Thursday, August 26, 2010

Soccer at sea!

I was telling my friend Cal about this amazing, hilarious, delightful soccer game that I was watching the other night.

It was between Real Salt Lake and Cruz Azul, and they were playing in the late afternoon at Estadio Azul, in Mexico City.

An important thing to know about this stadium, as Wikipedia notes, is that:

A peculiarity of this stadium is that it is built as a pit; the playing field is below street level.

Anyway, I tuned into the game yesterday afternoon, somewhat on a whim, looking for something fun to watch. It was the middle of the first half, and the rain had started to come down. Well, that doesn't describe it very well, so let's allow Andrea Canales of to take over the description:

It was already raining, but around this point, the storm escalated, and pools of standing water began to form on the field, turning much of the action comical, as the ball would alternately stop or skip on the liquid, leaving the players befuddled.

Normal play did not apply in these situations, as Horacio Cervantez in the 44th minute found out to his dismay when he attempted a backpass to his goalkeeper and the ball held up in the water. Saborio reacted quickly, rounding the defender and eluding the goalkeeper to put RSL in the lead for the first time.

As the rain continued to pour down, Real Salt Lake held their advantage to the half.

The rain came down, and came down, and came down.

Pretty much every fan in residence at Estadio Azul hit the road, although a few hundred hardy souls simply shed all their clothing, pulled out their drums, trumpets, vuvuzuelas, flags, and capes, and settled in for the long haul.

And a long haul it was! At halftime, they halted the game for an amazing 22-minute rain delay! I've watched a lot of soccer, but never seen a rain delay like this. The grounds crew came out, and did their best to try to squeegee the standing water to the sidelines, and finally the referee decided that they might as well play a second half.

Although the rain seemed to taper off somewhat, the conditions were beyond belief. As Canales tells it,

At times more of a mud-wrestling match than soccer, the game looked likely to injure players. Beckerman, in order to get power behind his kicks, would often hit the ball half-falling into a puddle.

Beckerman confirmed as much in the post-game press conference:

“Steadily the rain just came and it wouldn’t let up," team captain Kyle Beckerman said. "Both teams had to play in the stuff. I think we had some mental lapses and they made us pay for it. That’s all it came down to. We made them pay for some lapses as well, but they made us pay for one more than we did.”

Oh, wait, did I tell you the score? It was 3-1 after 70 minutes, and it looked like the rain and the conditions were going to keep the game pretty stable. But then, as the game drew to a close, both teams decided to score like mad: Cruz Azul scored in the 75th, 88th, 89th, and 97th minutes, with a Real Salt Lake goal sprinkled in for good measure. I could barely sit down between goals!

It ended up 5-4, a sluice-gate was opened at the end of the pit, all the players floated down into the locker rooms, and they called it quits for the night.

Oh, and it wouldn't be a full report with showing you the pictures: watch the video! (And then watch the actual soccer part of the game, too :) )

Yes, it's true: MLS teams are now 0-20 in their attempts to beat Mexican-league clubs in Mexico. That's all right, it was still a game for the ages!

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