FOX Soccer Exclusive
Friendly reveals Scotland, US futures
At about half past nine, I was standing at the edge of Murray Park, with the wind whipping off the hills, right over Rangers’ training ground and into my face. At about quarter of ten, I was grateful I had brought my thermals, but about 15 minutes after that, I was cursing the fact that I had to be wearing a suit, and not my normal Chicago-tested armor of Carhartt, woolen sweater and jeans.
“It’s positively Baltic,” said Jon, my cameraman. “Good thing it’s not raining yet,” said our colleague from Sky.
Then Omar Gonzalez came cheerfully loping along in shorts. “Really nice day, isn’t it?” he said. And he meant it (I did briefly wonder about his sanity).
I grew up here, so I’m well aware that there are two types of weather in Scotland: cold; and, wet and colder. On a shiverring Wednesday afternoon, the United States men's national team started preparations for what, in truth, is a meaningless game for the Americans against Scotland at Hampden Park (live, Friday, 3 p.m. ET).
The Scots have been trying to whip up something close to excitement around the game -- the Dundee Courier spoke of “redemption” for a 5-1 loss suffered in 2012; The Scotsman advanced the view that finally, their players wanted to show up for the national team (think about that carefully for a moment) -- but the fact remains that if you look at what matters, you’ll see where this game ranks on the scale of things.
Tickets for the match at Hampden Park are cheap by any stretch: £5 for kids ($8, on the nose) and £15 ($24) for adults. In comparison, tickets to see a match played by Dundee United, a team currently sitting sixth in the Scottish Premier League, and drawing 6,000 fans on a good day, cost around $30. Tickets to see Rangers -- a team currently in the third division, mind you -- cost about the same, and sometimes quite a bit more. It’s a friendly, and for the Scots, not a very attractive one at that. Why that’s the case is a question worth asking.
The Americans after all, are popular, and Scotland has played host to a number of national teamers over the years. Claudio Reyna, Maurice Edu and Carlos Bocanegra are just some of the men who plied their trade in Glasgow. In fact, two former Rangers players, DaMarcus Beasley and Alejandro Bedoya, are on the roster for Friday’s match. Those two looked rather more prepared for the weather, and were decked out in fetching knit caps.
Yet, Scotland has suffered heartbreak on the international level ever since a memorable -- and to date, final -- appearance at World Cup, and a certain cynicism has set in. Yes, the Scots closed this year’s qualifying strongly, but they had been undone so long ago that most people realize their late flurry was meaningless.
How far the Scots have tumbled is not in question. It’s been 15 long years since the Scots opened the 1998 World Cup in Paris at the Stade de France against Brazil. I happened to have a front-row seat for that game, and when Colin Hendry led the team out to the pregame warm-ups in full kilts, the sight drew astonished gasps from the Brazilian fans. In retrospect, the Scots played quite well. While Brazil scored the first goal after only four minutes, John Collins drew the Scots level 34 minutes later from the spot. Believe it or not, it felt right then and there, as if Scotland could spring the upset. It was not to be. Right back Tom Boyd hooked the ball into his own net, and the Scots would tumble out, collecting but a point. They have yet to return.
So, it’s unclear how many people will show up to see a Scottish team that is rebuilding, again, and how many to see the Americans. For the fact is that this game in particular brings up some bad memories. The Americans flogged them 5-1 in Florida in their last meeting. Jurgen Klinsmann and Tim Howard brushed aside comparisons, but the truth is that result was seen as a grave embarrassment here. The Americans, a colony of dilettantes at the game, beating one of the architects of the sport? The Scots are proud, and that pride was deeply wounded.
So, no wonder Mr. Gonzalez looked so cheerful. He and his teammates are the favorites in a “meaningless” game that I suspect might actually mean an awful lot to their hosts. The USA are back out on the field, in the dark, with the rain sheeting down. They are looking ahead to Brazil. The Scots? They are looking for hope.
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