If she were to deliver a pre-game pep talk to the U.S. men's soccer team tonight, Jennifer Vernia would keep the message simple. Her words of encouragement - along with those of 164 other Americans from near and far - help form what U.S. Soccer has dubbed "the fan wall" covering both sides of the players' tunnel.
If she were to deliver a pre-game pep talk to the U.S. men’s soccer team tonight, Jennifer Vernia would keep the message simple:
Good luck, and have fun playing the beautiful game surrounded by red, white and blue.
The Cincinnati resident — who played soccer for 12 years — won’t have access to the locker room when the United States takes on Mexico in the highly anticipated World Cup qualifier.
Her sentiments might nonetheless be on the minds of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and other U.S. stars when they step onto the pitch at Columbus Crew Stadium.
Her words of encouragement — along with those of 164 other Americans from near and far — help form what U.S. Soccer has dubbed “the fan wall” covering both sides of the players’ tunnel.
The 80-foot wall will be the last thing that the team sees between the locker room and a sellout crowd of 24,000-plus.
“There’s so much pressure, especially at that level,” said Vernia, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student who will attend the game. “I wanted it to be a reminder to them to have fun — that all the United States is supporting them.”
The fan wall is a visible extension of a social-media campaign initiated last month by U.S. Soccer, the governing body of the sport.
Seeking to do something special for the players for what might be the most important game of the qualifying cycle, U.S. Soccer asked fans to send personal messages to the team via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #fanwall.
“The tunnel is only accessed by the team, coaches and a few personnel,” said Neil Buethe, senior manager of communication. “When discussing what messaging to put there, we thought, ‘Who better to speak to the players than the fans themselves?'"
The solicitation (from Aug. 20-23) drew more than 3,800 replies — some more “printable” than others.
Officials quickly omitted inappropriate comments and favored the inspirational over the comical, Buethe said.
Still, with less than 5 percent of the responses enough to fill the wall space, they had to severely pare the rest.
“We left some good ones on the cutting-room floor,” he said.
Among the chosen:
• You’ve made me love and believe in soccer again.
• Playing football with your feet is one thing, but playing with your heart is another.
• We sing for you 11; you fight for 300 million.
• Wear the uniform of your country with pride and serve with honor. Thank you for your service. (submitted by a retired Army sergeant major)
• Now is the time. Columbus is the place. Mexico is the team. Show the world that the USA is a team to be feared. One nation, one team.
The fan wall essentially consists of four parts: the east and west walls that form the tunnel leading from both team locker rooms and the two walls that border the stands on the ramp leading to the field.
The messages span all four, with each pair themed “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” and “One Nation, One Team.”
Los Angeles resident Tim Olivas was thrilled to hear that his entry — Do it for those who came before you, and create a legacy for those who will follow in your footsteps — is among those showcased.
He won’t be at the game, but the longtime soccer fan said he would feel as if he is there in spirit.
“My love for the U.S. national team can’t compare with any other sports I follow,” said Olivas, 32. “The national pride is there.”
U.S. Soccer assembled the messages into a design that’s easily read; then the Kentucky company Larger Than Life printed it on thin red vinyl before attaching it in sections to the tunnel walls.
As vice president of sales for Larger Than Life, Shane Curran said the tunnel represents a unique take on stadium graphics that the players can’t possibly miss.
As a soccer fan, he expects it to give the U.S. team an edge.
“It’s pretty cool that Mexico will have to walk through the tunnel, too.”