By Noah Davis
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Well, this is quite the contrast.
Last week, Honduras had World Cup fever. Blue and white jerseys were everywhere in San Pedro Sula: on people walking the streets and for sale in shops and on the side of the road. A local paper produced a 32-page special section the day before the United States Men's National Team clashed with the Catrachos in the final round of qualification for the 2010 World Cup. The Americans won -- earning their sixth straight trip to soccer's main event -- but even this defeat did little to quell the passion of the Honduran supporters.
Contrast this scene with Washington D.C., where the U.S. will play Costa Rica Wednesday night in both team's final match of the qualifying cycle.
Make no mistake: The city boasts amazing soccer fans. D.C. United has the most passionate, organized, and impressive supporters' group (two, actually) this side of Seattle. Last October's World Cup qualifier against Cuba drew almost 21,000 fans to RFK Stadium, many who wore Red, White, and Blue and chanted throughout the entire match. More than 26,000 attended this summer's Gold Cup match against Honduras. As of midday on Tuesday, fans had purchased 22,000 tickets for the Costa Rica match. This city knows its football.
Unfortunately, you would never know this from walking around on the streets of Chinatown. Only one of the first 10 people I approached Tuesday afternoon -- Delvin, an employee at Washington Sports Club who said he was going to the match -- knew the U.S. was playing at RFK in a little more than 24 hours.
Just two others even knew the Americans qualified over the weekend. "We won against... whatever team we were playing," one of them told me.
The other happened to be a student visiting from Montana. He said he would go to the match but he was traveling back home after visiting D.C. on a break from school.
Matt, behind the counter at City Sports, said he follows the U.S. team, but not until the World Cup. He had no idea they earned a trip to South Africa, but wondered, "how it happened so early." I explained. He was excited.
In fact, everyone enthusiastically responded when told that the team was going to the World Cup. Still it was surprising that so few knew this was the case. After a summer that featured the U.S. on national television multiple times, you might expect the general public to be more aware of the situation, especially with a match in their backyard. For all the talk about the growing popularity of the soccer in the States, the (admittedly small) sample in D.C. was disappointingly ignorant.
Then I met David and Rich.
As a last gasp, I stopped in the Irish Channel Pub. Pub equals football, I figured. While the bartender Todd didn't know about the match, a pair of twenty-somethings sitting at the bar overheard my questions and asked I was going to the game. I said yes, and asked them if they were.
"Yes, it's our first live game," David answered. "We drove for 18 hours. We left Springfield, Missouri yesterday at 7 p.m. and we got here an hour ago."
"I was kind of anti-soccer my whole life," he continued. "I grew up in Texas. I went out to California in 2005 and when I went out there, my friend introduced me to Thierry Henry. He showed me his highlight videos and ever since then I've been hooked."
The pair, self-described die-hard Manchester United fans, recently joined the American Outlaws fan group and said they watched the U.S.-Honduras game online because "no bar where we live would consider [paying to broadcast it]."
Were they upset that the U.S. qualified in Honduras, thus reducing the importance of Wednesday night's fixture?
"I wasn't really disappointed because I've seen the roster that Bradley submitted for who's going to play and everybody on that list is somebody I feel is worth the price of the ticket to see," David said. "We're going to see Landon Donovan who is the greatest U.S. Soccer player so that's worth the ticket price."
The duo was simply happy to be there.
"Soccer takes up like 80 percent of my life right now," David admitted proudly.
Cleraly, what the U.S. fanbase lacks in numbers, they make up for in passion (and stamina behind the wheel).
Noah Davis covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com.
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