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VIDEO: The History and Power of “I Believe” (ESPN)

2014 FIFA World Cup - "I Believe" - ESPN from Nick Aquilino on Vimeo.

It's evolved into American soccer's most iconic chant during this World Cup, but the origins of "I Believe" are incredibly humble. 

Our founder, Dan Wiersema, had the pleasure of speaking with ESPN about the power of positivity of this chant that the U.S. soccer supporters group, the American Outlaws has made a national rallyng cry. 

This originally aired on Monday, June 30th on "World Cup Tonight" and was also featured on SportsCenter.

Tags: American Outlaws, Supporters Groups, USMNT, Video, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Meet Teddy Goalevelt

Teddy conquering the Amazon in Manaus. 

Mild-mannered Chicago advertising man by day. Legendary former American President Teddy Roosevelt by game day.

Meet Mike D’Amico.

Since his first appearance with Jimmy Conrad and KICK TV post-Natal and then in millions of home around the world during the broadcast celebrating during the USMNT-Portugal match D’Amico is currently the “face of American soccer”.

What started out as just a silly idea to enjoy his time as a fan supporting the national team in Brazil has grown into a viral journey few, especially D’Amico, could imagine.

Below is the story, in his own words, of how one man took Brazil by storm and channeled his inner 26th President, Teddy Goalsevelt.

Idea

The first part is the boring and lame part. Since October I had been letting my beard grow. I had a beard that maybe came down to my chest. It was a massive beard. I knew that I was going to want that beard. It’s like a face scarf. It’s too hot for that.

That was so much work. Like nine months. There’s got to be something I can do with this. Can I dye it? Can I shave it into USA? Into a statue? Can I carve it?

I travel a lot for U.S. Soccer and I always love the guys that no matter the temperature or what the conditions are they’re always dressed up. There’s the guy in the colonial outfit; the tri-corner hat and the wig. There’s always the guy with the World War II general helmet with the pipe and the aviator sunglasses. Those guys get people psyched. It gets people excited.

If I’m going to Brazil, if I’m spending all of this money… why not try and do something like that?

So I started brainstorming. I had the facial hair thing in my head. I had Brazil on my mind.  It all of a sudden it came to me: Teddy Roosevelt.

Who better to be that than Teddy Roosevelt in Brazil, in the Amazon? The mustache and the Rough Riders.

With that much beard growth is was pretty easy to turn it into his mustache.  In fact I had to trim it a bit.

I mentioned it casually to a few people, just to test the waters and the were like, “YES!”

I started to put it together in like March or April. Looking around and piecing things together. Ironically almost the entire costume was assembled from Amazon.com.

Tapping a rich cultural history

I was talking to a bunch of fans at the hotel before the Natal match and this was the first dabble into American soccer culture. They were looking around and there was me and General (George S.) Patton, and Duff Man, people with the face paint and the wigs. All the different kinds of people dressed up.

So a U.S. soccer match is kind of like the Super Bowl meets ComicCon.

The cool thing about being an U.S. soccer fan is the breadth of culture that we have access to that can immediately represent America. Some other countries don’t have that.

There are so many cultural things. There’s so much history.

Teddy Roosevelt is like you took American culture, rung it out, and made a cartoon character of it. Like he’s not real. This is a guy who born and raised in New York, he was a cowboy, a Rough Rider, a politician, a President, and all of the expeditions. The story of this man is almost fictional.

I think that’s part of the reason everyone loves the costume so much.  There are lots of President that could claim to be the “most American President”, but I think you’d have a hard time making a better case  than you can for Teddy Roosevelt.

An Unexpected Reception

I thought I was just going to be another guy. “Ohh… look it’s a super hero that’s cool. Ohh… look it’s George Washington. Ohh… look it’s Teddy Roosevelt.”

But it’s been like, “Superhero. George Washington. TEDDY ROOSEVELT!”

Then there’s like a line to take photos and people want to sign songs. It’s just been over-the-top craziness since day one.

I had absolutely no idea that is had gotten so big back home. Buzzfeed. I was on the homepage of ESPN.com. They were talking about intense fans of the World Cup and that’s not something that’s been apart of our vernacular.

Will Teddy ride again after the World Cup?

That is a question that I don’t feel like I get to answer. I feel like everyone else has already made that choice for me. One of the first emails, after returning from Manaus, I got was from a co-worker was, “You’re wearing that on Monday to work, right?”

All of the guys back home at American Outlaws: Chicago were like, “I don’t care what it takes you’re wearing the ‘Teddy Goalsevelt’ costume to the first game back. It doesn’t matter how many free beers it takes… you’re doing it.”

I think Teddy will live on. I think he has to.

Perspective

The fact that this many people are sharing and tweeting and posting my stupid face just means all of those people were watching U.S. soccer.

Which is incredible. How big this has gotten… it couldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a critical mass of eyeballs on the match. So the fact that so many people were watching the ability to turn my dumb face with this hat, glasses, and mustache into a viral hit is fantastic.

Not for me, but for the game.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Rainy day in Recife

I had only been asleep for about 30 minutes when the alarm went off at 12:45am. My head wouldn’t meet a pillow for another 24 hours. I can tell you at the beginning of this story it would be all worth it.

When it comes to getting enough rest it’s never been something I’ve been particularly good at. I actually tend to thrive in low-sleep situations.

Which is good because this day is going to be one of those types of days.

By 2am we’re on the road to Recife from Natal; twelve busloads of American Outlaws including a spare bus just in case one breaks down. The rain is falling steadily. We’re anticipating a wet day, but certainly not the conditions we’ll push through in about five hours.

The thirteen buses are cruising down BR-101 courtesy of a Federal Police escort between the two World Cup host cities. Our bus “tour guide” cracks a joke about the Brazilian highway system saying that if the same people that were charge of paving these roads had built the Great Wall of China they’d still be at it today.

As dawn breaks it’s become increasingly obvious that this isn’t just a steady, tropical rain but full-on flood conditions. As we transition from rural Brazil to urban Recife the roads turn to rivers. Our bus caravan plunges, literally, on. I swear there would come a point where, like in Oregon Trail, we’d have to make a decision of whether or not to caulk our wagon and ford our way to the stadium.

Arena Pernambuco is located outside of the city proper and thankfully somewhat distant from what would later be reported as nearly thigh-high water in Recife. The exterior the pre-game party hosted by the American Outlaws is flanked by two ridiculous large inflatables on the outside, one of the World Cup mascot and the other, for some reason, a goat. On the inside both Good Morning America and the TODAY Show have staked out the entrance and frantic producers are fighting to grab the most unique dressed and loudest American fans for backdrops to their live-on-location reports.

