COLUMBUS, Ohio – Landon Donovan sat on the locker-room floor and stared up at the television, a cooler propped behind his back. Down the hall and out the tunnel to the field, a few hundred fans stuck around to watch on the stadium video board.
With the United States national team sitting pretty in the Hexagonal after inflicting a fourth straight Dos a Cero victory in Columbus against Mexico on Tuesday night, all they needed was a little help from Honduras to officially book their place in Brazil come 2014.
And although it was, as defender Omar Gonzalez put it, a bit of a “roller coaster” waiting for their fate to be determined, when the whistle finally blew on a 2-2 draw with Panama in Tegucigalpa, the American Outlaws longstanding chant finally became reality.
“It was more like being a fan,” goalkeeper Howard said of the anxious moments before the Americans booked their seventh straight World Cup ticket. “… That part was fun. Once they wheeled the champagne in, it got even better.”
Champagne and beer in hand, the US made their way out of the tunnel, spraying libations as they went, and were greeted by a jubilant crowd that egged them on as they jumped up and down and celebrated a moment neither the players nor the fans would soon forget.
Meanwhile, with the celebration slowly winding down, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann took stock of the accomplishment the US has been targeting since he took the job nearly two years ago.
There’s no disputing that ultimately Klinsmann will be judged on his team's showing in Brazil, but that doesn’t take away from the manner in which the US sealed their ticket.
“It’s a huge milestone whenever you make it to the World Cup, the biggest competition in this sport,” Klinsmann said. “And especially a World Cup that is hosted in Brazil, one of the biggest soccer nations in the world. It means a lot to all of us – to all the fans and the whole country as well.”
Don’t expect the US to take their foot off the game against Jamaica or Panama, however, as the German taskmaster pointed out every opportunity to prepare for the big stage must be maximized.
Understandably, that sort of pragmatism was far from the minds of his players, many of whom boarded the team bus with beer in hand and the promise of late night of celebrating awaiting them.
“It was really special,” Gonzalez said. “Everyone was popping champagne, doing that whole thing. We’re going to go drink some more. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun.”
And then there was Donovan, headed to his fourth career World Cup and suffering from a mean case of pink eye, who found joy in the accomplishment of his young teammates, summing up his feelings succinctly in five words.
“It certainly never gets old,” he said.