Finally, game day has arrived. What started as a typical day with breakfast, team stretch and a pre-game meal turned into more than we could have imagined once we hit the road. Imagine a Mardi Gras parade mixed with a Lot 8 tailgate, and you have a slight idea of what we just encountered on the way to the stadium. Every moped, van, truck, bus or car we passed seemed to be decked out in blue Persib gear en route to the game. If the vehicle they were riding in was full, they rode on top of it. I can now say that I have seen more people riding on top of a van than in one.
If the enthusiasm for soccer wasn’t clear enough on our hour drive to the stadium, it was certainly on display when we pulled up to the packed stadium two and a half hours BEFORE the game. The team was welcomed to the stadium with a standing ovation from tens of thousands of supporters in a display of pure class from our hosts. With chants and songs ringing through the stadium, we headed to the locker room with clear blue skies and a dry pitch, and then it happened. Mother Nature let her presence be known. Fans on the other side of the stadium turned to nothing more than a wet sheet of grey. They could be heard, but not seen. Indonesia rain isn’t normal rain. It’s like standing under a mini waterfall that lasts for four hours.
With no end in sight, the game took place as the Black-and-Red started Andrew Dykstra, Chris Korb, Ethan White, Conor Shanosky, Taylor Kemp, Lewis Neal, Jared Jeffrey, Kyle Porter, Luis Silva, Conor Doyle and Michael Seaton as I tried to hear myself over the roar of the crowd and the rain. Calling the field kind of wet would be like calling Mt. Everest a kind of tall. As you can imagine, the game was sloppy. Balls getting stuck in puddles, players slipping with every step, chunks of grass flying when someone attempted to stop, basically, the whole nine yards. After some quick counter-attacks by Persib with dangerous looks at goal, United settled down and got into a rhythm. What started out as a team who hadn’t played together, much less seen each other, in weeks turned into a cohesive unit midway through the first half as they scored the game's first goal, thanks to a Michael Seaton header. Persib answered late in the first half to tie the game going into the break.
The second half saw fewer familiar faces as Dykstra, Shanosky, Jeffrey, Doyle, Kemp and Seaton were the only original United members left on the field. The rest of the positions were filled with Richmond Kickers players, and as the game ended, only three Black-and-Red players were left standing. In a back-and-forth second half, both teams created good scoring chances, but Persib capitalized on their's as they went on to win the game, 2-1.
“We had a great time,” said D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen. “Both teams played attacking and had a lot of chances to entertain the crowd. We’re obviously disappointed in the loss, but I think we played a good team today, and the two goals they scored shows they have some very talented players. The fans are unbelievable here.”
In fact, they were so unbelievable that we had to sit on the bus, in the stadium for 45 minutes after the game because the traffic was so bad. Yes, that unbelievable. Thanks to our police escort, we made our way through the supporters back to the hotel where guys ate and watched the world cup draw with that that “oh crap” expression once we saw the USMNT's group. Tomorrow, the team will travel to Malang, Indonesia, the site of its last game during this trip.
After leaving RFK Stadium at 5:30 p.m. Sunday night, we finally made it to our hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia at 4:30 p.m. TUESDAY evening, but not before a 12-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, a seven hour layover where Michael Seaton reassured the fact that he is still a teenager, showers in an Abu Dhabi airport lounge that brought life back to those I thought we lost, that eight hour flight to Indonesia where you ran out of the good movies to watch, so you settled for Monsters University (don’t knock it until you try it) and that lovely rush hour drive in Jakarta. All-in-all, we are still in one piece and happy to finally be here.
You learn a lot about a team when you spend every second together on a trip like this. So far, I have learned that Joe Willis is tall, and you should try to avoid sitting next to him on any flights over five hours. I know, most people already had that figured out, but I also realized what kind of guys we have on this team— ones with great character.
It was pretty obvious when we initiated the “I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-few-weeks” hugs and handshakes in the locker room before we left, but it really hit when we arrived at our hotel and everyone had an equipment bag on their shoulder, a smile for the camera and a gracious thank you for owners Will Chang and Erick Thoir as they were there to meet us off the bus. And yes, I even got a few of them to talk to media after a day like that. It must be the holiday season!
No day is riddled with down time in this trip, but tomorrow may take the cake for a non-travel day. We start with breakfast and a pool session (not to shabby on the eyes), which is then followed up by a press conference with several members of D.C. United and the Indonesian media, a coaching clinic in Jakarta, a trip to the U.S. Embassy for several players to work with youth from the area and it finishes with dinner with the U.S. Ambassador. Not bad for day one. Actually, that’s not bad for any day.
We will make sure to keep you updated, but now it’s time for us to catch up on some much needed sleep as we prepare to go to bed at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, a.k.a. Tuesday morning for all you back in the states.