Given our personal struggles to make it to the previous two matches on time this is the first pre-game party that myself and my traveling companions have made it to. We’re not disappointed.

The never-ending rain has added a special extra element to the festivities, forcing everyone into closer quarters since the risk of drowning outside it quite real. The sound of every chant of “USA” or “I Believe” sounds that much louder and feels that much more intense.

Teddy Goalesvelt and I at the AO tailgate. 

I haven’t tailgated this early since college and thinking about the time and space in those ten years is a brief and slightly depressing thought that is pushed out of my head as quickly as the next beer is pushed into my hand.

By the time we begin to march to the stadium everyone’s red, white, and blue is tinted by a translucent poncho or a new, darker shade compliments of the pouring rain. The perpetual showers don’t dampen the enthusiasm of the Outlaws on their trek to the stadium; many stopping occassionally to match the quantity of liquids going inside their bodies to that of the flow of rainwater cascading off them.

To be honest Pernambuco is the least impressive of the three World Cup venues the U.S. plays in. It’s boxy and impersonal. It doesn’t look like sand dunes or a woven basket. Perhaps it’s the drenched, grey sky or it’s missing the mystique of being in the middle of the rainforest or I didn’t just “Amazing Race” to this one.

Inside and situated back far enough to be under the arena’s protective cover the crowd’s energy has a much different feel to it that the other two matches. Ghana was outright intense; America and her fans making their boisterous debut on the World Cup stage. Portugal’s crowd was confident, surging until silenced in the last seconds. The chants and cheers are the same as their preceding games, but the spaces between each are more distant, spaced out by fans rubbernecking to the few people with working data plans keeping sections updated on the action in Brasília.

On the field the U.S. has shown well. Thomas Müller’s goal, the lone tally wasn’t the result of some disastrous defense just a well-taken shot. The USMNT is giving Germany a game. Alejandro Bedoya’s cleared shot, reminiscent of Michael Bradley’s in the previous game, jolts the crowd who collectively remove their fingers from their nail-nibbling mouths to give some last-minute encouragement.

As the final whistle blows there’s about two minutes where we waited on our compatriots with the cell phones to give us a final Ghana-Portugal update. The U.S. players and coaching staff clearly have better service in the stadium than we do. They’re celebrations trigger ours as devices confirm what we’re witness in front of us.

We’ve gone through.

There’s a peculiar thing about the World Cup to celebrate advancing to the knockout rounds when you’ve just lost a game. It’s a tough feeling to reconcile. For me I haven’t seen the national team lose a game in over a dozen games over the past two years (all home games) so I’m standing there thinking about that. But then the result is insignificant because you’re through and it’s the elimination games that we have to prepare for.

Again I think the weather, the depressing drizzle, has affected my thinking because I’m focused more about the loss than moving forward. Ultimate my head will clear over the next five hours on the bus and by the time we return to Natal I’m fully over the day’s loss and eager to began our next World Cup challenge.

While the team and large chunk of American supporters will proceed onto Salvador I, unfortunately, will return to a bar stool in Austin, Texas. Several thorough loads of laundry between today and Tuesday will return my sun/sweat/rain-soaked jerseys to their former glory.

Travelling to Brazil with American Outlaws feels a lot summer camp. At the Houston airport where we’ve all landed, before departing to our own corners of the country, new friends exchange contact information and promises of dinner, drinks, and a couch or bed to sleep on if they should ever pass through each other’s city. Old friends, veterans of this soccer supporter dance of hello-game-goodbye, shake hands and hug until next time.

My journey to the World Cup, as an American in Brazil, was one amazing adventure; filled with more twists and turns that I ever could’ve imagined. It was both one of the most stressful and wonderful experience of my entire time and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.

Until next time.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Thousands of MLS supporters come together for USMNT

NOTE: This article originally appeared on MLSSoccer.com.

RECIFE, Brazil -- They’ve come from all over the country clad in red, white, and blue. But they have other colors with them. 

The burgundy of the Colorado Rapids. The rave green of the Seattle Sounders. The red of Toronto FC. And so on. All the colors of Major League Soccer teams are here in full force.

For them, this trip to Brazil is about club and country.

Finding an MLS jersey inside the stadiums of Natal, Manaus, and Recife isn't easy. But on non-game days, they are everywhere. Fans are eager to rep their local side: Sporting KC t-shirts in the hotel lobby, New York Red Bulls jerseys at a Brazil watch party, a LA Galaxy cap for protection from the Brazilian sun, or a pair of Portland Timbers shorts for lounging poolside.

A few years after the Dynamo arrived in Texas and Houston native Rick Worley returned to his hometown from Washington D.C., he picked up season tickets as both a matter of civic pride and the natural evolution for his passion for soccer

“I definitely grew up loving the U.S. national team. I can’t imagine anything better than the U.S. winning a World Cup,” said Worley. “But BBVA Stadium is amazing and such a great atmosphere. The city has really embraced this team.”

Jake Beard, a director of the Iron Lion Firm, an Orlando City Soccer Club supporters group, echoed a similar sentiment.

“I think it’s different for everybody. Some take club over country. For me I was a fan of the national team before I ever had a club to root for,” he said. “So for me I’ll always be here to support the U.S. It’s been a two year journey to be here now and all the obstacles along the way. It’s been a dream come true to go to the matches.”

With the World Cup in full swing the club rivalries take a back seat to supporting the national team.

“No matter what we’re here for the team,” said Peg Manning, a Seattle Sounders season ticket holder since their MLS debut. “The players become our own even if they play for other teams.”

“Our joke all this year has been 'It's not June yet',” Manning’s husband, Tim Blanchard, interjected with a laugh.

“Now it’s June: Go Kyle (Beckerman)!” Manning added.

MATCHCENTER: 7 MLS players in starting lineup against Germany
For the teams that sent MLS players to represent their country, there’s an extra special amount of pride for their fans.

“What’s not to like about that (having club players on the national team)?” Blanchard asked rhetorically.

Worley was excited to see Dynamo players past and present on the USMNT squad.

“I was really lucky for the first game against Ghana I was in the front row right behind the U.S. bench and to see when the guys stood up and started clapping the first one I was congratulating was Brad Davis. To see (former Dynamo) Geoff Cameron out there too was cool. To see those two guys out there representing the orange was pretty great.”

During the Portugal match, Manning and Blanchard were represented by not one, but two Sounders’ players on the field.

“I was screaming for DeAndre (Yedlin) so hard,” said Manning.

