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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

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