It's been two years since the United States Men's National Team hosted the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals. In 2013, the team took down El Salvador in front of more than 70,000 fans at M&T Bank Stadium.
North Carroll U-14 midfielder Thomas Dolce was in attendance for the game, watching the eventual tournament champions win handedly. He's hoping for a similar outcome today, as the men take on Cuba in the same round at the same venue.
This time, he'll be joined by a few of his teammates — many of whom will be seeing the national team play for the first time.
"It's really cool to watch a game in person, and watch their skills and their passing ability," said Thomas, a midfielder for the Rebels. "You can hear the fans a lot better, and you can also hear the players communicating."
The 12-year-old Thomas, who attends Sacred Heart, said his favorite player on the men's national team is defender DeAndre Yedlin, a talented young star only 10 years his senior. Yedlin was not a part of the 2013 team Dolce saw two years ago, which makes his second time seeing the tournament extra special.
The championship tournament takes place every two years, and is comprised of 12 teams from North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. The United States defeated Honduras and Haiti, and drew with Panama in group play earlier this month. The tournament final is set for July 26 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The United States won championships in 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007 before claiming the most recent title.
Rebels coach Chris Wunder joins many of his players who are heading to today's doubleheader — which features Haiti and Jamaica in the second match — having never seen an international soccer game.
While he's excited to see how it will stack up against a typical Ravens Sunday, the coach knows there will be a few teaching moments throughout the day that his players can learn from as well.
"I want my players just to see the style of play and how the teams look to possess the ball and control the game as opposed to the rec way, kick and run after the ball," he said. "I'll try to make it for fun, but if I see if I see something that was a good play, I can't resist but point it out."
Wunder said the team is hoping for a win for the home team, but wants his kids to experience the atmosphere of a meaningful soccer match.
Rebels' striker Kevin Rebar, 13, of North Carroll Middle School, is ready to see United States forward Clint Dempsey in person because "he's a good player, and he scores a lot."
As for the event overall, Kevin isn't sure what to expect. He knows to watch out for how the teams slow the ball down and create scoring opportunities. He's also anticipating the raucous crowds and chants from the U.S. team's followers, the American Outlaws.
Kevin became much more of a fan during the World Cup last summer, when the United States made it out of group play. When it comes to interest in soccer throughout the rest of the country, Kevin thinks things could be headed in the right direction
"I think it could be a lot bigger in the next few years," he said.