“It was tremendously exciting to see Dempsey and DeAndre on the field together,” added Blanchard.

MLS’ connection to Brazil gets stronger when Beard’s OCSC joins the league in 2015. The team’s majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva is a native of Rio de Janeiro. Beard said his purple jersey has caught a few eyes down here in Brazil because of his club’s owner. And his future fellow MLS fans are quite welcoming as well.

“I’ve met so many cool people here on the trip and everyone has been so receptive of Orlando.”

Even in faraway places like Manaus MLS fans are discovering each other.

“We’re walking from the stadium back to the buses for the airport," Blanchard recounts. "About halfway back we stopped in this crammed spot. There were just two seats in this tiny place. We asked the folks if we could sit down and started talking to them. Turns out they sit in section 109 (of CenturyLink Field) and we sit in section 209. She’s Brazilian and lives in the Seattle now.”

They exchanged information and plan on meeting up back in Seattle before a game.

“It really is such a small world,” Manning added.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Madness in Manaus

The U.S. fan’s World Cup is defined, so far, by 30 seconds. Thirty seconds in versus Ghana Clint Dempsey send us into a frenzy onto three points. Thirty seconds left and Portugal knocks the wind out of us and we settle for a draw in Manaus.

Thus is the roller coaster ride that is the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. If you told most American fans that we’d leave the Amazon rainforest with four points I think most of us would take that in a heartbeat. But standing in the stadium at full time on Sunday night I couldn’t feel anything but cheated.

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The trip itself to Manaus was another intriguing story. We finally found ourselves with a spot the charter flight, but delay after delay departing from Natal meant that we would miss the American Outlaws/U.S. Soccer pregame party.  Another straight-to-the-stadium sprint. We were getting pretty good at this.

On the plus side we were able to march, briskly, with other American fans on their way to Arena Amazonia. While it probably wasn’t as epic as what we heard about the Natal march, the experience of being surrounded by hundreds of U.S. fans in foreign country on their way to a World Cup game was incredible.

Arena Amazonia is a gorgeous stadium. Designed to look like a woven basket sold in the local markets it is a crowning achievement of architecture on par with Teatro Amazonas, Manaus’ historic opera house, built in 1896.

As the lineups were announced the largest cheer/squeal was reserved for Portugal’s Ronaldo and his first touch was met with a roar of approval I’d never heard in my life. But as the match wore on and he faded from the match (minus the his last cross, of course) the crowd turned against him, fueled by the growing confidence of the American side and the American fans.

I was situated right behind the Portugal goal the U.S. was attacking in the second half. When Jermaine Jones ripped his shot… that curve… I swear I saw a blinker on the ball it was turning so dramatically.  And Dempsey’s… err… ball into the back of net; at that point of the match anything was possible. Top the group? Sure. Win the World Cup? Why not us.

I thought the United States had the corner on late-game-drama magic, but Portugal had different ideas.

This U.S. team was dominant. Despite two defensive breakdowns at both ends of the game we were the better team on the night. I can take solace, in the long view, that standing up to the likes of Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on this night in Manaus is a huge step in the right direction for American soccer.

Those will have to be the thoughts that carry me forward to Germany when we face our next “greatest World Cup test ever” ™.

Now there’s just one number to focus on: 90. Ninety minutes of greatness needed on Thursday and we’re through.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: We’re Ghana (get it?) make it to this game?

It took just 29 seconds to erase almost 48 hours of terrible traveling.

When Clint Dempsey slashed through the Ghanaian defense and buried that ball in the back of the net the stress, the madness, the lack of sleep… it was all worth it. We made it to the World Cup.

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Just two hours earlier our personal 767 landed on the tarmac in Natal. The charter company, after several false starts, finally made amends. We were picked up in Georgetown, Guyana, and after a heartfelt apology from the captain on behalf of the company, we settled into the first-class seats.

Just "the AO 14," as we called ourselves, on a plane designed to carry over 200. Weird.

We landed in Natal and sprinted through immigration and customs, opened specifically for us as we were the only international flight landing that day. Obviously the rest of the American (and Ghanaian) fans had already arrived comfortably early for the day’s game.

We piled into a small bus and took off for Arena das Dunas. Less than three hours to go before the match.

Traffic was awful, so we were biting our nails the whole way. Several times we asked the driver if we should get out and run. How far is it? Our driver insisted he continue with us, but when he got us as far as he thought possible, we all jumped out and began rushing toward the stadium. As we got closer, we noticed that we were not alone. More and more people were joining us on our walk – fans from everywhere -- like a snowball rolling down a hill.

Then the stadium emerged. For the better part of the last 24 hours, it had been unknown as to whether or not we would be at the game. So I admit: I teared up.

First stop after getting our tickets scanned and entering the stadium? A nice, cold beer of course. We barely had a moment to drink in the moment (or drink our beer) when Dempsey scored.

Pandemonium. More tears. Lots of hugs. My wife, Anah, Landon (my best friend since high school), and I in euphoric embrace.

The next 80 minutes were sheer terror as the US team held on to that tentative lead. When André Ayew scored Ghana’s equalizer it was a gut punch. How could this happen? We had come so far? We had endured so much? How could Ayew do this? To us?

And when Graham Zusi lines up for that corner in the 86th minute, I closed my eyes and whispered to myself (I swear I did), “I know we, the team, don’t deserve to win, but I think WE deserve this win.”

John Brooks plowed that ball into the goal and I lost it. I just lost it. This was what it was all for. This made up for all the rebooked flights, the airport waiting lounges, Guyanese customs hall, the taxi ride from the airport, sweating through my Waldo hat. This was everything.

I don’t even remember hearing the final whistle.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Wait! Trinidad & Guyana are NOT on the way to Natal

NATAL, Brazil – Twenty-four hours ago, I was in Georgetown, Guyana.

Trust me, I’m just as surprised as you are to be uttering those words. Don’t worry, I’ll catch you up in a moment.

Originally we – Anah; my best friend from high school, Landon, who currently lives in Los Angeles (no, not that Landon); and I – were scheduled to depart Saturday evening on "AO Force 2": the second of the two American Outlaws charter planes. “AO Force One” had left the night before bound for Natal and without any hiccups we were to follow right after.

Until we were informed that the original “AO Force Two” was experiencing “mechanical troubles” and was going to be grounded in Houston. The point of charter planes, of course, is to avoid headaches, but ever since the package was announced nearly two years ago, headaches is all that AO leaders Korey Donahoo and Justin Brunken (full disclosure: two very good friends of mine) had experienced.

