Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Some were surprised and some weren't, but everyone in the American contingent agreed that the boisterous support received from the good folks of Enschede made for a stirring World Youth Championships draw with Germany on Tuesday night.

The local fans were certainly ready to gasp with anticipation every time Freddy Adu touched the ball in the Argentina victory [at the time, the D.C. United boy wonder may have seemed an urban legend that had come true]. Against Germany, they were fascinated by everyone wearing the Red, White & Blue and seemed to give the U.S. almost as much heart and soul as they normally give to their beloved FC Twente.

Naturally, the Netherlands has a long standing and intense adversarial relationship with the neighboring Germans – for reasons soccer and otherwise. On a perfect Dutch summer evening at Arke Stadion, Enschede made it clear right away who they were supporting.

"We realize in America that there is a big rivalry between the Dutch and the Germans," said Alberto Feilhaber, father of man-of-the-match Benny. "So we expected that since we were close to the border, there would be many Germans, but also that the Dutch would give us their help."

German-born U.S. coach Sigi Schmid, no stranger to the enmity between the two nations, seemed happy that his charges got the chance to enjoy the unusual experience. "A lot of the Dutch fans and the neutral fans supported us, and it made for a great atmosphere."

The Nederlanders in attendance whooped and hollered and chanted "USA! USA!" at the top of their lungs and even worked up a pretty nice wave. When Eddie Gaven was bundled over in the area without a penalty call, they screamed bloody murder. When the Americans came close, they threw hands to head momentarily before applauding the play. When the German fans showed fine voice by singing their songs, they were battled note for note. One might almost have wondered when the Overijssel province edition of the Benny Feilhaber fan club would begin accepting memberships.

Surely, the Baby 'Nats will lose their new fans for a night if drawn against the host nation in the knockout phase, but Chad Barrett feels they truly did win over the locals with their good play.

"It was awesome," exclaimed Chad Barrett. "I don't think anybody expected the USA to come in here and do what we've done; stand toe-to-toe with two traditional soccer powers. It just feels great that people are starting to respect us."

Eddie Gaven forwarded the idea that raucous support from the majority of the 10,350 at Arke Stadion spurred the team's play from the outset. "At the end of the first half, when we had some of our chances, it was pretty cool to have the crowd cheering in the stadium," he told YA. "I thought 'Wow, this is cool'. We're in a foreign country, and sometimes when we play in the U.S., we don't get cheers like that."

"I thought it actually helped our team. It kinda gave us more energy and helped us get more chances. It was great to have the local fans with us."

As thrilling as it was for the players, the ambiance had those in the U.S. friends and family section grinning from ear to ear. "I couldn't believe it when they started cheering [for the U.S.] and the atmosphere was like nothing we'd seen in the United States," smiled Carole Kartunen, mother of goalkeeper Andrew. "We know so many of the boys, from club soccer to college, and to see what they've done is a historical kind of thing."

"I can't tell you what a thrill it is. Andrew is on cloud nine."

Proud father John Kartunen agreed, echoing Gaven's sentiment that the crowd had given the team an emotional jump start. "Just having our son on the team has been very exciting for us, but tonight was special," he admitted. "I've never been to a game where it was as electric as it has been tonight."

"And when the first 'USA!' chant came from outside of this parents' section? That was amazing! The people from this part of Holland were cheering for us and that really picked the boys up. They played an outstanding game. It was unfortunate they didn't win because they were the better team tonight."

With this special affair coming to a close, the families began wondering how many more such evenings they had in store for them in Holland. The Kartunens (sitting amongst Dalbys, Gavens, Johns and Westbergs, among others) shared that they had planned to stick around through the semifinals, but added that drastic measures may be required should the U.S. earn passage to the July 2nd championship match in Utrecht.

"We're here for another two weeks," laughed papa John. "Maybe we'll quit our jobs if they go to the final."

Without hesitation, Carole replied with a smile: "That's the plan."

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