Panama v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Night of vindication all around for Seattle, fans


SEATTLE — The sellout didn’t happen, but as Seattle’s soccer fans showed, it didn’t matter. Besides, it’s hard to imagine 42,000 would have meaningful louder than the 40,847 who turned out to CenturyLink Field on Tuesday night. In voice, spirit, if not in the highly anticipated number, the fans were more than enough.

It was the seventh-largest home crowd in U.S. qualifying history, one that had no problem delivering the expected atmosphere. U.S. fans proved every bit as capable of filling Seattle’s cavernous venue with chants and songs that rivaled the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC groups that cheer on the Sounders.

And after days of debate about Seattle’s expected attendance — increasingly nuanced explanations confounded an already loaded issue — the scene at CenturyLink left only two conclusions: Seattle’s fans delivered; and the community had earned its vindication.

“Amazing crowd,” was Jurgen Klinsmann’s assessment, words echoed in some form by ever player within a breath of a microphone Tuesday night. “It was just a wonderful atmosphere that the players enjoyed tremendously. We all did.”

“[It was] the best crowd I’ve played in (front of) in the United States, without a doubt,” Michael Bradley said. “People don’t know what a difference it makes when you play in an atmosphere like this.”

Perhaps the difference was evident in their performance. In some ways, the U.S.’s play wasn’t that different from what we saw in Jamaica. The team was threatened early but generally dictated tempo. They scored first through Jozy Altidore. The team eventually won.

The differences: The U.S. pushed for a second goal out of halftime in Seattle, an effort a large, supportive crowd could have bolstered; and the team didn’t give up a late goal, something the crowd’s encouragement could have promoted.

It’s all speculation, but when you hear a player like Bradley say onlookers “don’t know” how the support influences players, you wonder if, in those moments where you can see a clear difference from one game to the next, the crowd wasn’t the necessary condition.

But support wasn’t the only area where Seattle proved vindicated. The imported sod surface, much maligned all weekend, held up better than expected, even if the match’s early moments saw a number of players have trouble with their footing.

Yet probed after the match, no player had a negative word to stay. Instead, their reactions echoed their coach’s, who commended a CenturyLink ground crew that did everything they could to improve the field between Saturday and Tuesday.

“The field was totally fine,” Klinsmann said. “The players were totally fine with it. [The staff] did a tremendous job … They accommodated every wish we had. Water it here. Water it there. They rolled it again this morning. I can just give the biggest complements here for the field.”

With pitch issues set aside, the lasting story of Seattle’s first qualifier in 36 years will be its much-renown supporters – a community that justified U.S. Soccer’s decision to fly from Kingston  to play in front of its fans.

“Columbus is great and Kansas City has been fantastic,” Tim Howard explained, “but this was rocking. They did themselves justice tonight …

“It’s the best crowd around … We can’t get back to Seattle soon enough.”

On Tuesday, hours before the match, I asked what Seattle was getting out of this qualifier. Amid the criticism, much of which came off as opportunistic envy, what incentive did Seattle have to solicit another event that could act as a catalyst for negativity?

The Panama match completely destroyed that premise. In the span of a few hours, what looked like a no-win situation was overcome by the pure power of 40,000 screaming voices.

As the stadium shook after each U.S. goal, you saw what was in it for Seattle. They get a World Cup qualifier, a chance to contribute to the cause, and an opportunity to remind the rest of U.S. soccer culture: It will take more than the cried of skeptics to derail the Seattle phenomenon.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.