Rather than a wake-up call from the front desk of our Houston hotel, my phone was blowing up with texts from Donahoo and Brunken with this unexpected turn of events.

“No worries,” the charter company assured us. “Another plane is on its way. You’ll all make it to Natal on time. Oh. Except for one thing … the new plane is a little smaller. You’ll have to find about 15 people to step off the plane and we’ll find a way to get you to Natal later.”

In other words, AO needed 15 volunteers who were willing to take a chance on a different itinerary.

Of course, there was still the chance that the original itinerary, the new, smaller “AO Force Two,” wouldn't hold. But it did. Without any further hitches the second plane took off.

I know because I watched it go.

Yes, Anah and I were one of the 14 that stayed behind. Actually, stepping off the plane to help AO was a no-brainer for us. Donahoo, Brunken & Co. have not only worked tirelessly to make American Outlaws the largest US supporters group, but also are friends. If sidetracking one’s own dream to get to the World Cup wasn’t apart of being friends then what was the point of friendship anyways?

I don’t think most people on "AO Force Two" even knew there were 14 people that stayed behind in Houston. (One of the needed 15 was able to get on the plane when a package member missed his connecting flight and made his own arrangements to get to Brazil.) But there we were: my wife, me, Landon from LA, Brunken and his wife, Tyler from Spearville, Meggie from Lincoln, Chris from Kansas City, Jimmy from Pittsburgh, Robert and Cody from New Jersey, Erin and Ashley from Indianapolis, and a representative from the travel company.

To pass the time in Houston and distract ourselves from the mounting list of unknowns, “the AO 14” – every good adventure needs a good nickname – coined a game called “AOmazing Race.” We’re on Twitter at @AOmazingRace, with the objective of awarding made up points for the journey ahead.

Meanwhile, the charter company was scrambling. The first info we got was that the trip to Natal was going to require some zigzagging: Houston to Miami to Trinidad to Guyana, and finally to Natal. At least that was the first plan.

The schedule would put us in Guyana – yes, the land of Jim Jones – less than 24 hours before the Ghana match. This was cutting it close, but it seemed like enough time. Oh, but wait: Turns out there is no flight service from Georgetown to Natal. So, it turns out, the president of the charter company was going to have his personal plane pick us up in Guyana and whisk us to Natal.

Whoa. Full-on damage control.

But then, we learned about plan B. It was a simplified itinerary. Miami and Guyana were out. Now we would fly from Houston to Trinidad, where the private jet – our winged chariot – would meet us for the final leg of the journey. This itinerary had us arriving just 12 hours before the AO pregame tailgate. It all sounded too good to be true.

Which, of course, it was.

We landed in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, with visions of luxury travel in our heads. How stocked will the private jet's mini-bar be? Can we start a dance party?

I made it through immigration before the rest of the group and went ahead to secure our bags. Then I waited. And waited. No one else showed up. I doubled back only to be confronted by an immigration officer.

“You need to give up your passport," she informed me. "You don’t have a flight here yet.”

Turns out there was no private jet. It couldn’t get clearance to land in Trinidad. Or perhaps there never was a plane. Either way, the AO 14 were now in the Trinidad airport without our passports

Immigrations officials held onto our passports while Robi, our travel representative, called her bosses to get us off the island and to Brazil. Guyana was back on the flight plan.

Once again, there were assurances that a plane would be waiting for us. We didn't feel very confident.

After we landed and breezed through Guyanese customs, our fears were confirmed: no plane.

By now it was one in the morning and we we had no idea if we were going to ever reach Brazil, let alone fulfill the destiny of this trip: Seeing the US national team play in the World Cup. The game against Ghana in Natal was set to kick off in about 16 hours, and we were stuck in an airport in a tiny country on the South American coast. Was this trip ever going to end? And how was it going to end?

At 5, we had an answer. Salvation came from an unlikely source that brought everything full circle. "AO Force One," the charter jet that took the first group of Outlaws to Natal, was on its way to Guyana. It would arrive by 9, and an hour later we would be en route to Brazil.

If everything worked out – and why wouldn’t it? – we would be in Natal and in the stands by kickoff...

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT

An American in Brazil: The USMNT’s patriotic packing guide to Brazil

Editor's Note: This column originally appeared on MLSSoccer.com.

"If it's not red, white, or blue... it's not going in the suitcase.”

Meet my wife everybody.

Anah held herself pretty accountable to that rule while I strayed just a little bit after some of my shorts were not of the American flag variety. Note I said “some”; there ARE several pairs of American flag shorts in my luggage.

Packing to watch the World Cup in Brazil for two weeks was a lot easier than I expected. I’ve done long trips abroad before where packing for all the possible weather permutations and every other thing but the kitchen sink was the bare minimum. But this wasn’t preparing for a week in the Canadian wilderness or living in one of the most dangerous countries on earth (Honduras, if you were wondering).

This was for beach life. Natal, for two weeks, with a day’s excursion to Manaus and Recife sprinkled in. To follow our national team, Anah’s patriotic declaration was proving to be pretty on point and leaving loads more room in our luggage that we first thought.

When traveling to a tropical country like Brazil there were two considerations we kept front and center in our mind: sun and rain. So we have plenty of items to deal with them, like USA sunscreen, USA toothpaste, USA toothbrush, USA bug spray, USA malaria pills…

You seeing a trend here?

Well, here are a few more musts for traveling to the World Cup:

1) Waldo hat. The national team may have adopted the world wanderer’s look as a shirt in 2012, but I’ve been repping my doppelganger since college. If you’re wondering, yes, it is hot, very hot, and yes, I will wear it to the games. So if you see it during some fan cutaway on ESPN, you'll know it's me.

2) Multiple US jerseys. Because being an American soccer fan has no off-days.

3) American Outlaws gear. I’ve been a member since 2008, the year after they were founded, and their shirts are some of the best gear, design and comfort-wise to wear when I’m not pulling a jersey over my Waldo hat. In case your wondering, yes, I put the hat on first.

4) Assorted other soccer shirts. Because why would I wear anything other than soccer shirts? Some of my favorite soccer brands include adidas, Live Breathe Futbol and Bumpy Pitch.

5) Patriotic bottoms. Very important. I’ll be rocking the “bomb pop” and American-flag-themed shorts. Because red, white, and blue shouldn’t be reserved for just your top half.

