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  • Elmer Wheeler

All that glitters...

“We love ya, We love ya, and where you go we’ll follow……” trails off in my head as I watch Spice Girl (my 13 yr old daughter for those who aren’t aware) walk up to her room still rocking her signature red, white and blue bandana.  All I can think is, “It happened again!” Just a short four months prior I was left spinning from my experience at the USMNT vs. Honduras experience. Not necessarily the six to nil route the Yanks put on the Hondurans, but more so the undeniable effect A.O. Modesto has on tailgating. The Gold Cup Final would prove no different.

The U.S. beats Costa Rica in the Semi’s and my decision to buy Gold Cup Final tickets felt like I had struck, well…gold. I start to wonder if A.O. Modesto will be helping with the official tailgate or just doing one on our own.  In a matter of hours the social media messaging bears the fruit I’d been waiting to see. “A.O. Modesto tailgate crew will be leaving by 1 p.m.” YES!!! My first reaction is to let my daughter know that we indeed will be helping tailgate.  Spice Girl returns with, “Are we doing tacos again?” I had to let her down easy that we were in fact not. The mild disappointment subsides pretty rapidly once she realizes that we will be watching the U.S. in a championship game. Next thing out of her mouth is her favorite chant. “Come on U.S. score a goal, it’s really something simple!” She always gives the correct adolescent pause at the right moment in the cheer. 

I still am hovering in the single digits for my own personal CAPS, but I am getting used to watching my favorite team with my favorite people.  This day was definitely different. For the COPA Centenario game against Colombia it was very hot and incredibly crowded, with a poor result. WCQ match against Honduras; first time tailgate, cold, wet, windy, incredible outcome. 

Today felt different. The sun was bright but not sweltering. A confident calm was about.  The Wheeler family hopped on the local transit and quietly arrived to Levi stadium. We make our way to ground zero.  As we approach, Spice Girl instantly perks up when she sees the huge grill with brats and hotdogs sizzling. I see a familiar face manning the grill and I instantly get a Grinch-ish grin knowing everything is gonna be just fine. We slide past the grill and the Pop-ups of American Outlaws National and San Jose, to find A.O. Modesto set up and ready to go.  Big Javi Jav and Leonard manning the merchandise while Matt getting out his chilled home brews that he had donated to the chapter.  Seriously, the beers that Matt is making is giving A.O. Modesto a reputation in and of itself. 

My wife and son settle in and Spice Girl and I mosey on over to the grill with our brand new A.O. barbecue aprons. The grill was hot but we loved it. That mound of bratwurst and hotdog packages were no match for us. I was so proud. My teenager grilling like a pro and even the social media arm of the CONCACAF team noticed. This made Spice girl beam with excitement that they wanted her photo. They had her posing with her tongs and everything! The best part, mid photos she tells them, “Um, I have to get back to the grill now. I don’t want the brats to burn.” A true tailgater, loves the pictures but she has a job to do. C. Lo also swooped in the lend a hand on the bed of coals. A true team effort. At this point, not surprised. 

I take a step back and that’s where I noticed it. A.O. Modesto everywhere. People walking around enjoying the tailgate had home brews from Matt, literally arm-fulls. A.O. Modesto shirts and scarves draped on every other person. Our A.O. Modesto swag game was STRONG, and everyone loved it. Two pop ups worth of Merchandise and home brew. At least two A.O. MO. on the grill. We had a solid hand in how smoothly this tailgate was going. I’m dripping with pride, or is that sweat from me standing too close to the cherry red coals. Probably both. 

Game time. National anthem rings out and I’m ready for this to happen. Happy to see Timmy Howard pacing from post to post like a lion, just waiting to swat away any potential harm to his clean sheet. Altidore up front with Morris. To be honest I have grown to love Jozy’s play. Since the team has brought in the youth with the likes of Pulisic, Wood and Morris, Altidore has become a complete player. His strong play commands more than one defender when he is in the box and his passing in the same area has given the U.S. offense an unsettling feeling to opponents. Let’s see what the boys can do!

The play of the first half was quick and for the most part aggressive. Most importantly, clean. AO Modesto founder Matt said it best at the following chapter meeting, “I want to thank Jamaica for playing a tough clean game.” Spot on. They call it “The beautiful game” for a reason. When it’s played with respect and effort, doesn’t matter who is on the pitch. The game is wonder to see.

If I have any kind of integrity and respect for the game and especially for what I just mentioned, I have to acknowledge the absolute clinic Andre Blake put on. His effort not only helped get Jamaica to the final but held off an American assault that was tactical and unrelenting. I actually was grossly dissapointed when he had to be removed because of injury. For me, the most exciting and impressive thing to see in the run of play is an out of this world save by goalies. The skill and ability of these men are light years beyond my understanding. There has to be something wrong with them to want to play that position. This coming from a lifetime wing mid-fielder.

Altidore ends the first half for us with a great goal to have the Yanks on top with just 45 minutes to play. I’ll take that half time score any day.  Second half turns into a whole different story. The Nats see instantly at the start why Jamaica isn’t an easy win any longer. They have added skill and touch to their long historied speed. Their passing and foot work kept meaningful possession to start the second half and this kept the U.S. defense on their heels. After a while you start to get the feeling that the U.S. needs to do something to change momentum. Foul, counter and score, the Macarena, I don’t give a damn!!! Get the ball back! That’s when it happened. Our young American Bulldog Jordan Morris is a step behind on marking his player. Jamaica evens the score on a back post header. I’m not a lip reader, but by the looks of Tim Howard’s beard moving, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t calling everyone his “Fine Freckled Friends!” Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces. As Big Red Alexi Lalas preaches every game, you have to know how to defend them and score with them. 

Now, it’s game on. The U.S. responds with their offensive efforts and it turns into a fun attack and counter attack that all soccer fans love. On the edge of my seat is where I remained. I knew that something was going to happen but didn’t know what. Both teams had their chance to go ahead but failed to finish. I look at the clock and I see the 85th minute ticking away. I say to myself. P.K.’s would be a shame of a way to end this. 

Wouldn’t you know it? The man who let Jamaica back in the game has his redemption! Jordan Morris puts away a pin ball deflection off Dempsey! The relief! The exhilaration! The Yanks kill the remaining time and we are Gold Cup champs again! The best part of the celebration? Tim Howard leading the rest of the team over to the American Outlaws section and reciprocating the enthusiasm. We, as Outlaws, can remain unofficial forever. The acknowledgment we get as a whole from the team we root for is enough for me. 

Riding the local transit away from this fine stage gave me two things to think about. One, what better way to spend a day with the family I hold dear, watching a game I love just as much? Two, I want more!

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