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Saturday night at La Playa Azul
by Paul Kennedy, October 12th, 2009 7AM
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[MY VIEW] Playa Azul, on International Boulevard in East Oakland, was aptly named as it was the place to be Saturday night for East Bay Catrachos. By the time I arrived at 6:45 pm, the doors were shut. Inside, the family tables had been taken out and the menus offering ceviche, seafood cocktails and fish prepared six different ways put away for the evening. Chairs had been put out for tonight's entertainment: Honduras-USA, direct from Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula. Seated were 200 fans, all decked in Honduran blue.

I had come in blue -- light blue polo shirt and blue jeans -- so as to blend in.

"I have come to see the game," I told the giant bouncer with my $20 in hand.

"We're full," he responded.

I pulled out my business card and said, "I am the editor of Soccer America. This game is very important." Like the bouncer really cared ...

When the owner arrived, the bouncer repeated my story. I was a familiar face. "But you'll have to stand ...," he said.

Once upon a time, before soccer got big, La Playa Azul was a regular haunt of the Soccer America crew. We were regulars for closed-circuit telecasts. Mexico-USA in the 1999 Confederations Cup semifinals is the one I remember most, but there were also Gold Cup matches and Olympic qualifiers.

I was quickly whisked in. The owner got a chair from the kitchen and a spot in front of one of the televisions. Did I want something to drink? How was my view?

Others waited outside and eventually got in. There were probably 250 fans in the place, all but maybe five of them Honduran supporters. They cheered wildly when the broadcast came on and later when Rambo de Leon put Honduras ahead. There was more resignation than anger when the USA tied Honduras and went ahead. Like the fans have been down this road before. A few fans walked out when Landon Donovan made it 3-1, but they were the foolish ones. Honduras could have -- should have -- tied it up.

When Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno blew the final whistle, the fans quickly filed out, many of them muttering the p-word, accepting of another World Cup qualifying campaign gone bad.

"Do you want to stay and celebrate?" asked the owner, having just watched all his Saturday night business disperse into the East Oakland night.

More thoughts on the game ...

Just soccer's bad luck: Honduras-USA will go down as the greatest U.S. game few of us got to see. Even the Saturday night and Sunday a.m. coverage was muted. It was just soccer's bad luck that the game took place on one of the year's most crowded sports weekends: MLB playoffs, President's Cup golf, Tim Tebow's comeback and lots of other football, college and pro.

What if Amado Guevara had played? Would Honduras have fallen apart if he had not been suspended? The Toronto FC midfielder was sorely missed in midfield, but the Catrachos collapsed plain and simple.

And now more suspensions ... Honduras will be without central defenders Osman Chavez and Maynor Figueroa against El Salvador on Wednesday. Good riddance, as far as the Honduran press is concerned. Blame for the loss was squarely placed on the central defender pairing.

Shades of South Africa ... Saturday's game was the USA at the best and worst.

The giveaways that have marred the qualifying campaign were almost comical. Oguchi Onyewu gifted Honduras the first goal seconds into the second half when he gave away the simplest of passes with no one within yards of him. Late in the game with the USA having almost all of the possession, Jozy Altidore had the ball inside the Honduran half and decided to pass the back into the U.S. half -- right to the Catrachos.

In the months since the Confederations Cup, we've wondered if the two and a half games of magic in South Africa were a fluke. Could the USA elevate its game to the levels it performed against Egypt, Spain and Brazil? That magic was alive and well Saturday night in San Pedro Sula. Chances? The stats sheet said the USA had 16 shots. None were half-chances.

For all its faults, there's an attacking spirit to the USA, to Donovan, to Michael Bradley when he pushes forward, to Charlie Davies and to whoever Bob Bradley puts up front with Davies, and that's pretty special.

 



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