Steamboat father-son duo travels to Russia for their 4th World Cup
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There was a moment, after the national anthems but before the ball was rolling, when nearly the entire crowd packed into the Spartak Stadium in Moscow fell silent.
Iceland is a country of just 337,780, the smallest nation to ever qualify for a World Cup, and its fans, fewer than 10,000, made up less than a quarter of the 44,900 jammed into stadium, a seemingly insignificant splotch of color in an ocean of fans dedicated to their opponent that day, mighty Argentina, a country with ample World Cup success, with 44 million citizens, with the best player in the world and with 14 city populations larger than the entirety of Iceland.
When the Icelandic players began their pregame chant, not a single rabid, Messi-jersey wearing fan was willing to miss it. The players connected with their fans in a series of over-the-head claps and loud cheers, the Viking war chant.
“It was nuts,” said John Moore, a Steamboat Springs resident who, with his 17-year-old son Riley, has made the World Cup an every-four-years vacation.
The pair started their adventures when Riley was just 5 years old, tagging along at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. They trekked to South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014 before loading a plane last month for the World Cup in Russia.
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It’s moments like that the one before the Argentina-Iceland match that make the miles and the expense all make sense.
“The Iceland fans, they just completely were louder than Argentina’s fans,” Riley said. “It was incredible.”
The pair saw seven games this World Cup, some good, some amazing, some otherwise.
Their first was the tournament-opening game between the hosting Russians and Saudi Arabia, in which the home team won, 5-0.
Along the way, they saw six of the world’s top-10 ranked teams. They saw Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, considered the two best players in the world. They saw one of Tuesday’s semifinalists, Belgium, and several other of the sport’s great powers, including Germany and Brazil, as well as other strong sides like Poland and Mexico.
One of the best performances, though, came from an unlikely place, Portugal’s 1-0 group stage win against Morocco. Portugal got a goal in the fourth minute from Ronaldo that Morocco couldn’t ever quite answer. Nevertheless, the African nation impressed a few American fans.
“We would have liked to see Morocco pull that upset,” John said. “Morocco and Iran played probably two of the strongest football performances, but they didn’t quite have the finishing player, someone who can score. They played so well. Literally, Morocco dominated that whole game against Portugal, so that was pretty cool.”
The one thing missing, both father and son said, was the United States.
They’ve typically focused on the U.S. at the previous World Cups, traveling to each of the three U.S. group stage games. That allowed them to see plenty of the host country, even if transportation at times got difficult.
The Americans collapsed late in qualifying, however, and didn’t make the cut for the 2018 World Cup.
The Moores still were eager to go, and there were some benefits. Russia’s a big country, and the action was spread out between 12 stadiums in 11 cities. Tracking the U.S., which would have been unlikely to be assigned a spotlight venue in Moscow, would have been complicated.
As it was, the pair set up camp in Moscow and attended all but one of their seven games there.
They would spend the days between games in Red Square, which each day would fill with chanting, celebrating fans waving their flags and soaking up a great time. They’d watch each day’s games in nearby bars and restaurants, then tackle the tourist options in the area such as touring the Kremlin and observing Vladimir Lenin’s mummified body in a tomb in Red Square up against the Kremlin’s walls.
They did take one short trip, two days, to Saint Petersburg, to watch a game and took in more culture there, including the Hermitage Museum, part of the Romanov’s Winter Palace in the heart of the city.
“Still, it felt kind of empty without the United States,” Riley said.
It was all great, they said, but it could have been greater.
“It was much worse than I anticipated,” John said. “We were at an MLS game in Kansas City before we left, and we were singing the National Anthem. That’s when it struck me, that we were going to the World Cup, but we wouldn’t sing the National Anthem there.
“Everyone had so much fun cheering and chanting,” John added. “You’d be on the subway, and someone would break into a chant for their team, but I couldn’t start a USA chant.”
The family is moving full time to Steamboat Springs this summer from Sedalia, Missouri. Riley will be a senior at Steamboat Springs High School and plans to play this fall on the boys soccer team.
As for another World Cup trip? That’s up in the air, they said, even if the U.S. pulls through to make the 2022 tournament.
Partying on the streets of the next host country, Qatar, may not have the same appeal as a long day watching the delirious fans in Red Square.
“It was great to see how things changed from when we got there,” Riley said. “At first, everyone was gloomy, but once the tournament got on and the Russian people were exposed to the Cup, the fans singing and all the nations, everyone caught the fever and started being happier. From the time we got there to the time we left, it felt like a different country.”
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