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.