This afternoon the USMNT held an open practice at Red Bull arena. It drew a crowd that probably equaled the one that was here on Memorial Day for the Serbia against Jamaica friendly. Outside the arena over an hour before the gates opened, the lines grew longer and longer, weeding through the tents that had been set up by the official snacks of the US Men’s National Team. Cookie wrappers littered the street. Fans walked around with Clint Dempsey masks and fans.
Last week when the Red Bulls faced Portland at the Arena, there were a lot of US team jerseys, most with the name Donovan across the back. Not today though. Among these fans, Dempsey is the face, quite literally, of the team.
Inside the arena, there was a scramble for seats in the sections that the Red Bulls had opened. Chants of ‘USA’ and ‘Dempsey’ echoed through the empty second level. On the pitch, the players warmed up and the people watching waited for any opportunity to cheer and applaud — when the team running across the field turned and ran towards them, when a ball was kicked into an empty goal from midfield, etc.
The players warmed up, drilled and then scrimmaged. At one point Dempsey was tripped up near the goal, and was slow to rise, limping for a few minutes. Graham Zusi was quick on the wing in front of us. Tim Howard in goal made a few good saves, but Dempsey was still able to get the ball past him.
As the practice wound down, Jurgen Klinsmann strolled over to the fans standing in the special US Soccer Supporters area on the field behind the goal, signing balls, hats, jerseys and anything the fans thrust out in front of him. Clint Dempsey joined him, barefoot, and signed as well, as Kyle Beckerman worked the non-VIP crowd. Then suddenly Dempsey was there, leaving behind the fans where Klinsmann was signing, and climbing over the video boards. These ‘regular’ fans packed closer. Shirts, hats and posters were thrust down over the concrete wall.
A seven year old boy standing next to me had a small journal signed. “I think the US team is going to do alright,” he said, smiling.
Editor’s note: The USMNT team plays Turkey on Sunday at 2pm ET at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. The game will be televised live on ESPN2, WatchESPN, Univision, Univision and Univision Deportes. Tickets for the game have completely sold out, and a capacity crowd of more than 25,000 is expected.