6) Reading material:

- Howler’s latest issue is the single most amazing and comprehensive World Cup preview I’ve seen; plus beautifully designed and well-written.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s auto-biography. Somehow this player needs to make it to Brazil even if it’s just in book form.
- The 10 Shirt: How the United States National Soccer Team (might have) Won the 1982 World Cup. Hey, a boy can dream.
- Party Brasil Phrasebook. Apparently there are all sorts of helpful phrases in Portuguese about the ref’s mother and/or how he’s a thief. Given the calls already in this World Cup -- except by the American! -- this book might be the most useful. And how to order multiple beers. Indispensible.
- Instant City, a new book about Karachi, Pakistan, by National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep. No, I’m not kidding. This is the book I’m actually looking forward to the most. What can I say: I'm a history teacher.

There you have it. The American fan’s super patriotic packing guide.

There’s a passport, visa, and tickets squished somewhere in there, too. I’ll find them before take off.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Allow Myself to Introduce Myself

Editor's Note: FBM's founder, Dan Wiersema, is traveling to Brazil as a part of the American Outlaws travel package along with his wife, Anah, and best friend and soccer teammate from high school, Landon. Along the may he'll be documenting the American soccer's fan experience in Brazil on MLSSoccer.com. His travelogue will be posted here as well. 

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My name is Dan Wiersema and I am an American soccer fan.

That statement is not some quiet confession or a shameful admission to others sitting around in a circle in a community center basement. I say it proudly. Because I believe it should be shouted from the rooftops and declared unconditionally for the rest of the world to hear.

Or perhaps typed on a keyboard for publishing on a website. Which is why I'm here. Over the next two weeks (and, fingers crossed, maybe more), I will document the American fan's experience in Brazil, from Natal to Manaus to Recife, from the bars to the beaches to the back row of a raucous bus.

Who am I?

I am the founder of the Free Beer Movement, a grassroots organization dedicated to “Building American Soccer One Beer at a Time.” Since 2009 the FBM has used the power of the pint to convince newbies that soccer, as Men In Blazers describe it, is the “sport of the future.” Have a friend, family member, or co-worker that doesn’t know much about the sport? Buy ‘em a beer and educate them. Beer is the medium… soccer is the message.

I’ve been a fan of Major League Soccer since I pasted a USA Today ad with Lalas, Harkes, Balboa, Wynalda, and Co. on my bedroom closet door to support them as they launched the league back in 1996. I suffered through the 1998 World Cup in Europe defending the Yanks despite their disastrous finish. My faith was restored during the USWNT’s World Cup victory in 1999 and celebrated in euphoric silence at 3 a.m. from my best friend’s parent’s basement as we shocked Portugal in 2002. From Germany to South Africa, Kansas City to Salt Lake City, I’ve seen this sport grow to unbelievable heights.

So, yeah, I’m a pretty big fan. Or supporter or enthusiast or whatever semantical rules you play by. Certainly there are bigger fans than I am, and smaller ones, but who cares. Regardless of the level of fandom, we’re all fans of the same country and the same team.

Right now, I’m sitting between two dogs on a couch in Texas. But tomorrow, I’ll be sitting between two palm trees. Or maybe two beach chairs. Or two Caipirinhas. Or all of the above.

I'll be one of thousands wearing red, white, and blue, chanting "I believe that we will win," and representing our nation as a member of the American Outlaws, the vibrant US national team supporter group. We all have our stories, some of which I will tell as our journey goes, some of which are yet to be written.

My name is Dan Wiersema and I am an American soccer fan.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

CONTEST - Win the New U.S. Away Jersey from Soccer Pro and FBM

"Do your ears hang low? Do they wobble to and for?"

Yup... the ice cream truck is around the corner with some Bomb Pops!

In this case the ice cream man is actually Soccer Pro and they're giving away one of the new USMNT (or USWNT) away jerseys for our followers on Twitter.

How can you win?

Follow the Free Beer Movement and Soccer Pro on Twitter and then tweet the following:

"I want @FreeBeerMovemnt and @SoccerPro to hook me up with the new #USMNT away jersey. #FBMContest"

We'll pick a winner on Thursday and announce on Friday who will be sporting the new shirt in the stands (or chasing the ice cream truck!).

Good luck!

Tags: contest, DrinkWear, USMNT, USWNT

The After Bar: USMNT 2 - Mexico 2

 

Highlights:

Analysis from some of American soccer's best writers:

Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "A Tale Of Two Halves: Three Thoughts on the USA’s 2-2 draw with Mexico"

Mathew Dole (MLSSoccer.com) - "Three Things: Michael Bradley's role opens up World Cup options for USMNT"

Noah Davis (American Soccer Now) - "The Shape's the Thing: Klinsmann Adopts a 4-4-2"

Mike Prindiville (NBC Sports) - "U.S. Men’s National Team defense remains unsettled after Mexico draw"

Will Parchman (The Shin Guardian) - "USA 2 – Mexico 2: Odes & String Music To Beckerman"

Player Ratings/Grades:

Greg Selzter (MLSSoccer.com)

Brian Sciaretta (New York TImes) 

Steve Goff (Washington Post)

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

A Brew For You…. And You… And You (USMNT vs. Mexico)

The pomp and circumstance has passed. We “Dos a Cero”-d Mexico otra vez. Tied them at Azteca (and won a year earlier there), and bailed their asses out all the way from Panama. We can close the book on that Gold Cup embarrassment from 2011, shelve it and let it gather dust. Right now there need not be any U.S. is this-or-that vis a vis Mexico.

Another addition of this age old rivalry is upon us, but for all inclined (unless you’re a Mexico fan DESPERATE to save some sort of face from World Cup qualifying) this match is nothing but filler before the main event in Brazil. Tonight’s match from Arizona is really an under-card fight pitting Major League Soccer versus Liga MX. It didn’t end so well for MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League, but we’re willing to bet this round will end better.

Will we or won’t we see Julian Green on the field tonight? Will Clint Dempsey find his USMNT form again? Can we please, please improve on the dreadful back line performance from Ukraine aka Cyprus? Will Michael Bradley grab this game by the balls?

These are the important questions not needless measuring sticks with Mexico.

Another important question is what to drink with your U.S. game tonight?

With any “rivalry” match (even if this one is relatively meaningless) is an occasion to break out the “colors”. If the new U.S. Soccer away jersey wasn’t chalk full of enough patriotism (I love it) then your beer should cover that for you.

We recommend Oskar Blues Brewery Company’s “Dale’s” Pale Ale (Longmont, CO). One of America’s best craft breweries “Dale’s” and Oskar Blues was also one of the first craft breweries to begin putting their suds in cans. Ingenuity… it’s the American way.

And while we’re talking about the can (we’ll get to the insides in a minute) you can’t go wrong with the color scheme for “Dale’s”. Red, white, and blue…. unmistakably patriotic to hold in your hand and hoist in the air when we score on El Tri.

