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Colombia beat El Salvador 3-0 in front of 25,000 in New Jersey

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Last night after the Colombian national team’s 3-0 win over El Salvador, head coach Jose Pekerman spoke about the new chapter that his team is beginning to write on the field. Reaching the quarter finals at the World Cup in Brazil this past summer will be a hard story to follow.

Heading to the match, traffic smacked to a halt on the New Jersey Turnpike well before exit 15 W, then crawled through Harrison, a string of tail lights leading to the long metal curl of the arena. In the parking lots were wreaths of smoke as the smell of roasting meat filled the air. Ad hoc vendors sold shirts and snacks to the sellout crowd that packed the parking lots as fans wrapped in flags slowly made their way to the gates. No one seemed to be in any hurry to get inside. What was amazing was the amount of noise made by the thin number of fans who were inside when the teams took to the pitch for their warm-ups. As the crowd rose for the playing of the United States national anthem, Landon Donovan was being substituted off a few hours away in East Hartford, Connecticut. It was an unplanned but fitting coincidence.

Three nil. It is a deceptive final score in a game that was by no means one sided. El Salvador met Colombia head-on in the first half, and had them on their heels at times, playing a technical game that made Colombia’s diamond formation look like a poorly set stone in the metal ring of the arena.

El Salvador seems to suffer from an identity crisis. After watching them play here last year against Trinidad-Tobago in a match that was very physical and with a crowd that was overwhelmingly in their support, it was a much different feel last night. First of all the crowd was largely supporters of the Colombia side, including actor John Leguizamo, who posed for pictures with fans. And at the match end, he was holding a World Cup ball and a sharpie waiting for the team to exit the locker room. Second was the level of play that El Salvador brought to the field, play that was clean to the point that it was really the only issue of manager Albert Roca’s post game interview.

Colombia had a much stronger second half. Leading by 1-0 at the end of the first 45 minutes on a goal from Falcao, a goal that Jose Pekerman said was extremely important not just in terms of winning the match but of re-establishing the player on the national side, Colombia scored two quick goals to put the game out of reach of the El Salvador side.

Somewhere around the 75th minute the fans, knowing the victory was theirs, started a wave that roared around the arena once, then again and a third time, their attention turned more toward themselves rather than the game on the pitch, celebrating the fact that they were there.

As slow as the arena had been to fill, no one was in a hurry to leave. Well past an hour after the game had ended, fans still filled the parking lots kicking soccer balls, cooking on grills that had barely had a chance to cool from their pre-game use, celebrating their team, celebrating the game, celebrating soccer. Just celebrating.

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