It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for me that’s included 6+ hours in a car, travel through three states and an absolute thrashing on a football pitch in Baltimore.
Going to the USA vs. El Salvador quarterfinal in Baltimore, Maryland was a first for me. I had been to several club friendlies at the same venue (which included the Pirelli Cup match between Inter Milan and Man City a few years ago, though I wouldn’t have called that match ‘competitive’) so this really was an eye-opening experience for me. The only time I have seen M&T Bank stadium packed to capacity (other than Ravens games) was a friendly between AC Milan and Chelsea a few years ago, a match that I unfortunately was not able to attend. But there really is something different when it comes to competitive international matches, there’s a sort of buzz in the atmosphere that is kind of hard to explain.
For starters, the drive into the stadium was absolute madness. As I drove in with Jim, the cameraman from my local TV station, we had a discussion about what the ratio would be of American fans compared to El Salvadorian fans. I assured him that the American fans would turn out, but was positive they would be outnumbered by the visitors. It wasn’t until we were within eyesight of the stadium that we saw the true disparity between the two. It was as if the stadium sat in a sea of blue and white, the occasional red spec here and there, like a buoy you see if you’ve ever been out boating. Then there was the noise, it was like running into a wall of sound the second you exited the car. Drums, horns, saxophones, you name it and it was being played as loud as possible (though not always in the appropriate key).
I had the fortune of meeting up with my cousin before the game. He had made the trip from Bowling Green, Virginia, and as I scanned the crowd at the bar we met at, I was almost positive that he would have been the sole representative of the good ‘ol USA in his section. My cousin is a veteran of USA matches and I had asked him if this sort of thing was normal. I expected a disparity of possibly 60-40, but this was looking 80-20 and the gap was shrinking every minute. “This isn’t shocking at all, El Salvador usually plays a friendly at RFK and whenever they do they sell the stadium out every time” he told me. I had tried to talk to a few El Salvadorian fans, but my lack of Spanish speaking skills proved to be a bridge to far in most cases, but one couple was happy enough to let me take a picture of their young daughter, undoubtedly going to her first match as well. For the most part the El Salvadorian fans were extremely friendly, those with instruments would walk around the stadium playing their songs, even stopping for groups of American fans to chant “USA, USA, USA”, which to me was a bit odd at first, but it was that show of duel pride that kind of put things in perspective for me. Even though their home country was playing in a quarter final, they were still happy to chant and mingle with their fellow American fans, showing pride for the country of their birth and the country they had made their lives in.