Inside the can you’ll find a healthy dose of citrusy hops alongside pale malts. The New York Times even bestowed “Dale’s” with the title of “best pale ale” in 2005. Even almost a decade later this gem for Oskar Blues holds up as the craft beer scene has exploded.

Better yet Oskar Blues just recently opened a second brewery location in North Carolina meaning you can know enjoy some of Colorado’s finest in nearly every corner of the country.

Drinking Local?

If you find yourself in Phoenix for the match and our looking for something local to taste check out Four Peaks Brewing Company in nearby Temple, AZ. Consistently voted the Phoenix area’s best brewery/ brew pub. And they sell their wares in cans, too, around the area.

Cheers to soccer!

Tags: A Brew For You, Beer, USMNT

CONTEST - Win the New USMNT Jersey from Soccer Pro

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

No. Not Christmas. That amazing time every four years when national teams release their new jerseys before the World Cup.

This spring is no different as the United States men's national team debuted both their home and away shirts for Brazil.

We've partnered with Soccer Pro to giveaway one of the new USMNT (or USWNT) home jerseys for our followers on Twitter.

How can you win?

Follow the Free Beer Movement and Soccer Pro on Twitter and then tweet the following:

"I want @FreeBeerMovemnt and @SoccerPro to hook me up with the new #USMNT jersey. #FBMContest"

We'll pick a winner on Thursday and announce on Friday who will be sporting the new shirt in the stands (or on the golf course!).

Good luck!

Tags: contest, DrinkWear, USMNT

#ItAllStartsHere…. With A Beer

Editor's Note: I don't often post personal items on the Free Beer Movement site. The FBM, is, after all, a grassroots organization, so by definition is about the people and their actions that define us. That being said there are times I like to drop in to share a few things about myself, my ideas, and my hopes and dreams for soccer in America. 

Today is one of those days. Lucky you.

Major League Soccer is running a contest called #ItAllStartsHere where American fans share their stories of their soccer beginnings. I'm not interested in the prizes, but it certainly inspired me to think about where the Free Beer Movement all started. 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Dan Wiersema / Founder, Free Beer Movement

I wasn't born with a ball at my feet. I was awkwardly introduced to soccer during my middle school years after it became very obvious that there was no hope for me in pretty much every other sport. 

I was a serviceable defender, then a serviceable midfielder, then a serviceable forward. Then I wasn't. In high school the starting goalkeeper found himself on the receiving end of too many knocks and so, I, in a desperate attempt at getting some playing time clocked in between the pipes. I never returned to wearing the same shirt as my teammates again. 

But you didn't stop by to hear about my mediocre playing career.

You're here for the beer. 

When I travel to soccer games around the country a lot of people ask me, "Where did the Free Beer Movement start?" That question is usually before or after another common question, "Can I get you a beer?". They're both delightful questions because I love telling the FBM story and, well, I love beer. 

What up Naperville? Home of the Chicago Fire from 2002-03.

_____________________________________________

I remember the first season of Major League Soccer back in 1996. I ended up with a full-page ad from USA Today with all these American and international stars on it, one per club, plastered across it. That "poster" hung on a closet door for years (I wish I still had it.. the flowing locks of Lalas and Valderrama... Wynalda, Harkes, the whole denim bridage from '94). But I was a terrible American soccer fan.

My parents bought my a USMNT replica t-shirt jersey (they had a knack for that... I also owned a Florida Marlins t-shirt jersey... cheapskates) that I wore with pride until, when watching the 1998 World Cup in a bar in Hungary (at 15... the beer flowed early), the Steve Sampson squad embarrassed themselves, and more importantly, me in front of all these Europeans.

The stage was set for me to go full-on EuroSnob. 

My first soccer jerseys were a 1998 Netherlands jersey (I'm Dutch by heritage), a Chelsea jersey, and a Michael Owen Liverpool shirt. I was lost. Clearly directionless when I came to my fandom... desperate to latch onto any shiny object of Euro-success that I caught wind of. 

Then the 1999 Women's World Cup happened. USA! USA! USA! My faith in American soccer restored. The women's national team saved my fledging American soccer fandom. I've documented my love of the USWNT before, but it doesn't do justice to the fact that if it weren't for Hamm, Akers, Foudy, Scurry, and Chastain... there would be no Free Beer Movement. 

So I was (kinda-sorta) an American soccer fan again. The Chicago Fire joined MLS. I attended a bunch of games. Born and raised in Wisconsin this was my closest club, but.... a Chicago team? This was a bridge too far. My MLS fandom waned.

Enter the 2002 World Cup. Early mornings! Take that Portugal! Take that Mexico! Germany.... screw you!

Dan... you still haven't mentioned beer yet. You're droning.

Yes. Yes. The beer.

MLS, the USMNT, and the USWNT all floated in and out of my soccer life. FIFA entered. College soccer... playing more than ever before; coaching soccer, too, but I still wasn't the greatest fan. I was also a crappy beer drinker. High Life's and slaying werewolves with the "Silver Bullet". Sigh...

Honduras, 2008. Early victims of the not-yet created FBM.

_________________________________

Then I moved to Honduras in 2008. There's nothing like living in a futbol-mad country to reassess your personal fandom. Back then, before leaving the United States, I thought I was a pretty good fan, but clearly I was wrong. I followed the Honduran national team and the local Liga Hondureno with zest (as much as my poor Spanish would allow). Los Catrachos were on the cusp of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and when they did (Gracias, Jonathon Bornstein) the nation went bonkers. 

I returned to the U.S. a year later having irreversibly changed my perception as to what kind of soccer fan I thought I was. Because I wasn't one really. What had I really done to help turn the United States into a country like Honduras where the sport flowed in the streets and in the veins of nearly every person?

Nothing. There were builders of American soccer. Those who took up banners and flags when Major League Soccer started in 1996. I had a newspaper clipping on my door. Those who gravitated to the sport in the league's darker days around the turn of the millennium. I was nowhere to be found.

But now it was 2009 and up until that point I had done precious little for soccer in America. 

Dan! Beer!

Yes, the beer.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Before I moved to Honduras I lived in Milwaukee, "the Good Land", where my craft beer education began. Living down the street from Lakefront Brewery changed my perception of what beer was and having moved to Honduras, a craft beer desert, during these formative years, put a damper on my growth. 

Having returned to the land of the free and the home of the brave and settling in Austin, Texas I had dual goals: be a better soccer fan and consume as many of the diverse options that the craft brewing world would possible allow me.

