I don't want Prairie's banner of Charlie Davies off the top yet, so here it is again.
You can't separate out the emotional aspects of this week, because the emotions caused and overwhelmed the actual events.
Another of Andy's pictures is worth more than a thousand words, because most of the words are misleading or inadequate:
There's a lot going on there, and I'm sure when you saw Landon with that particular banner you felt a whole bunch of conflicting emotions. The nature of sports being what it is, the greater outpouring of sympathy was for the one who survived ... but fan tributes aren't really equipped for innocent victims. A simple jersey number was enough for a very moving tribute for a recovering player, but a soccer game is an impossible context to show adequate respect for Ashley Roberta and her family's loss.
The fans responded with passion and poignance. Healy, Harkes and ESPN would have been monsters not to notice, it fairly poured through the screen. It was undoubtedly the least "festive" atmosphere of any World Cup qualifying team in the world, but it was certainly one of the most powerful.
The players themselves did not respond as well - or, more fairly, they over-responded. They were all over the place, their shots were sailing off into the night, their defending was completely unfocused. They responded in the second half, but only enough to spoil the home record with a draw rather than a loss.
Grant Wahl did a beautiful job in stating why the Costa Rica game wasn't, in fact, meaningless. Neverthless, the game was meaningless. Even the undying gratitude of the Honduran nation is not worth having Onyewu shelved and on the outs with his club team.
Coldly, objectively, this weekend was as much about opponents' incompetence as US resilience. Honduras was given a lead, was let back into the game, and should have tied. (What would your reaction have been if the US had lost after a missed penalty and a missed sitter in the last five minutes?) Costa Rica used the El Salvador tactic of wasting time to hold onto a lead, only to deeply regret it when the United States was given acres of time to equalize. Doubly inexcusable in Costa Rica's case, because Simoes was such an experienced coach, and Bryan Ruiz was the last one on the field who needed the tempo slowed down.
And if finishing ahead of Mexico is that important, then let's not forget that was made possible by Trinidad getting one of its very, very few results of the Hex. Was Mexico informed that it was important to win the group? Because, it actually isn't. Landon Donovan told ESPN that seedings for next summer might conceivably have been at stake, but that was simply an agreeable fantasy brought on by taking the FIFA rankings far too seriously.
What Roberta's death and Davies' injury was take a game that was meaningless to the US in the sporting sense, and make it meaningless in any sense, save emotionally. And because of the emotions, it was meanginful in ways that literally defied rationality. Wahl quoted Michael Bradley stating "When you're a competitor and you step on the field you want to win ....The feeling of winning is something you can't take away," and neither Bradley nor Wahl seemed concerned that the US didn't actually win.
The cold facts - the US played its starters in a meaningless game, and had to fight to get a mildly disappointing result instead of a seriously disappointing result - are overshadowed by the emotions around it. And, ironically, the cold facts stop being the facts. The tribute to Davies was not the clumsy first half, but the tenacious and dazzling final minutes. Blowing the perfect home record sent players and fans into ecstasy.
It's unfair and inaccurate to claim that this experience made the US national team stronger - I have to think that any of them would prefer Davies healthy, and an unmotivated loss to Costa Rica. That, however, is not a choice they get to make. They could only respond to what circumstances gave them, and showed strength and resilience. That's all we can ask from our team, and I'm proud of them.