Shreveport Rafters F.C. V Dallas City F.C.

National Premier Soccer League

South Central Conference

Wednesday 29th June 2016

Kick off 18.00 Actual 18.09

Shreveport Rafters F.C. 0 Dallas City F.C. 3,  attendance 500

22′ 0-1

42′ 0-2

57′ 0-3

@ Lee Hedges Stadium

6115, East Kings Highway

Shreveport, LA 71105

$11 Admission (only $10 bought in advance)

No programme.

This was my last opportunity to be chauffeured for a while, this being a trip east along the I-20 into Louisiana and the nearest town to the Texan border on this route. It would also complete the only states that are sensible to drive to out of Texas, having already been to Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma. There is of course the state of New Mexico, to the west, but the nearest city where I know for sure that they play ‘soccer’ is Albuquerque, a mere 650 miles away. Heading north, through Oklahoma State, would bring in Kansas and Missouri though, at 365 miles and 420 miles respectively. Today was only 193 miles each way.

Six o’clock seemed rather early for two part time clubs to be kicking off midweek, especially as there were floodlights here. Despite both teams being out of the changing rooms ten minutes before the scheduled start, the female Referee still managed to get the game started nine minutes late. This was a sign of things to come with a totally inept display where she was completely out of her depth. The Assessor sat in the stands would certainly be in for a late night.

Rafters are one of the better supported teams in this league and the fans certainly deserve a better team on the pitch than this. Dallas didn’t have to be that good to win at a stroll. One thing that really did grate after a while was the constant playing of adverts each time the ball went out of play…..Rafters throw in sponsored by such and such steak house……Billy’s Burger Bar corner kick, etc.etc. This is one American trait that has no place whatsoever in the world of proper football.

Oklahoma City Energy F.C. U23 v St. Louis F.C. U23

Premier Development League

Southern Conference

Monday 27th June 2016

Kick off 19.00 Actual 19.03

Oklahoma City Energy F.C. U23 5 St. Louis F.C. U23 1,  attendance 56

2′ 1-0 (pen)

13′ 2-0

21′ 3-0

25′ 4-0

30′ 4-1

47′ 5-1

@ Norman High School Soccer Complex

24th Avenue Southeast

Norman, OK 73071

$8 Admission

No programme.

The Premier Development League sits at the fourth level of ‘soccer’ in the U.S.A. alongside the National Premier Soccer League as the top level men’s amateur competition. There are currently 65 teams competing in four conferences, which in turn are split into ten regional divisions. Unfortunately, from a Groundhoppers point of view, the season is far too short, running from May ’til July, with the play offs finished by early August.

This was all over very early on and it became something of a damage limitation excercise for St. Louis, especially when they conceded so early in the second half having rallied somewhat leading up to the interval. It was the first time I had been chauffeured to a match and despite it being a mere 370 mile round trip, it was a welcome change.

Houston Dutch Lions F.C. V Houston Regals S.C.A.

National Premier Soccer League

South Central Conference

Sunday 26th June 2016

Kick off 19.00 Actual 19.03

Houston Dutch Lions F.C. 4 Houston Regals S.C.A. 0,  attendance 102

1′ 1-0

12′ 2-0

69′ 3-0 (pen)

76′ 4-0

@ Dutch Lions F.C. Soccer Facility

14562, I-45 S

Conroe, TX 77384

$10 Admission

Programme free, 4 pages.

This would be the last day I would drive to a game with a ‘hopper for company for the foreseeable future. A mere 205 miles south to Conroe, just north of Houston, adjacent to the I-45 highway.

Dutch Lions needed a win to guarantee their place in the play offs and bottom of the table Regals were unlikely to deny them, especially after going 2-0 down so early. It was already game over and two more were added late on before Regals had a man red carded five minutes from time.

Dutch Lions were founded in 2011 as Texas Dutch Lions F.C. and played their inaugural season in the U.S.L. Premier Development League. On 1st April 2013 their official name was changed to Houston Dutch Lions F.C.

Oklahoma City Energy F.C. V Vancouver Whitecaps F.C. II

United Soccer League

Western Conference

Saturday 25th June 2016

Kick off 19.00 Actual 19.13

Oklahoma City Energy F.C. 1 Vancouver Whitecaps F.C.  II 1,  attendance 4,905

26′ 0-1

45′ + 2, 1-1

@ Taft Stadium

Northwest 27th Street

Oklahoma City, OK 73107

$10 Admission

Team sheet free, single card, printed double sided.

OKC Energy F.C. Joined the U.S.L. in 2014. Having previously been affiliated to Sporting Kansas City, they have this season joined with F.C. Dallas. They moved into their current home, Taft Stadium, in 2015. It was opened in 1934, but closed in 2013 whilst major renovation was carried out, reopening in 2015. Seating capacity was reduced from 18,000 down to the current 7,500, and an artificial pitch was laid, the red-stone facade being the only original feature remaining unaltered.

