Note: This was published today in our local newspaper. It was written by me and I think it put some of the feelings from my San Francisco trip into something coherent. Despite the physical distance, you’re never far from home nowadays. And since this was one of my adventures, I hope it makes you smile. — Mountain Mama
SAN JOSE — Nearly 18,000 people were cheering on the U.S. women’s soccer team recently as they took on Canada in the Avaya Stadium, usually home to the San Jose Earthquakes.
My husband and I were lucky to be a part of that group. Coming from small town America, I’ve only seen this many people gather in one place once, maybe twice, in my life — at a Pittsburgh Pirates game and at the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon.
It was electrifying, the excitement as Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd scored two of the U.S.’ three goals made it impossible to just sit and shiver in the cold that came over the stadium that Sunday night.
It also helped that a touch of home was in the stadium.
Before the game, my husband and I stood in the Johnson & Johnson Care United fan experience, basically a tailgate with activities and games for people that tied into the Johnson & Johnson brand and its Care United challenge. The company is among the U.S. national soccer programs’ major sponsors.
An elderly couple, with snacks from one of the nearby food trucks, stood near us. The woman would occasionally lean back, so as to look at the back of my shirt. It was a personalized team jersey — part of my prize package — with my last name and my pick of numbers, 5 — for the number of humans in my family back on the East Coast.
“Oh, do you want to see the back of my jersey?” I asked as the women tried a second time to lean back, bracing herself against the light pole.
I explained how it was a personalized shirt.
“I didn’t recognize that name. I thought it was Samantha Mewis’ number,” she said. (Actually, it’s defender Kelley O’Hara’s number.)
We went on to talk about our favorite players. To be honest I only knew Carli Lloyd, spokeswoman of the Care United challenge, Becky Sauerbrunn, the captain and Megan Rapinoe — mostly veteran players on the team.
“Oh, we’re big fans of one of the younger players,” she said. “It’s our granddaughter, Lynn Williams, and we hope to get to see her play tonight.”
Williams is a forward who plays for the North Carolina Courage, a professional women’s soccer team based Cary. Williams is from Fresno, a little over 100 miles away from San Jose. The couple from California was proud as we shared our knowledge of North Carolina and the Raleigh-Durham area.
I asked for Williams’ number so my husband and I could cheer her on. As a professional player in North Carolina, cheering her on is easy, she’s one of our own.
While we were on the field during the pre-game warm-ups, I saw No. 12 — Williams — practice with the other players. Maybe, she’ll have a chance, I told myself as I got excited for her grandparents who were in the stands.
Eventually, after part of my group was recognized on the field, we made it back to our seats. It was an open-air reserved box filled with catered goodies. The Cheerwine was replaced with RC Cola but I recognized the wings, chili and tacos. In a basket in the corner were bags of peanuts. Sure enough, they were Hampton Farms, processed by Jimbo’s Jumbos located just outside the town I live in. Home had found me in the stadium. Maybe California isn’t that far removed from the East Coast as I had thought.
As the game opened, Williams was absent from the starting roster. But as my husband said, there’s still time for her to get into the game.
So, we waited patiently, cheering on the U.S. women’s team as they dominated Canada. During the previous game — one in which Williams saw significant playing time — the two teams tied, 1-1. This time, the U.S. looked strong and steady.
As we neared the 80-minute mark, I started to get a little sad for Williams’ grandparents. Their granddaughter hadn’t come in yet. Two-minutes later, the U.S. made some substitutions. In came veteran player Carli Lloyd. Shortly after her, came Williams.
“Oh, it’s Lynn!!!” I exclaimed as my suite-mates looked up with me with a “why are you screaming” look on their faces. Her position was on the opposite side of the field from where I was, but I watched her play intently. She was fast and courageous, like her professional team’s name, going between Canadian defenders and chasing the ball. To see her be able to celebrate on the field as the game wound down to a 3-1 victory, made me smile. I thought of how thrilled that couple I meet only a few hours earlier must be.
Besides Williams, Mewis, a forward, and defenders Abby Dahlkemper and Taylor Smith, who are all on the national team, play for the NC Courage.
There were about 18,000 people in that stadium, and somehow I meet two people with a link to North Carolina. Common bonds can be found anywhere, if you only take a chance to look for them.