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Manya Muses from USA-Latvia in E. Hartford

May 28, 2006
US MNT vs. Latvia
Rentschler Field
East Hartford, Conn.

When U.S. Under-21 Women’s National Team player Manya Makoski recently broke her leg playing in the USL W-League, ruling her out of this summer’s Nordic Cup, we thought we might have seen the end of Manya’s Musings, her journals for Not so. Manya, who hails from Connecticut, managed to crutch her way to Rentschler Field for the Send-Off Series finale, switched gears to men’s soccer, and filed this report.

As if writing journals during international trips with the U.S. Under-21 Women’s National team wasn’t enough to satisfy my journalist appetite, I was recently offered the opportunity to write something for on home soil at the USA v. Latvia match, the last for our team before the World Cup! Can you say Smorgasbord?

The fine folks at the U.S. Soccer Communications Department set me up with four press box passes (guys, I know I played well in Germany last month, but you are too kind…) and could there be a better place for the final game of the Send-off Series than good old Connecticut? (I may be a little bit biased, seeing how I grew up in the great state, but it’s true). It turned out to be a historical night, complete with limited edition “Don’t Tread on Me” Nike jerseys (pretty sweet I thought), a great goal from Brian McBride (he of the hardest head in America), an eruption of celebratory fireworks at the end of the game, and “Sam’s Army” decked out all in red in southeast corner of the stands. Those crazy Sammies unfurled a humongous American flag and the U.S. Soccer “Don’t Tread on Me” banner. Seriously, chills. Speaking of chills, they also showed an awesome highlight video after the game and the crowd went crazy. I heard from the Communications people that everyone will get a chance to see it on-line during Studio 90, the web show they're doing every day during the World Cup (which I will for sure be checking out!)

So please read on as I give some insight on what it’s like to watch a game from the press box, what the “real” press won’t tell you, and why the U.S. is going to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup (Ok, at least do really, really well).

I am ashamed to say that despite my Connecticut roots, I had never before been to Rentschler Field in East Hartford. But the fact that I can even pronounce Rentschler (with the help of a slight lisp I have when saying words with an “s”) is good enough for me. (BTW: Don’t ask me to say “smirk” because that one is the worst).

Anyway, Rentschler is a beautiful stadium and it was filled with fans decked out in red, white, and blue. The amount of people wearing jerseys was amazing. I fit right in, because for good luck, I wore my as-yet-unwashed number 13 white U.S. Women’s National Team jersey from the 2002 Under-19 Women’s World Championship title game (which, by the way, we won!). I gave my mom my red jersey that we never wore in the tournament. I didn’t want people to think that my mom smelled.

I was glad that there was an elevator to get to the press box on the 5th floor, seeing as I had recently broken my leg playing with my W-League team, the New Jersey Wildcats. (Yes, it hurt like heck, yes I heard it break, and yes, I’m over it. Hand me a glass of milk, I’m on the mend). There was no way I was going to crutch up five flights of stairs, but I had my mom, her friend Larry, and my boyfriend Micah to hold open doors for me. I must say they were impressed and excited that I had enough pull to get them into the box. I, on the other hand, was just a little nervous.

After graduating from Arizona State with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, I was going to be sitting with some of the top sports writers in New England while representing (Side-note to the media: I have graduated and I am for hire). I finally relaxed as I flipped through the media guides, pamphlets, info cards, and the sleek World Cup handbook. I even got a cute soccer ball key-chain. Free gifts? I felt like a part of the media.

We were handed the starting line-ups and I was upset to see that Clint Dempsey was not going to be playing in the game. I’m not going to lie (and my boyfriend knows it) but I’ve got a crush on him. It must have been his rap song that stole my heart. Or maybe the fact that he was the 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year for my home team, New England Revolution.

Rentschler Field, which was built on an old airfield, was an appropriate location for this game as Latvia tried to repel the USA’s aerial game. The USA sent in cross after cross, and the teams battled for every inch of space to get a head on the ball. If I learned one lesson from this game is that McBride will stick his head into dangerous places and he smashed in a perfectly placed cross from defender Steve Cherundolo, who I swear is only a little taller than me. I love short outside backs! (Since, due to a recent position change on the U-21s, I am one).

McBride, who seemed to dominate the game with his heading prowess, had previously collided heads with a Latvian defender, resulting in a big, fat goose egg on his forehead. I don’t know what hurt worse…breaking my leg or watching that collision on instant replay about 10 times, each from a different angle.

Micah, who is a big U.S. Soccer fan, and I were on our feet (well I was on just one foot) the entire game. We felt like little kids in a candy store. We squirmed in anticipation until the U.S. scored and pulled for them to hold the one-goal lead until the final whistle. As his personal soccer trainer, I had to instruct him on certain aspects of the game. He kept repeating out loud, “good, go square,” as Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley passed the ball to each other in the midfield. I had to remind him, “Sweetie, it’s not wise to pass the ball square in the midfield. We can get countered.”

All-in-all, the game was a highly successful send-off for the World Cup Team. My prediction for Germany: a couple of big, fat “Ws”. The U.S. has the players to compete on the world’s stage and the desire to make soccer history for our country. And we have the quintessential American qualities of pride, determination, desire, and passion. In short…Don’t Tread on Us. And hand me the remote control. I’m ready for the World Cup.