The Free Beer Movement was born. At first a personal journey of my own soccer and beer exploration. Then a resource for others who might also be following my same enlightened path.

Mrs. FBM's first USMNT match. January 2010. She got me into craft beer. I got her into soccer.

____________________________________________

Since the founding of the FBM I've attended dozens of matches from the NPSL to MLS to NWSL to USMNT/USWNT, I hold season tickets to my local Austin Aztex, and have probably tried countless thousands of unique beers from around the country and the world. 

More importantly, though, is that it wasn't just about me anymore either. It was the invitation extended to friends, family, or even a stranger in the barstool next door to have a free beer and join me on my soccer journey. I didn't just need to be a better soccer fan myself, but I needed to be a better ambassador for soccer as well. 

Most importantly, though, is the discovery of hundred if not thousands of like-minded fans who believe in the power of the pint to build American soccer. That something as simple as a free beer offer (and a bit of educator alongside it) can transform a sport. 

It's a Movement that has re-defined what it means to be more than a fan and to help "build American soccer one beer at a time". The success stories come in bunches to FBM HQ from East Coast to West Coast and what started as a silly idea now has a serious goal.

Now the Free Beer Movement isn't so much about me anymore. And that's a good thing. I mean, someone still has to bang at the keyboard, but it has taken on a life of its own with empowered American soccer evangelicals (polite and not too pushy I hope) taking charge of their own destiny, growing the game, and enjoying a few beers with a few new fans along the way.

That's the essence of the Free Beer Movement. One game. One newbie. One offer. A chance to build American soccer. #ItAllStartsHere.... with a beer. 

Tags: Beer, Through The Drinking Glass, USMNT, USWNT

The After Bar: USMNT 0 - Ukraine 2

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Show of hands. How many of you were fine never seeing Oguchi Onyewu in a U.S. jersey BEFORE today's match?

OK... most of the room.

AFTER the match?

There we go. Everyone now.

Well, that settles it. No more Gooch, right? Right?

Obviously it wasn't all the Borgetti-stare-down-man's fault today (cough cough... John Anthony Brooks... we're looking at you), the entire defense was a mess, the midfield was inept, and the forwards nearly starved to death for service.

There was about 20 minutes of blind optimism from the USMNT in the middle of the second half, but then it was all undone with a quick strike Ukrainian attack to double their lead. 

Aron Jonhannsson.. you're awesome. Brek Shea... not too shabby. Tim Howard.... two sweet saves only to see your back line bail on you faster than teenagers at a house party when the cops show up. 

Roll the highlights, Sunil. 

Highlights: 

 

Analysis from some of American soccer's best writers:

Graham Ruthven (MLSSoccer.com) - "Jurgen Klinsmann says USMNT "definitely" missed MLS players in loss to Ukraine"

Matthew Doyle (MLSSoccer.com) - "Armchair Analysit: Three things we learned about USMNT's technical difficulties vs. Ukraine"

Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "Three thoughts on U.S. Soccer's "dreary" loss to Ukraine" (VIDEO)

Brian Straus (Sports Illustrated) - "Failed Auditions: Three thoughts on the USA’s 2-0 loss to Ukraine"

Richard Farley (NBC Sports) - "Looking back on our five focal points"

Joe Prince-Wright (NBC Sports) - "Three things we learned in USA’s defeat to Ukraine"

 

Player Ratings/Grades:

Jeff Carlisle (ESPN)

Brian Sciaretta (New York Times)

Greg Selzter (MLSSoccer.com)

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

DrinkWear - Futbol Artist Network’s “San Zusi” Print

The don't call it "the Beautiful Game" for nothing. Soccer is art. A great Lionel Messi goal or a stunning David Beckham free kick is a thing of beauty.

These small moments in soccer can create life-long fans of the sport (with the help of a beer or two, perhaps?) and the memories of such sporting excellence can hang in our memories like fine art in a gallery.

This is the premise behind the "Futbol Artist Network". Their idea is to highlight soccer through artistic expression.

The Free Beer Movement, through our "DrinkWear" series will be highlighting some of the cool combos of art and soccer that the FAN is coming out with.... just don't spill on it.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On October 15, 2013 the United States men's nationa team faced Panama with little except for bragging rights on the line. Our CONCACAF compatriots Mexico, however, were fighting for their survival in Costa Rica.

Despite having not done their job and losing 2-1 in San Jose Mexico found salvation when Graham Zusi headed home a Brad Davis cross in the 92nd minute. Zusi's goal tied the match at 2-2 giving Mexico the fourth spot in the group (and a backdoor to the World Cup if they won a two-legged playoff against New Newland). Aron Johannsson tailed a minute later sending the already shocked Los Canaleros to defeat.

Back in the United States national team fans celebrated topping "the Hex" for the second-straight qualification campaign while also poking fun that El Tri's biggest rival had to bail them out.

In Mexico the Sporting KC midfielder was christened "San Zusi" and honored for "saving" Mexico's Brazil hopes.

In the spirit of "San Zusi" comes this piece by Mark Smith that features on the pages of the upcoming issue of Howler Magazine.

Just a print, framed (FREE framing by-the-way this week), on stretched canvas, or acrylic box this piece is a great reminder of how sweet a moment that was to utter "De Nada Mexico".

If you haven't yet perused Futbol Artist Network's site we highly recommend it for some pretty amazing soccer art.

Tags: DrinkWear, USMNT

VIDEO: “The Hex” - Yanks Qualify for Brazil, El Tri in Crisis (Episode 13)

The biggest match of the USMNT qualification journey is always against Mexico and at home. Columbus, Ohio is home for this crucial game. Just like the three previous incarnatons of U.S.- Mexico it ended "Dos a Cero" for the good guys.

Kick TV has been with the U.S squad every step of the way and this Columbus special is just as amazing as every other piece in the series.

And we're not just saying that because FBM is in most of them....

Tags: KickTV, USMNT, Video

The After Bar: USMNT 2 - Mexico 0

It couldn't really end any other way. Dos a cero. The year was different and so were the goal scorers, but the venue was a similar as the scoreline was as the United States men's national team waxed Mexico, 2-0 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

A smashing Eddie Johnson header just past halftime and a backpost goal from Landon Donovan mid-way through the second half and the U.S. booked their ticket for Brazil next summer. El Tri sits in a precarious position, fifth place with eight points with only two games left to qualify for the World Cup.

The USMNT punched their Brazil 2014 tickets with two games to spare. Kansas City against Jamaica and at Panama will now provide a solid send-off for the U.S. and chance for Jurgen Klinsmann to get some good reps in for some fringe squad players.

