If Wednesday, my first day in Costa Rica is any indication, Thursday is going to be nuts. Insane. Chaotic. Wonderful. Exhilarating. Enriching.
Atlanta United will play Herediano tonight in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament in a stadium that, if it were a high school’s in Georgia, the boosters would have gotten together to demolish to build anew because that’s the American way.
But this stadium is cool. So, so cool.
Oh, the weather isn’t cool. It’s warm like a hug. I feel bad for you back in Atlanta.
And traffic isn’t cool. If this traffic were in Atlanta, every Fortune 500 company and medium-sized business would quickly re-think allowing workers to work from home.
Anyway, my boss, Chris, asked to me to write a digital blog about my day.
Hold on, I hear Herediano fans chanting outside the hotel.
Wait, it’s River Plate fans.
Wait, it’s Howler Monkeys.
No, it’s just the espresso machine that I can’t figure out how to work. The shower was also an adventure. I’m not the savviest traveler (I need you here, Annette).
Away we go:
Here’s a screenshot of the weather when we touched down in San Jose on Wednesday. This came a little bit after I received a weather warning for what you are experiencing in Atlanta.
(This is my attempt to throw shade.)
I’m not very good at it.
The sun is out.
The sky is blue.
Everyone got off the plane in a reasonable manner.
Life is good.
And then we reach the line of Customs.
It stretches from one end of a hallway all the way to the other, a distance of more than 50 yards.
Filled with fishermen, school travel groups and a few Atlanta United supporters, it moves briskly.
Until it ends here. Another line. Much, much longer than the first.
I’m starting to feel anxiety because it’s around 2 p.m. here. There is a press conference at the stadium at 5:30 p.m.
My hotel is 6 miles away. That won’t take long to reach, I thought. I was wrong.
The stadium is 9 miles away from the hotel. That won’t take long to reach, I thought. I was wrong.
But, again, the line moves briskly and everyone is in a good mood.
Hey, look which MLS Cup-winning team is here and gets its own fancy-schmancy Customs line!
I mentally shake my fist and break out my grumpy old man voice in a protest heard only in my head.
One of the players sees me and tells me to put on an Atlanta United shirt and hop into their line.
Realizing that’s a recipe for the shortest-ever stay in Costa Rica, I politely decline.
It took about 75 minutes from the time we got off the plane until I jumped into an orange taxi.
Not too bad.
Remember my hotel being 6 miles away? Yeah.
This is traffic in San Jose.
There is a lot of traffic in San Jose.
Imagine all the cars in the world being put in the same small city at the same time. That’s what it feels like.
There are lanes ... sort of.
There are turn signals ... sort of.
There are definitely motorcyclists zooming between cars like they are auditioning to be in Mad Max.
There is a symphony of horns. There is the angry horn (one long honk), the courteous horn (two short honks for yes, you may attempt to wedge your 10-foot wide car into this 5-foot wide space), the I’m-driving-into-your-blind-spot-so-please-don’t-hit-me horn (two short honks followed by two more).
There are buses and 18-wheelers making turns that shouldn’t be made.
There are cars cutting across two lanes to make sudden stops at bus stops.
Jon Nelson and I shared a taxi to and from the stadium. I heard him say “ooh,” a half-dozen times as drivers did things that if I were to see my 16-year-old daughter try I would immediately take away her license, keys, car and cell phone.
But there wasn’t a single accident that we saw.
It was crazy. Fun, but crazy.
You know that gigantic metallic falcon statue that’s outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
There’s no such thing at Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero, which is tucked into a neighborhood, surrounded by businesses.
This is the sign for the stadium. Otherwise, a tourist could walk right by and not realize what they just passed.
Once inside the stadium, this message greets visitors.
Translated: More than a team a family.
The stadium was built in 1951. There are small passageways to small offices and rooms all over the place.
It seats about 8,700.
As you walk through one of the tight, short tunnels, and make a left as you walk toward the field and stands you are greeted by this sign congratulating Herediano.
Translated: “For the brilliant campaign in which (the team) deservedly won the title of 1978 national soccer champion.”
And then you see the field and stands.
These words are meant to be complimentary, so please read them with that spirit.
The stadium is gritty. It’s not shiny and clean like Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The stands are concrete. The red and yellow paint is peeling. There are cracks everywhere. There is grime. There is a stray cat that prowls for whatever it can find.
But there is pride.
There is toughness.
It’s so cool.
You start to imagine what it’s going to be like Thursday night, with 8,000 or so Herediano fans packed into these tight spaces, cheering and singing for their club.
There is a tiny wooden press box near midfield. I won’t be sitting there. I will be either in the stands, or in that covered area at the top of the stands behind the goal.
The players will come out of a tunnel (literally a tunnel), from the ground that is behind the goal.
The press conference, held in one of those small rooms that I wouldn’t have found had Chris Winkler popped out to find me, didn’t start until around 6. Atlanta United got stuck in traffic. Go figure. (Yes, that’s my finger in the frame).
As Michael Parkhurst and Frank de Boer answer questions, chanting can be heard outside the stadium. This room is around 20 yards from one of the main gates, which is where a crowd has gathered.
I assumed they are chanting for Herediano.
They are River Plate fans cheering for Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez.
Someone shuts a door.
They can still be heard.
Someone shuts the big metal gate.
They can still be heard.
A few local journalists turned out to the press conference. They asked great questions, including how MLS has improved, about Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez, and about the Champions League.
Atlanta United finally took the field around 6:20 p.m.
The field is turf and it is hard.
It’s not level.
The ball is going to take some really weird bounces on Thursday.
River Plate fans stand outside the stadium, still chanting about Pity Martinez.
Their patience was later rewarded when he came off the bus and signed a few autographs.
That was my first day in Costa Rica.
Tonight’s game is 9 p.m. here, 10 p.m. in Atlanta.
You can watch it on Univision or on Yahoo.com.
I hope that you will follow me on Twitter @DougRobersonAJC for updates from the game tonight, and consider reading the stories I will file in the middle of the night and throughout Friday about Atlanta United’s first foray into the Champions League.
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