World Cup Intro: International Match Rule # 1: Bring Cleats

Editor's Note: Quincy Amarikwa played collegiately at UC Davis. He was drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the San Jose EarthQuakes and is currently the leading scorer for the Chicago Fire. Aside from playing soccer, Quincy is an entrepreneur and mentor in the Chicago and Bakersfield areas.

 The Starting 11

The Starting 11

Against All Odds and Without Cleats: Winning Internationally

By Quincy Amarikwa

Twitter: QuincyAmarikwa
Instagram: QuincyAmarikwa

       In 2011 when I played for the Colorado Rapids, we traveled to El Salvador to play Isidro Metapán of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Champions League is “the most prestigious international club competition in North American football.” We qualified for this international tournament because the Rapids won the MLS Cup in 2010. The tournament’s games are played throughout the MLS regular season the following year, which is hectic.

            We were well into the tournament and our domestic MLS season and were in a mid-season slump. We did not win an MLS game in over a month and had lost a critical tournament game at home versus Santos Laguna, 4—1. The loss meant that we had to win in Metapán in order to make it out of our group stage. The media said that this was impossibility because no MLS had ever won on the road while playing in this tournament. Because of this statistic and our lackluster domestic play, the coach decided to “throw in the towel” and get the team focused on the remaining MLS schedule. He did this by sending the entire B-Team and Reserves down to El Salvador to play the game on their own.

 Our Locker Rooms

Our Locker Rooms

            I was part of this group of individuals who were sent to go take a loss and then head back home. So we traveled. Because we weren’t the 1st team, our travel arrangements weren’t particularly accommodating. We started traveling from Colorado the day before the game and had a six-hour layover in Houston before landing in El Salvador. Once we arrived in El Salvador we had to drive an additional two hours to get to our hotel. When we finally arrived to our hotel it was 1 AM so we went to our rooms and tried to rest before the morrow’s game.

            The next morning we went through our regular preparations: team breakfast, team walk, whiteboard session, and the pre-game meal. It wasn’t until the pre-game meal that we were all talking about how we had been thrown under the bus. In addition, we rallied around how this was an incredible opportunity to prove everyone back home wrong and show them what we were capable of. We rallied around each other and you could feel a sense of belief amongst all of my teammates. We couldn’t wait for the game.

            The game was at night but we had to leave very early because the stadium was a two-hour drive away. None of that mattered so we excitedly loaded up the busses and prepared for battle. Once we finally arrived at Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez Stadium I was shocked at what I saw. It was a small and rural stadium with a maximum capacity of 8,000. There were unpaved road, stray animals, and even a donkey casually standing outside of the stadium. The atmosphere was not what we were used to; it was very humbling. Once we got off of the bus, fans swarmed us to shake our hands and ask for autographs. Im’ pretty sure they had no idea who the Colorado Rapids even were, but it didn’t matter to them.  Once we got through the fans we walked down to our locker room so we could prepare for the game. We were ready, except for one issue, our equipment manager forgot the entire team’s soccer cleats back at the hotel and we were one hour from kickoff.

  Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez Stadium

 Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez Stadium

          I always carry an extra pair of cleats but the rest of my team wasn’t as lucky. Nobody else on my team had any cleats to play in that night. Our assistant coaches rushed over to the opposing team’s locker room to scrounge up any extra cleats for my teammates. At first, they laughed at us because I don’t think they believed us. Eventually they realized how serious we were and did their best to accommodate us. That means that a lot of the guys had cleats that were too big or too small. One of my teammates, Andre Akpan (Twitter: Auakpan), had feet that were too big to accommodate by the opposing team so someone ran to the nearest store and bought him size-13 knock-off Filas. All of this chaos only brought the guys closer together to accomplishing our goal. The odds and history were stacked against us. We didn’t have fans, cleats, or a head coach, and on top of that two players had yet to make a single professional appearance! But we entered the field together, surrounded by rowdy fans hanging from fences, jumping in to the stands, and throwing smoke bombs. That’s when we started warming up and got ready to play.

          I’ll never forget the feeling of being in that huddle before kickoff and the sense of belief amongst my team in that moment. Nobody else believed we could win, and as far as we were concerned, we already had. We had nothing to lose and everything to prove. We won the game 3—1. Eddie Ababio (Twitter: EddieAbabio) made his first professional appearance and goal, I assisted his goal and had the game-winning second goal, and Omar Cummings (Twitter: OmarCummings) came off of the bench and sealed the deal with the third and final goal.

 Outside of the Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez Stadium

Outside of the Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez Stadium

          The bus ride back to the hotel could have been two hours or ten hours and we would have still enjoyed every second of it. We celebrated our victory all the way back home. We knew we had done something very special together and that is a feeling I will never forget.