out with a lot of aggression and really pressed our back four.

Yeah, once we adjusted the overall formation and got Spector out of there in favor of Cherundolo, things settled down. But it was troubling to see Turkey get behind our defense, just as it was alarming to see a ramshackle D back away from the Czechs.

Stephanie: Oh God yes, Spector was awful. They needed badly to make that change. And the offense just wasn’t getting the chances they were getting in the second half.

I believe Spector’s seen his best football at central defense while playing for West Ham. As for the offense, besides the switch back to the usual 4-4-2, the insertion of Torres at the half greatly stabilized our midfield, while Robbie Findley’s presence provided much charged creativity in the attacking third- that chip ahead to Donovan that led to our first goal was simply amazing.

Stephanie:  Yeah, he played it ahead perfectly.

So what factors are you focusing on in terms of our success in South Africa?

Jeff:  Injuries and recovery are going to play a crucial role. We have several guys, including Onyewu, who are coming back from injury.

Definitely. And the key to our defense, our captain, is still nursing a groin injury.

Jeff: Every team has to deal with it. Hopefully it won’t be a major factor for us going forward, with Davies kept out of the team.

How do think we’ll do?

Jeff: We’ve already proved we can play with the likes of Brazil and Spain—in South Africa no less. We’re in a reasonable group to start, as opposed to last time. I think we’re set for a good run.

What are the chances we could relive 1950 and pull off another shocking upset of England on June 12th?

Jeff [with gravitas]: I could see a tie against England. Yeah, I hope so since playing against Germany [the expected Group D winner, who would play the runner up of our group] would be rough.

Even without Ballack? Of course the Germans are always going to be the Germans, but I don’t see Donovan, or the US, being stopped by fingertips—a la Oliver Kahn—this time around. While the Germans don’t slow down until later in the tournament, I think we’d fare much better should we meet them again.

Stephanie [cringing slightly]: Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to see them in the first round of knockouts.

It would be a great chance at revenge.

Jeff and Stephanie [near unison]: Oh, definitely.

So, with the our World Cup hopes in mind, who stood out for you today?

Jeff:  Landon’s experience was evident today. He controlled the ball and set the tempo with superior pace. He seemed to carry himself extraordinarily well in a game where he set up both goals.

And what did you guys think of the atmosphere down at the stadium?

Jeff: It was fantastic. Very electric. They said it was the largest crowd ever for a soccer game in Philadelphia—over 55,000 fans, with a surprising number of Turkey supporters.

Stephanie: The atmosphere was amazing. We were thrilled to be a part of it, to be with so many enthused fans in the final sendoff game prior to our team heading over to South Africa.

Photos by Jimin Park

One Comment

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