Thursday, June 14, 2007

2007 ASO: CP Baltimore vs. Charlotte Eagles (USL2)

(Note: This is the second installment of the much-ballyhooed and ambitious project of mine entitled 2007: A Soccer Odyssey. For those of you hyperlinktually challenged, the basic premise of this project is to write about all kinds of soccer; pro, amateur, recreational at venues large and small. Enjoy!)

First things first: I do not advocate the breaking of state and federal traffic laws. Further, I would like to say that the Maryland State Police force is a fine model of exemplary law enforcement. That being said, please obey the posted speed limit, even if causes you to miss the first ten minutes of a soccer match.

Upon arriving late to Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a freshly-authored speeding ticket neatly tucked in the glove compartment, I was greeted by a grand, oversized concrete monolith that supposedly housed a USL Second Division soccer squad.

The stadium, which (and this may come as a shock) is home to Navy athletics, is a fan-friendly structure that features the popular "sunken bowl" design in which the lower seats and field are "sunken" below ground level. The seats, numbering around 30,000 altogether, are primarily navy blue, with exception of non-random yellow seats located below the hovering large glass-enclosed press box that spell out "GO NAVY".

Walking into the stadium rows above the CP Baltimore net, my friend Jenn and I strolled along the concrete walkway along a small concrete wall bearing the names of distinguished Navy men. The first thing I noticed when gazing upon the field was the small confines of the actual soccer field, which gave little wiggle room between the sidelines and six-foot wall surrounding the pitch.

Spread out among the blue soccer seats were approximately 150-200 fans watching the players kick around the ball on a rather shiny artificial carpet-like playing surface that looked like unkempt Astroturf. The ball sped along the alien surface like an intergalactic orb dancing across the cosmos. Interestingly, the surface was curiously shiny in certain lights, perhaps due to the glare of the setting sun peering through the near corner of the stadium.

We sat almost parallel with the CP Baltimore box, with three loyal CP Baltimore fans adorned with club scarves on an 85 degree evening. Two teenaged girls sat in front of me along with three young boys munching on M&M’s and talking about their favorite players and clubs.

The players, all of whom kick the ball in veritable professional soccer obscurity, chased the quick ball around the tightly-quartered pitch. There was a colorfully named Haroldinho, who despite the suffix, is not Brazilian, but rather Colombian.

We missed the lone goal of the match – lucky us- scored by Charlie Sheringham, son of West Ham striker Teddy Sheringham. The younger Sheringham, on loan from CP Baltimore’s parent club Crystal Palace in London, is a remarkably adept player who seemed to flow through traffic well that night.

During halftime, I headed up the row of stairs back to the concourse and searched for my souvenir: a blue and red-striped CP Baltimore jersey. I tried one on, and made my purchase as a young teenaged girl tried to keep up with the fifteen or so customers beaming with questions for her.

I arrived back to my seat sporting my newfound present and a large soft pretzel – one of the largest I’ve ever seen - I picked up on my way back to my seat. Mind racing and ready for the second half, I tore through, piece by piece, the doughy delight. Then, minutes later, an ominous voice blared through the PA system.

“Will Brian O’Donnell please report to the souvenir stand? Brian O’Connell, please report to the souvenir stand.”

In all of my years of attending hundreds of sporting events – baseball, soccer, football, hockey, you name it – my name has never been broadcast among the crowd. So what were the odds that it would occur that night, some 300 miles away from home?

Anxious, I raced back up the row of stairs and through the concourse, half of me not wanting to miss any of the second half, and the other half hoping that I wasn’t in trouble. By the time I arrived, the young girl smiled at me with her mother nearby, stating that I had left my credit card at the stand after hurriedly acquiring my jersey. God bless her tender heart, for what would I have done without it on vacation? I thanked them both, and smiled at the shy girl in appreciation.

Soon after, I raced back to my seat with my puzzled friend asking “what was that all about?” Explanation given, with an ensuing look of disbelief arriving thereafter, I smiled and fixated my eyes back on the game at hand.

As the second half drew to a close, I made sure to berate the Charlotte keeper on goal kicks in true Midnight Rider fashion, (“ooooooooohhhhhhh YOU SUCK!) which drew a few chuckles from a handful amused bystanders. I took it all in, wishing for the game clock to never reach ninety minutes, and was almost granted said wish when the referee granted a whopping nine minutes of stoppage time added to the final frame. I looked at my flip phone for time at the ninety minute mark, and calculated that with nine full minutes of extra time, the game would conclude at 9:00pm.

The Charlotte squad did all it could to equalize in the generous time allotment, but failed to assemble a half-decent chance on goal. The CP Baltimore defense stifled every Charlotte advancement mere yards after the center circle. The final whistle blew and looked upon my phone to ensure that it had indeed been nine minutes. It read 8:59pm – robbed of a one full minute! Or, at very least, precious action-filled seconds! The crowd celebrated the home club’s victory with applause, whistling, and calls to favorite players. A part of me was anchored to the seat, as I hesitatingly stood up and walked back up the concourse, not wanting any part of an expedient or timely departure.

I wanted to continue to take it all in. Sure, this wasn’t the most ideal place for soccer. But it was soccer nonetheless. I suppose that while others have such vices as alcohol, cigarettes or strippers, my recreational drug of choice is, embarrassingly, soccer – and tonight was another glaring example of being caught in the throes of my favorite addiction.

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