We did the sensible thing here and went for the cheapest tickets, the wing section of the stand that faced directly into the sun. Not a problem though, because like so many of the American ‘soccer’ teams, the constant bragging of selling out sections of the stadium, or even more ridiculous, the whole stadium, meant we would simply just go and sit elsewhere once inside. We opted for the best seats in the main stand, in the shade, that were selling at $30, but sparsely populated. No checks on tickets, in fact not sure if they had anyone to check anyway. And, as we rightly thought, nowhere near the crowd they were claiming and probably 3,000 at most.

Whitecaps were far better for the opening half hour, but seemed to lose their way once they went ahead. The second half tailed off dramatically, perhaps the heat had got to the players. It was unusual to have a fellow ‘hopper with me for company and the 200 miles drive back south didn’t feel as far as it normally would.

Rio Grande Valley F.C. Toros v Arizona United

United Soccer League

Western Conference

Wednesday 22nd June 2016

Kick off 19.00 Actual 19.11

Rio Grande Valley F.C. Toros 1 Arizona United 1,  attendance 1,656

21′ 1-0

63′ 1-1

@ University Texas Rio Grande Valley Soccer and Track & Field Complex

North Jackson Road

Edinburg, TX 78541

$10 Admission

No programme.

This one was an ideal double with last nights match, although it meant a 330 mile drive south west to within a couple of miles of the Mexican border. It was also on the priority ‘ to do’ list, as the stadium is only being used as a temporary home whilst their own brand new stadium is completed. The fact of the distance involved and booking ahead for hotels and flights, meant booking tickets ahead as well to guarantee us getting in, which was done over the phone with tickets collected on arrival at the stadium. We needn’t have panicked, as our crowd estimate of 800 was on the generous side and nowhere near the official figure of double that. RGV Toros, who have joined the U.S.L. this season, are actually a hybrid affiliate of M.L.S. club Houston Dynamo, which sees Dynamo responsible for the tactical side of the club, with the ownership group, Lone Star, responsible for operations and day to day management.

After an overnight stop in Edinburg I was dropped off at McAllen International Airport, less than 5 miles from our hotel. I was taking the flight back to Dallas, but the driver would be taking in matches in San Antonio and Fort Worth, both at stadiums I had already visited, before arriving at our house late tomorrow evening.

U.S.A. v Argentina

Copa America Centenario

Semi Final

Tuesday 21st June 2016

Kick off 20.00 Actual 20.07

U.S.A. 0 Argentina 4,  attendance 70,858

3′ 0-1 E.Lavezzi

32′ 0-2 L. Messi

50′ 0-3 G. Higuain

86′ 0-4 G. Higuain

@ NRG Stadium

1, Reliant Park

Houston, TX 77054

Admission $100 + $11.80 fees, Print at home ticket.

No programme.

When I purchased my ticket for this one it looked like the match would be involving Argentina or Chile, as one of them would surely win Group D and then dispose of a second placed team from another group in the Quarter Final. As it turned out, it was Argentina who topped the group and then comfortably beat Venezuela 4-1 to reach the Semis. With the way the other groups panned out, it meant whoever got through from the Quarter Final between U.S.A. and Ecuador, it would be a third time I would see them play in the tournament. I would have much preferred it to have been Ecuador.

Originally, I was just going to drive down to Houston and return straight after the match. This plan changed when a mate of mine, who was over on a 3 week holiday in the States, which would include staying with us for a few days from the following weekend, also bought a ticket for this one, and I was certainly interested in the match he had planned for the following night. Southwest Airlines run an hourly service from Dallas Love Airport down to William P. Hobby Airport, in the south west of Houston, ideal for being picked up there and also convenient for the NRG Stadium. Oddly, considering we had both bought a ticket without knowing we would be going together, we were in the same section, his seat being just 7 rows back from mine. I flew down at noon and was picked up just after 1pm. I was very surprised when I got into the car to see that there was no SatNav, but my mate said we wouldn’t need one as he had looked at the map before he left the U.K. !

NRG Stadium is home to the Houston Texans of the N.F.L. having opened in 2002 as Reliant Stadium, before changing to its current sponsors name in 2013.  It was the first stadium in the N.F.L. to be constructed with a retractable roof and is due to host the 2017 Super Bowl, having previously hosted it in  2004. Capacity here is 71,795 and today’s attendance was the highest ever for a ‘soccer’ match in Houston.

As for the match. Well, it was pretty much the ‘Lionel Messi Show’, as he was outstanding, scoring a sublime free kick and making two of the other 3 goals. Had Ecuador made it through, then on this form, the result would have probably been the same.

N.T.F.C. Royals v Guerreiros F.C.

North Texas Premier Soccer Association

Division 3 (Spring Season)

Play Off Final

Sunday 19th June 2016

Kick off 12.00 Actual 12.08

N.T.F.C. Royals 4 Guerreiros F.C. 1,  attendance 19

43′ 1-0

63′ 1-1

85′ 2-1

88′ 3-1

90′ 4-1

@ Premier Park, Pitch 5

11115, Elam Road

Balch Springs, TX 75180

No admission or programme.

