Getting away for a midweek roadtrip, leaving a very pregnant wife and all professional responsibility behind, requires an event of magnitude...The MLS All-Star Game? Not good enough. But seeing Everton in the US? That definitely qualifies.
Like a cruel joke, the MLS scheduled their All-Star Game in Utah on a Wednesday night?!?! Salt Lake City is not exactly known as a party town and unlike the UK, there are few cities within driving distance so we weren’t anticipating many away fans. But we heard that the stadium was top-notch, the Everton team was staying in Park City and there are some amazing, cheap golf courses in the area. When all was added up not even Utah could get in the way of these West Coast Moyes Boys...it was our destiny.
After a packed flight from LA to Salt Lake, I met up with my fellow Evertonians, Marshall and Jason, hopped in our rental car and started out on our 36-hour Utah holiday. First stop was some grub. While hitting the chippy in Liverpool, I heard the scouse phrase that “eating is cheating” but we had a long night of revelry ahead and we’re not drunk tarts headed out to get sloppy on Mathew St.
Guy Fieri, the only cool thing about the advent of Food television, suggested the Red Iguana for some mexican food and margueritas so thanks to our GPS we hit it hard...great mole, delicious chimichangas and some tequila so good it made me want to start an agave farm.
But this wasn’t a trip about Utah or food, this pilgramage was about Everton so our next stop was Riot Tinto Stadium and the All-Star Game. There are a lot of things missing in the US football experience (the quality, the supporters, the songs) but there is one thing we do really well..big contemporary stadiums. At the base of the foothills of the Wasatch mountain, Rio Tinto Stadium is a beautiful modern outdoor stadium surrounded by epic mountain views on all sides. It stands as a monument to all that is good about America...plush seats for our fat bottoms, plentiful food options and corporate sponsorship in every corner.
With no pubs within driving distance, we prepared for the game in classic American tradition...Tailgating!!! For those Liverpudlians who don’t know, tailgating is the US sports tradition of dropping the back gate of your pick-up truck and turning it into a BBQ that serves cheap beer for your fellow supporters. So we found a dirt parking lot filled with Real Salt Lake’s most hardcore fans, put on our Everton colors and got the party started right. These fans were great. Knowledgable about football, dedicated to the team, drunk and rowdy. While they were a little bewildered at our allegiances at first, we had them singing “It’s a Grand Old Team” by the time the game began.
Since it was an All-Star game for the US players and a pre-season game for Everton, we didn’t anticipate that quality football was in store but the Real Salt Lake fans brought some great energy to the stadium and as the sun began to set, we knew we were in for something special. After all the All-Star game made-for-TV nonsense subsided, Everton came out in their away whites and took it to the All-Stars from the first minute.
Nine minutes later, Louis Saha was gifted an errant pass right in front of the goal and clinically “put it in the old onion bag.” Granted my unborn child could have converted that opportunity but alas, Everton had the lead and looked like the far sharper side in the first 30 minutes. But the MLS has some players that are big and strong. Thanks to two-a-days and the altitude, Everton’s pace was neutralized and the MLS took the goal back and dominated possession for large stretches of the second half. But after the final whistle blew, we had seen some good football and all of a sudden this friendly/exhibition became a contest with two words...penalty kicks.
Tim Howard vs. Kasey Keller, possibly the two best footballers the US has ever produced, facing off in the hot summer night. Sitting with a bunch of Evertonians who were at Wembley for Tim’s last PKs, we all knew we had it in the bag. That is until James Vaughan finally stepped up and put it over the stands, oy! Next, Landon Donovan, the US team’s Tim Cahill, put in a great strike. Then Jo, who we all hope finds his stride, slotted it right into Kasey Keller’s stomach. Advantage All-Stars. But then came the Tim Howard show. Off his foot, off his left, off his right, Timmy was making saves. Finally, Freddie Ljundberg stepped up to the spot and hit a weak chip a la Berbatov in the FA Cup PKs and once again, Tim Howard made an amazing fingertip save. Everton walked away winners and the US had witnessed some excellent Everton football.
As we all sang “It’s a Grand Old Team” into the night, even the die-hard All-Star team fans had to compliment our MVP, Tim Howard. In the Confed Cup, this country saw Tim prove he’s one of the best in the world but after the show in Utah, the whole country saw what he does for Everton on a weekly basis. As an American Everton fan, I couldn’t be prouder of our goalie and watching the ESPN feed on my Tive days later, it was fun hearing the announcers gush about Everton and Tim.
The next day, we played some golf in the mountains, ate the most delicious pastrami hamburger and headed back to the airport. Everton had done the business, Utah was a surprisingly awesome and somehow my wife and business survived without me...a true American fairy tale.
Good stuff David - and the pre-season is on the up! The blues have to beaten Malaga 2-1 and played some impressive stuff. Pienaar was back and looked brilliant once again. Bring on the Gunners next saturday!!!