Highlights:

 
Analysis from some of American soccer's best writers:
 
Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "Three thoughts on USA 2, Mexico 0"
 
 
 
 
Noah Davis (American Soccer Now) - "Lesson Learned in Costa Rica Leads U.S. to Win"
 
 
Mike Prindiville (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson"
 
Player Ratings:

Greg Seltzer (MLSSoccer.com)

Blake Thomsen (American Soccer Now)

Jeff Carlisle (ESPN)

Brian Sciaretta (New York Times)

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

The After Bar: Costa Rica 3 - USMNT 1

Whelp. That one stung. The United States men's national team, looking for their first win ever in Costa Rica walked away empty handed, temporarily setting back the finalization of their World Cup qualifying. The Nats dropped an ugly one, 3-1, in San Jose.

Michael Bradley went off injured in pre-game training and the USMNT looked listless the entire match giving up two goals in the opening ten minutes. Captain Clint Dempsey's 100th cap and 43rd minute penalty kick goal was the lone bright spot in a wet, revenge-filled away match for the Ticos. Having Landon Donovan back in the starting 11 couldn't save the U.S.'s winnning streak either.

Next up, Mexico in "Dos a Cero-ville", Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday.

Highlights:

 

Analysis from some of American soccer's best writers:

The Shin Guardian - "Costa Rica 3 – USA 1: Quick Thoughts"

Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "Three thoughts on the U.S.'s World Cup qualifier loss to Costa Rica"

Matthew Doyle (MLSSoccer.com) - "Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from a trip down Springfield Gorge"

Kyle Bonn (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "Three things we learned from USMNT 3-1 loss at Costa Rica"

Noah David (American Soccer Now) - "Lost Without Bradley, U.S. Falls to Costa Rica, 3-1"

Player Grades/ Ratings:

Jeff Carlisle (ESPN)

Greg Selzter (MLSSoccer.com)

Brian Sciaretta (New York Times)

Blake Thomson (American Soccer Now)

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

The Big Pitcher: Uncharted Waters Edition

It's a submarine. Get it? Depth!

Editor's Note: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice”. Sometimes we American soccer fans get wrapped up in the day-to-day, Monday morning quarterbacking (or centerbacking), knee-jerk reactions and miss out on the big picture. This weekly column will focus on picking out the larger themes and issues of Major League Soccer and the American game.

By Eric Betts / Senior Crystal Ball Correspondent

Strap on your floaties, sports fans. We’re about to pull a Michael "Squints" Palledorous and jump right into the deep end. Just ask Phil Schoen:

 

 

Now wipe the excess sarcasm from your eyes and consider the main point here: from the qualifiers to the Gold Cup right through to Sarajevo, the theme of the summer for the U.S. Men’s National Team has been depth. New players have emerged and experienced players have reclaimed their spots on top, bumping those who were doing perfectly serviceably in the interim down a peg.

On the offensive side, the combination of players who are good enough to hold onto spots past their primes, young veterans who were given time early and are coming into their roles, and a significantly broader geographic base for young talent to come from means the pool of talent has expanded. When choosing from among them, overall quality is just one of the factors to be considered. (Though of course there will be a segment of the population arguing to just pick the best four guys, which is a good way to get in a bar argument with Jonathan Wilson).

What’s interesting is the variety the coaching staff has to choose from. We aren’t just picking between the Big Guy and the Fast Guy (Wave hello, Misters Buddle and Findley.), instead we can select any from the following cast: Eddie Johnson as the Big and Fast Guy, Altidore as the mercurial “I hate you I hate you I hate you Ohh Sweet Jozy where have you been all my life”, Donovan as the playmaker who’s a threat to score, Dempsey as the scorer who can make plays, Zusi as the white-gloved shuttler and silver platter service man, Fabian Johnson as the incutting havoc-wreaker and Aron Johannsson as the Footloose Wild Thing capable of spelling any of our Few Good Men just before the End of the Line, sending Tremors right up the spines of Iceland’s Frosty Nixons.

That’s not even counting the Not Ready for Prime Time Players Boyd, Bedoya, Corona and possibly Johannsson; the still super-young Second City Regulars Agudelo, McInerney, Gatt, and possibly Johannsson; the teetering on the edge of Dr. Doolittle-dom Herculez Gomez and Chris Wondolowski and whatever the hell Brek Shea is (Best Case Scenario: Robert Downey Jr. Worst Case: Jim Belushi). Even if we assume a number of the first two groups flame out before stardom, that’s still a pretty diverse cast to work with.

This means one thing for Jurgen Klinsmann: Decisions. And for the rest of us, the Internet’s favorite pastime: anticipating and then second-guessing those decisions. Hell, we’re still not over the Great Rico Clark Debacle of 2010. Can you imagine the collective outrage if the team starts to struggle with some of those guys on the field? Even if you assume that Jozy, Dempsey and Donovan are automatic starts, who gets the fourth slot? Who gets called off the bench late when the team needs a goal? How does that particular group of four, whoever it is, adjust if the midfield is getting overrun?

Or take another example: nothing we saw last week changed the bottom line on John Anthony Brooks, but if we believe him to be further ahead of the likes of Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson, then we’ll have to address the fact that the two best centerbacks in the pool compliment each other stylistically except for the simple fact that they both play – and have pretty much exclusively played – on the same side of a central pairing. That’s a clear example of player quality running into tactical reality, unless we also plan to play a sign on the left-sided channel asking strikers to please redirect their attacks toward the two gentlemen to their right.

Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of having two semi-competent and fully functional centerbacks seemed a pipe dream. The presence of depth means rosters can be retooled, revamped, and recycled more rapidly. We’re beginning to rebuild the airplane in midflight at faster and faster speeds, though often enough the new parts don’t wind up filling the same holes as the old.

The notion of “We’re set at outside back for the next ten years” runs right into Timmy Chandler’s waffling and the minor detail that Fabian Johnson’s actually not that great at left back. “Can anyone other than Clint score,” gets drop-kicked by Jozy. The still-waters-run-deep pool of consistency in the center of midfield becomes Michael Bradley and Pray for Rain. What will we do without Landon → Who needs Landon → Ohh thank God, Landon’s back.

These are the kinds of problems where it’s much better to have them than the alternative. Even if we're not quite drowning in talent yet, we're not scraping the bottom of the kiddie pool either. Bring on the W-M.

About Eric

Eric Betts is a freelancer writer who lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and his dog Lando (yup). While attending Emory University he won "College Jeopardy".

Tags: Big Pitcher, Eric Betts, USMNT

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