Here is a quick recap of the game against Ecuador including my “commute” to San Juan, Argentina along with the usual pre and post-match behind the scenes stuff. Hopefully, some info and pics below are useful for future USYNT generations. Otherwise, if you are the casual reader, try to enjoy the content.
Dallas to Buenos Aires
My flight left Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International airport at 9:20 PM on Thursday, May 18 (Match Day – 2). For an international trip, I normally like to leave at least three days before match day but it was impossible this time. It was a 10 hour direct flight to Buenos Aires; I arrived around 11:20 AM local time (2 hours ahead of Dallas). As we landed, my T-Mobile device took forever to receive a signal and I was beginning to panic. We rely so much on those mobiles and the trip to San Juan was going to be a long one without a working phone. As I made my way to customs, my phone service was restored. At last, panic mode was turned OFF.
Buenos Aires to San Luis
I quickly proceeded to the rental car counter (where I also exchanged currency -1 US dollar is approximately 460 pesos). By 12:30 PM, I was out of the airport driving to the province of San Juan. Due to the length of the trip (1118 Kms -~800 miles), it consisted of two parts. When I left, I honestly didn’t know how long the first leg was going to be…always love the adventure especially when I’m traveling by myself.
San Juan is about 14 hours away from Buenos Aires since 90% of the trip consists of one lane roads with very low speed limits (100 – 120 Km/hr). The first leg was a very dull drive of about 10 hours from Buenos Aires to San Luis (a different province/state) crossing 3 provinces (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and San Luis) in the process. It rained (sometimes poured) for at least 8 out of the 10.5 trip hours. Leg two of the trip crossed two additional provinces (Mendoza and San Juan). FYI Argentina has 23 provinces/states.
San Luis to San Juan
I spent the night in San Luis and the next morning, I left to San Juan around 6:15 AM for the last 3.5 hours of my trek. It was a bit of a treacherous drive as the first two hours were up in the cooler and foggy mountains, early in the morning (no coffee) and more one lane roads.
As in any tournament, the most important game is the first one. The team knew it and they were mentally prepared for it. Ecuador is a solid team with excellent individual talent and speed at every position; however, they sometimes lack cohesion and discipline in the last third. To be fair, the roster they took to the South American qualifiers was a tad different than this group for the world cup. It was imperative that we won possession in the midlfield.
I arrived at San Juan’s AirBnb around 10:30 AM, took a quick shower and went straight to see Jogo at their hotel. It was 12:15 PM (game was at 3 PM) when I was picking up my ticket to the game from the front lobby and I used the opportunity to wish him well and possibly calm any nerves.
It was reassuring that he was perfectly mellow about his potential WC debut. He had known that he could be playing in a different role for a few days, practiced accordingly and was tactically ready.
As I was leaving the hotel, I said farewell to a few of the players as they were making their way to the bus. It was very moving (and emotional for me) to see how the non-coaching staff one by one lined up from the hotel exit all the way to the bus entrance, to high-five and wish each team member a heart-felt, encouraging farewell. The majority of the non-coaching staff rides separately from the players and coaching staff. This was another sign of the family environment that Mikey has created with this team in his short term as the coach. As I made my way to the car, I was hesitant to return to the AirBnb to rest a bit fearing that I’d fall asleep through the game since I was so tired so I made my way to the stadium instead.
I arrived at the stadium where I sat in the US section. Our section was pretty much empty except for one additional player family, the rest of the non-coaching staff, and two players who could not participate in the first match. Given the excitement, I really didn’t take any pre-match pictures until after the match.
The beauty of this game is that we all can have a different view point and that’s okay; thus much analysis is not needed as most of you witnessed what transpired. I’ll venture to say that we dominated the first 20 minutes or so and then Ecuador settled in and finished the half stronger than we did. Jogo had a good challenge with Nilson Angulo (#10) and I am glad they faced each other for their own development needs. It won’t be the last time they face each other. Did you all catch #19? He’s a 2007 born!!!
Ecuador played a better second half with the crowd behind them all the time; fortunately, they never presented a real threat to our GK. The temperature was not extremely high; however, the sunlight hits differently here in San Juan. Our boys seemed a bit tired and the Ecuadorian players, accustomed to that climate, had the momentum especially in the last quarter of the game. Our subs came in, adjusted well, provided a much needed energy spark and they certainly made a difference. At last, we had won the first game of the 2023 U20 WC.
I only saw Jogo for a brief moment after the game. Ironically, when he tried to approach me near the sturdy fence separating fans from players, the same fans who were strongly rooting against the US throughout the game were the same ones trying to fetch a jersey, selfie or even an autograph from the US players. In the end, I was glad we did manage to snap this selfie below.
I stayed after our game to watch the double-header game between group rivals Fiji and Slovakia. It was good to scout the level of the competition our team will be facing today. On Friday, the second header game after our match with Slovakia will be sold out as Argentina will be playing against New Zealand. It should be a good one to watch.
It was a hostile environment where 95% of the 14k in attendance were naturally rooting for Ecuador. Our boys were mentally prepared and had an importantly good first showing; they know that the task at hand will should become more and more challenging.
As they continue their journey in this tournament, please remember that no matter what happens in the next games, these boys are giving their best for themselves, their teammates, their families, their communities, their clubs, you fans, and last but not least, their country. At the end of the day, this is a game, the beautiful game. Let’s keep it that way. The outcome of a football match (tournament) does not define us as individuals and much less as a country, nor should it define their careers. After each world cup game, Jogo will still be buddies with players from Ecuador, France, Slovakia, or whoever they play in the competition. As fans, we need to understand that there will be good games and not so good ones, that’s football and we can’t do anything to change that dynamic. However, how we react to their performance is within our control. Let’s not become the type of fans who use the outcome of a match as a justification for questionable behavior (ex. Valencia vs Real Madrid, El Salvador) physically or online. We owe it to the betterment of the game in this country to act responsibly.
That said, thank you for the tremendous outpouring of love and support received in the past couple of days. It will never be forgotten but we must keep a leveled head there as well. It was a great first win but there are far greater challenges lying ahead. Only few will probably know that, unfortunately, in this ephemeral, competitive profession, the good days are hard to come for a footballer. As I share that with you, please be sure to reach out to all US players (especially those abroad away from their families), when things may not be going well during their seasons. I’m sure they will appreciate hearing your unwavering support during challenging times as well. In the process, you will be contributing not only to their mental well-being but also to the betterment of the sport in this country. Every bit makes a difference in the life of a footballer. As you know, the summer will have a few important competitions for the USMNT; start reaching out to some of those players now if you can with words of encouragement.
As I wrap this post up, I’m heading to the second game against Fiji. They will feel your support from afar and the other two families and myself will do our best to permeate the good vibes onto the field. As always, thanks for reading. Let’s go boys!!! #theGomezway
PS Before I head into the stadium, I will stop by the Red Bull Skateboarding Tour Event taking place in San Juan, Argentina. This event is a qualifier for next year’s Olympics in Paris. Football does take you to unexpected places and events sometimes. I am so grateful to the sport…