Conceding a goal to Costa Rica 60 seconds into the U.S. Men’s National Team’s first game at Lower.com Field wasn’t exactly the storybook opening scene all of us hoped the national team’s return to Columbus would be.
Yes, the USMNT was deploying the youngest starting lineup (averaging 22.6 years old) ever for a FIFA World Cup Qualifier, but allowing a preventable goal – three days after a preventable loss in Panama – was mildly concerning.
But as the game played out, the U.S. scored a world-class goal, beat the aging Ticos, 2-1, and reminded everyone that even a youthful, promising American side should always fall back on its old, trusted spiritual home in Columbus.
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In the first international match inside Lower.com Field, the Americans delivered one of their best performances to date under head coach (and former Columbus Crew head coach) Gregg Berhalter in the national team’s first visit to the Ohio capital in five years.
After that first-minute goal, Sergiño Dest’s back-post piledriver was simply exquisite. Then later in the second half, a great run by Timothy Weah gave the Americans the breakthrough in front of The Nordecke section that swapped Black & Gold for Red, White, and Blue.
“I thought it was amazing,” goalkeeper and former Crew star Zack Steffen said of the win. “Our motto is ‘we respond’ no matter what happens in the game because we know there’s going to be ebbs and flows and it’s not always going to be perfect. That’s just what happened tonight. I’m very proud of the guys and how we responded. We took the game, made them run and really killed them, got the three points at home.”
Once the eventual game-winner was scored by Weah, the celebrations could officially begin. Chants grew louder and ultimately crescendoed when Crew forward Gyasi Zardes entered the match to play the closing minutes to seal a crucial three points.
That was the storybook script playing out, and it wasn’t lost on Berhalter.
“Coming here, this is beyond everyone’s expectations in how nice the stadium is and how nice of an atmosphere is created when the fans are in there,” the USMNT coach said. “It was really a special night to be home in Columbus, and thankfully we got the win because if we didn’t, it’d be tough to come back here.”
When the U.S. last played in Columbus, the Americans lost 2-1 in a frustrating defeat to archrival Mexico. “Dos a Cero” chants were replaced by silence and confusion. A few months later, that loss should’ve foreshadowed the U.S. missing a FIFA World Cup for the first time in a lifetime.
However, this is a new American team with new American players. There’s no arrogance against lesser Concacaf rivals, but there is an ignorance of how hard qualifying can be. Wednesday night proved that.
But it also proved that Columbus is and will always be the spiritual home of the U.S. Men’s National Team, and if the Americans can represent the country in a FIFA World Cup, they should always rely on Columbus being a pitstop along the way.
The national team now sits seconds in the Octagonal standings. If it can hold that spot, the team will be on a flight to Qatar roughly a year from now. Maybe no one was thinking that after Costa Rica scored a minute into the game, but in retrospect, all of us can hopefully say we played a part in getting the team back in a World Cup.