by FRANCO PANIZO
The U.S. national team's 2-2 draw against Costa Rica at RFK Stadium on Wednesday crowned the Americans as champions of the Hexagonal, but perhaps just as big of a story as the U.S. team's first-place finish was the tribute from the fans and players to forward Charlie Davies.
Davies was involved in a deadly car accident one day prior, and rather than come out dejected, the U.S. players came out with passion for their injured teammate and friend.
"We just used Charlie's situation to kind of motivate us. We are happy he is alive and that in itself gave us a lift," said goalkeeper Tim Howard. "Charlie would give anything at the moment to put on a jersey and have it all back, so we kind of feel lucky and privileged and that was motivation for us."
The U.S. team was clearly motivated, attacking Costa Rica relentlessly from the opening whistle, and in the ninth minute the Americans had a chance to truly make it special.
With a pre-determined fan tribute taking place, with fans cheering and holding up no. 9 signs (Davies' number) in the red, white and blue smoke-filled air, the U.S. attack received even more inspiration. In that moment, forward Jozy Altidore sprung down the right flank before feeding Conor Casey, who was unmarked at the top of the 18, but his shot went high and wide.
"It would have been true poetry," said USSF president Sunil Gulati. "But [the fans' tribute] was extraordinary, and it says a lot about our fans, the support the team has, and frankly, about technology these days, where a few people on Twitter can get 10,000 people holding up a number nine sign at the nine-minute mark."
Despite the U.S. team's fierce assault on Costa Rica's back-line, Los Ticos struck first, netting two goals in a span of four minutes midway through the first half.
The Americans would respond, however, though it came late in the second half. A 72nd-minute goal from Michael Bradley, and a last-gasp header from unlikely hero Jonathan Bornstein in the 95th would give the U.S. team the draw they needed to finish in first in the Hexagonal (Second place Mexico also tied Wednesday, making the U.S. team the Hexagonal winners).
Of all the performances on Wednesday night, perhaps Altidore's was most fitting. Altidore, one of Davies' best friends, put together an inspired 90-minute showing despite not having played much at the club level in recent weeks. When Altidore wasn't busy creating opportunities for teammates, or challenging the Costa Rican back-line with his strength and speed, he was putting constant defensive pressure on Los Ticos' defense.
"Just because of how close I am to the kid, it hurt that much more," said Altidore, who wore a Davies-9 shirt underneath his jersey. "For me tonight, it made me realize that you may not get another game, so you got to make sure you play every game like it is your last. I'm going to try and do that from here on out.
"I just wish Charlie could have been here for it. I think he was a big part of our success this year, so we did this for him."
The 2-2 draw may not have been the most ideal result, but given the circumstances, the passion shown by the fans and the players was truly something special.
"Whenever we come together there is a strong camaraderie, and they care about each other. It's one of the best parts of being the coach of the U.S. national team," said head coach Bob Bradley. "And when there's an accident, like the one that takes place the other day, one that affects one of your brothers, then there is a strong emotion. I think you saw that from Jozy and everybody else."
What did you think of the players' emotion-filled performances on Wednesday? Did you like the tribute from the fans?
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