You would’ve thought it was an actual World Cup game.
More than 26,000 fans packed Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., in the second match in the US Men’s National Team’s Send-Off Series. It was a World Cup warm up for the teams, but for the record crowd this was as close most of them are likely to get to the real thing.
After defeating Azerbaijan in the first game, 2-0, the US took game two, 2-1, on goals from Fabian Johnson in the 26th minute and captain Clint Dempsey in the 52nd minute. (Turkey’s Selcuk Inan added a score on a penalty kick in the 90th minute.)
The win gives the USMNT a 3-1-1 record on the year. But head coach Jurgen Klinsmann warned there’s still work to be done before the US begins tournament play on June 16.
“We need to get more compact, more connected between the players, make it more difficult for the opponents to come through there,” he said. “But overall I think it was a nice game to watch. Wonderful crowd, great support.”
That’s just a bit of an understatement.
Each time the US scored, the deafening roar of 26,762 people shook the stands. In fact, anytime anything happened on the pitch — the US attacking the net, Turkey flopping, uncalled fouls, even the teams coming out for warm ups — the sell-out crowd made itself heard.
The center of the fan action was section 101, directly behind one of the goals. It was packed with some of the hardest core USMNT supporters. They wore American flag capes and t-shirts, official World Cup jerseys (the red, white, and blue striped away jersey was way more popular than the white home kit), and anything that had a patriotic vibe. One guy had a Captain America shield, another was decked out from head to toe in stars and stripes and pounded a drum bigger than him.
They waved flags, held up team scarves, and unfurled giant posters. One two-parter read “BEAT GHANA,” and another with a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding the World Cup trophy instead of her torch that read “The New American Dream” was raised up after the National Anthem.
The supporter’s section cheered, shouted, chanted, booed, groaned, and sang. And when they did, the rest of the arena followed their lead.
They were hardly the only die-hard fans in attendance. Most fans came to cheer the US team on as loud as possible. And they came to the game decked out in some combination of red, white, and blue, from t-shirts and pants to cowboy hats and sunglasses. (There were even some people with Turkey gear and flags, but they were greatly outnumbered.)
Of course, there were also lots of jerseys. Dempsey was the most popular, but there were also loads of Altidores, Zusis, and Donovans. One person got creative with his 2014 USMNT away jersey: He wore the number 26 with the name T. Roosevelt in honor of our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt.
Other fans went the extra mile. A few fans their faces patriotically painted, while others came in costume. One guy wore a Minuteman jacket — with flag shorts and flip-flops. Another had a giant papier mache World Cup trophy hat. Someone else had a whole outfit made of flags.
At times, Red Bull Arena’s concourse felt like a soccer-themed day at Comic Con. But that’s what today was all about: Sending the US team off to Brazil with as much home-grown energy and excitement as possible.
“It was awesome,” center forward Jozy Altidore said. ‘“Everybody was looking forward to this game since it was announced, and it was great to play in this amazing stadium in front of so many great fans.”
The third and final game in the Send-Off Series is Saturday in Jacksonville against Nigeria. But today’s crowd might be impossible to top.
For more World Cup coverage, check out SI Kids' Guide to the 2014 World Cup!
Photos: Elsa/Getty Images