Guerreiros looked to have blown their chances when they had a player red carded in the 21st minute, but, having gone behind just before halftime, they managed to level it on 63 minutes which is where the game completely turned, oddly when Royals had their ‘keeper sent off a minute later. 10-a-side suited Royals the better of the two and when they regained the lead so late in the game Guerreiros totally caved in.

This just leaves Pitch 4 and Pitch 7 to complete the set at Premier Park.

Crusaders A.S.F. V Classics F.C.

North Texas Premier Soccer Association

Division 1B (Spring Season)

Play Off Final

Sunday 19th June 2016

Kick off 10.00 Actual 10.06

Crusaders A.S.F. 0 Classics F.C. 2,  attendance 24

19′ 0-1

39′ 0-2

@ Premier Park, Pitch 6

11115, Elam Road

Balch Springs, TX 75180

No admission or programme.

Luckily the play offs today were scheduled using two of the seven pitches here that I had not seen a match on. It was also nice that there wouldn’t be any hanging around between matches, providing that there was no extra time in the first one.

Ecuador v Haiti

Copa America Centenario

Group B

Sunday 12th June 2016

Kick off 18.30 Actual 18.36

Ecuador 4 Haiti 0,  attendance 49,438

11′ 1-0 E. Valencia

20′ 2-0 J. Ayovi

57′ 3-0 C.Noboa

78′ 4-0 A. Valencia

@ MetLife Stadium

1, MetLife Stadium Drive

East Rutherford, NJ 07073

Admission $72 + $16.25 fees, Print at home ticket

No programme.

First job today was to go to the airport and pick up a hire car for the day. I opted for a non toll route, having plenty of time for the 100 mile drive north east and arrived a good hour and a half before kick off which enabled me to get a good car park space for a quick exit after the match.

The MetLife Stadium has a capacity of 82,566 and is home to the New York Giants and New York Jets of the N.F.L. It is also where the tournament final will be held. It was opened in 2010, originally named New Meadowlands Stadium, and replaced Giants Stadium that stood just a few hundred yards away on what is now part of the car park here.

With Haiti unable to qualify for the quarter finals it meant Ecuador had a great chance of getting a win and going through in second place in the group behind Brazil, or so we thought. Unbelievably, Brazil lost their game 0-1 to Peru, which meant it was they who finished top of the group instead, with Brazil eliminated.  It was a really entertaining match and good atmosphere considering it was not even two thirds full. Ecuador had it sewn up pretty early on so the game was very open and great to watch as a neutral. Haiti played their part and although they lost all 3 games in the group they won’t be too concerned as they were never expected to do anything but.

After the match it only took about 5 minutes to exit the car park. This time I opted for the toll route back to Philadelphia, joining about a mile south of the stadium and incredibly staying on it for 71 miles. When I finally reached a toll booth I was expecting far more than the $11.20 charge, especially as it knocked around 30 minutes off the driving time. Hire car returned and back to the hotel as I wasn’t flying back until mid morning the following day.

U.S.A. v Paraguay

Copa America Centenario

Group A

Saturday 11th June 2016

Kick off 19.00 Actual 19.08

U.S.A. 1 Paraguay 0,  attendance 51,041

27′ 1-0 C. Dempsey

@ Lincoln Financial Field

1, Lincoln Financial Field Way

Philadelphia, PA 19147

Admission $60 + $12.90 fees, Print at home ticket

No programme.

My original plan had been to fly into Philadelphia, pick up a hire car and drive to East Rutherford the following day, then fly back from New York. Ridiculous quotes of around $140 extra for dropping the car at a different location to the pick up point meant a different plan of action and today would be done by using Uber rides instead.

Lincoln Financial Field is home to Philadelphia Eagles of the N.F.L. as well as playing host to Temple University Owls American Football team. It was opened in 2003 and has a capacity of 69,176 which certainly wasn’t going to be tested today in a very poor turnout for the host team.

This was the last round of the group matches, with U.S.A. needing a win to guarantee at least second place in the group and progress to the quarter finals. In the end they finished top, as Colombia were surprisingly beaten 3-2 by Costa Rica in their final match. The U.S.A. were already 1-0 up when DeAndre Yedlin was sent off three minutes into the second half, having only received his first yellow card a minute before his second. They were never in danger of being pegged back though as Paraguay never had an attempt on goal that I can remember.

What should have been a routine flight home turned out to be anything but. Firstly, we left 20 minutes late, then en route we were told that as Dallas Love Airport had been closed for two hours due to thunderstorms, causing flight backlogs, that we would be held until we had a landing slot. Unfortunately, we were then told we hadn’t got enough fuel to do that, so were having to divert to Oklahoma City to refuel. Fianally arrived in Dallas over 6 hours after leaving Philadelphia, even taking the time difference into account. Pretty poor service from Southwest Airlines !