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US Soccer’s Rumble at the Riot

The USMNT sang their Nations League swan song in Sandy and it was beautiful

Soccer: International Friendly Soccer-Costa Rica at USA Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

With two of the smallest USA and Costa Rica flags ever to be flown on a flag pole looking over Rio Tinto stadium, the USMNT experienced no post cup final hangover. They were clean, crisp and dangerous throughout the match, earning themselves their sixth victory of 2021 with only one loss during this calendar year.

You could really feel that the summer blues of 2020 were long gone by the look of Gregg Berhalter pacing the sideline in his all-white crispy boi’s, skinny jeans and a t-shirt. Had he been out mowing someone’s lawn in Sandy you never would’ve have guessed he just defeated our arch-nemesis, Mexico, in the most important tournament ever known to man.

It also felt good to get back to the old pre-pandemic routine of fans wearing soccer jerseys that are completely unrelated to the two teams on the field, and the same two tired chants that US fans have been clanging on since I started following them in 2002. We have the brightest minds in the music industry living in this country and nobody can come up with something other than the constant cult-like droning of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A?

There was no shortage of goals for the red, white and blue. They hit the back of the net four times, giving all 19k fans at Rio Tinto Stadium a reason to get out of their seats and celebrate. It’s good to sporting events full once again, you can tell we’ve all really needed this. Between the Utah Jazz game 1 victory last night and the USA game tonight, this state is buzzing right now!

The USA got off to a hotter start than a Utah July when Brenden Aaronson got the party started off of a deflected shot generated by Daryl Dike. For my money, Aaronson was one of the best tonight as he showed loads of composure generating chances and dribbling through traffic.

Daryl Dike wasn’t to be outdone and slotted home the second goal of the night, and his first for the national team, in the 42nd minute. Mark McKenzie slotted a perfectly weighted through ball to break the lines and spring Dike. Mark McKenzie bounced back well from a tough night against Mexico on Sunday where he suffered racial abuse on social media after he committed a mistake and gave up an early goal in the final. Really hard to fathom this type of behavior still occurs in 2021.

The second half did not disappoint either as USA continued their hot form. It was only 7 minutes into the second half when a repress allowed Reggie Cannon, like Dike, to score his first ever for the senior team. At this point the team the match felt like a wonderful summer night amongst friends, no stress and no worries about the outcome of the match were anywhere to be found.

The cherry on top for the evening was when Borussia Dortmund debutant Giovani Reyna was subbed in at the 74 minute mark, drew a penalty in the 75th minute and buried it in the 77th minute. At only 18 years old, I firmly believe his ceiling is higher than any other USA player in the pool, including Champions League winner Christian Pulisic. The looks on Pulisic and McKennie’s faces were priceless. The mix of competitive spirit and genuine friendship is something that has me really optimistic about the future of our footballing nation.

While there were some noticeable absences on the pitch tonight like the bright stars of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and John Brooks, there was no shortage of applause when others like Gio Reyna, and Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest were subbed on in the second half. This was not enough to completely satiate the crowd however, as the south goal poured down chants of “we want Ochoa, we want Ochoa” in hopes that local Real Salt Lake debutant David Ochoa would see the field. It was not meant to be however, and David Ochoa will have to wait a little while longer to secure that first cap at the senior level.

Probably the most critical moment of the match came late in the 88th minute, when “Krazy” George Henderson’s crowd wave made its way through the stadium multiple times. Even the USMNT players on the bench got into the action, keeping the wave moving when it approached their section of the stadium. You can tell that these young professionals love being together, whether they are on or off the pitch. The off-field chemistry level for this team right now is off the charts.

Similar to the Soapbox’s good friend Tyler Gibbons, I couldn’t help but get a little choked up as I soaked in a full stadium more than one year after all of our lives instantly changed. So grateful to be back watching the sport and nation I love, may we never take special nights like tonight for granted ever again. On to World Cup qualifying!