* Sold-out crowd set to watch World Cup champs' exhibition match tonight
* Wiedmer: World Cup champs know how to inspire their fans
* AstroTurf president in town to see Finley field, watch women's soccer
* Road closures planned for U.S. Women's match against Costa Rica
At 7:26 p.m. Wednesday, the United States women's soccer team's "friendly" with Costa Rica at Finley Stadium was suspended due to thunder and lightning.
By 7:28, Finley's loudspeakers blared the Black Eyed Peas' classic "I Gotta Feeling," which contains the signature line: "Tonight's going to be a good, good night."
Or at least it had been a good, good night right up until the time Mother Nature declared otherwise.
With fork lightning popping like popcorn on all sides of Finley, with the public address announcer proclaiming over and over again, "This match has been temporarily suspended," what began as perhaps the most electric night in Finley history turned into one of worst electrical storms to hit the Tennessee Valley in recent memory.
And then the serious rain began, coming in waves, making those fans unfortunate or stupid enough to ignore the pleas to head for cover to feel as if they were in a car wash without a car to protect them.
But we haven't become known as #NoogaStrong the past five weeks only because of how we've dealt with the terrorist actions of a "perverted jihadist" — thank you, Vice President Biden.
We've got plenty of strong-minded folks fully capable of waiting 83 minutes through a minor monsoon to watch our red, white and blue World Cup champs KO Costa Rica 7-2.
Especially when 35-year-old superstar Abby Wambach took less than four minutes following the rain delay to score the 184th goal of her career, which was soon followed by Carli Lloyd's second goal of the night, which was topped less than a minute later by a header into the goal by Heather O'Reilly off an assist from Wambach.
So unlikely was that goal — which put the United States up 5-0 less than 25 minutes along — that US Soccer officials soon tweeted a picture of O'Reilly pointing at Wambach with the caption: "You with the cross, me with the header? That's a new one," since it's usually O'Reilly doing the assisting.
Yet every one of the 20,535 in attendance deserved an assist on this watery night. There were the 13,000 or so fans who stayed after the wind, rain and lightning ravaged Finley for more than an hour.
A single quote from U.S. coach Jill Ellis: "The crowd was fantastic, resilient. They kept our energy high."
There was the Chattanooga Police Department that delivered such security and safety under the most difficult of circumstances. There was the Costa Rican team, which perfectly played the role of the Washington Generals, that longtime punching bag of the Harlem Globetrotters.
(Come to think of it, now that the Globetrotters have dropped the generous Generals, maybe Costa Rica could take their place as paid patsies, especially since its first match against the United States in Pittsburgh on Sunday ended in an 8-0 defeat.)
But the U.S. team deserves the most credit simply for putting on such a shimmering show in the face of such awful conditions. This is how you want your heroes to perform, regardless of the opponent or the relative unimportance of the situation. You want crispness, passion, performance.
And with the champs up 6-1 after 45 minutes, it would have been hard for anyone in the Finley crowd, as well as all those watching on ESPN2, to argue that they didn't see the U.S. team's best.
"Our responsibility is to put on a great performance," Ellis said. "We really wanted to play (after the delay). We were hoping the storm would abate."
Would it have been perfection squared without the rain delay? It would have been close.
Having the crowd sing the national anthem on its own was an inspired touch. So was the moment of silence for the five victims of the July 16 terrorist attack — Marines Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt and Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith.
Said U.S. star Carli Lloyd of that moment of silence: "We'd kept up with the tragedy here. We were so sympathetic to the people of Chattanooga and the families of the victims. We were so sorry it happened."
On a lighter note, the Chattahooligans and their big bass drum finding their way into the grass beyond the east end zone was also a nice touch.
What was best, though, was just having these remarkable 23 women all present in our town for one electric night.
Or as University of Tennessee at Chattanooga goalie Lauren Thomas noted during the rain delay: "We all know how to think the game. They're just really, really great at playing it."
The greatest this night, or certainly the happiest, was O'Reilly, who was all smiles as she left the Finley pitch.
"This is where we find our joy," she said.
And where they magnificently transferred that joy to 20,512 others on a stormy night in the Scenic City.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org