Once a month every fall, the dreaded international break forces itself on the domestic soccer calendar, and it always seems to foist the ages old club vs country debate into the limelight.

Last month, Raheem Sterling was thrown into the limelight for complaining he was “tired” while on England duty after undergoing different recovery under Roy Hodgson as to what he has become accustomed to under Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. Too often, players are found to be “injured” only to return to their club sides immediately after the break. Players are flown off to locations all over the world to play in glamorous friendlies at half intensity to expand the brand of the global game.

Many fans use the international break as an opportunity to pursue interests during the ten days since they are unable to watch their favorite club in action. In recent times, attendance at grounds for international matches has dwindled, as highlighted by a half empty Wembley last month for England’s Euro 2016 qualifier against San Marino, as well as the rampant corruption in FIFA, making some think if international football is a dying breed that only crops up every other June.

On Friday night, the 25,000 who ventured to Craven Cottage on the banks of the River Thames for the friendly between the United Stares and Colombia must not have gotten that memo. A full house that was energetic and passionate from the first whistle to the last created a phenomenal atmosphere, despite both teams missing key players, with Radamel Falcao out for Colombia and Clint Dempsey out for the United States. The vibe for the match was set as early as two hours before kickoff as fans made their presence felt all around SW6 on the long walk from the Putney Bridge tube station to Craven Cottage, proudly displaying their nation’s flags, blowing horns and playing music from boom boxes. Crowds lined up outside Craven Cottage before the gates opened, making it nearly impossible to walk around the ground, with stewards making instructions via megaphones in both English and Spanish.

Despite the fact that the match was billed as a United States home match and United States Soccer billboards were to be found all over the side of the pitch, sitting in the American Outlaws section in the Hammersmith End had the feel of sitting in the away end at a Premier League match. The other 3 sides of the stadium were a sea of yellow shirts and yellow, blue and red flags.

During the pregame warmups, the entrance of the Colombian players onto the pitch was met with loud cheers. However, the atmosphere ratcheted up a few notches during the anthems as both the Colombian and American anthems were sung feverishly by their respective supporters. After kickoff, every supporter in the ground remained standing throughout the entire 90 minutes despite a UK law requiring supporters to sit, which the stewards were unable to enforce.

The vastly outnumbered American supporters tried to make their voices heard throughout by rotating through their repertoire of chants, most notably the now famous “I believe that we will win” chant as well as “When the Yanks go Marching in,” the much simpler “USA USA” and the other generic chants that are heard at soccer stadiums worldwide.

The match had a distinctive South American vs. North American feel, as the Colombians relied on technical skills and quick breaks, while the Americans relied more on strength and strong defending, with great hold up play from Jozy Altidore. The Americans took an early lead through an Altidore penalty following a handball by Pablo Amero and they impressed for much of the first half, matching their Colombian counterparts step for step as the Outlaws remained in full voice.

The half time interval brought relief both from the increasing pressure from the Colombians towards the end of the first half as well as a respite from 45 minutes of continuous standing and chanting. Americans sitting in the Outlaws section also got excited at the prospect of the United States attacking the Hammersmith End in the second half.

The Outlaws were almost rewarded for their excitement moments into the second half when a header from debutant Rubio Rubin glanced just wide, but the match soon started to follow a pattern that often emerges when the United States faces top class opposition. Similar to the World Cup matches against Ghana, Germany and Belgium, the Americans started to soak up pressure and cede possession, putting 10 men behind the ball and trying to defend resolutely. Unfortunately, the Americans were unable to hold on, as Carlos Bacca equalized in the 60th minute, sending the pro Colombian crowd into a frenzy.

The Outlaws quickly recovered their voice after the equalizer, but a 87th minute winner from Teófilo Gutiérrez all but extinguished the American fire, as well as provoking a pitch invader to hug James Rodriguez in the center circle. Full time was met with mild applause, as well as another twenty or so Colombian pitch invaders as the Colombians were applauded off the pitch by their phenomenal support, while the Americans shrugged the defeat off as being “only a friendly” and were proud of the fact that the Americans were able to hang with the third ranked team in the world for 86 minutes, but few could complain about the Americans being unable to pull off a result.

Major credit ought to be given to the US Soccer Federation for organizing this friendly in London, giving the opportunity for many expats to see their country in action. In addition, it was a great opportunity for many of the American youngsters to play in front of a passionate crowd against top opposition. I think most enjoyed the occasion despite the American defeat and would come back if another similar opportunity arose.

US Soccer could consider taking a similar stance to the NFL down the road and schedule more home friendlies in cities that have a large American presence, such as London or Dublin, the location of Tuesday’s friendly with the Republic of Ireland, as opposed to traditional venues like Hartford or Jacksonville in order to create a more poignant atmosphere at matches and give players experience competing in as many different atmospheres as possible.

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