Posts Tagged With: US National Team

Some Match Day Thoughts

Soccer is a sport of emotions and last night was no exception as we were put through it, but as with all things, the more difficult the task the better the payoff.  Some thoughts:

  • Being at the World Cup is simply awesome.  This is my third and I have made good friends at each.  It is so cool seeing friends whom you’ve only ever seen at Cups.  They live in America, but I’ve only know them abroad.
  • The day began here in Pipa with a nice breakfast of Acai with granola, banana, and honey.

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  • Our fleet of cabs took about two hours to reach the stadium.  No worries, we were aware of that and arrived hours before the match.
  • At Bar Original, a few blocks from the stadium, we ate some Brazilian meats.  And had a few beers.

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  • We arrived to the stadium early, having had Mexicans tell us they encountered long, slow lines.  We were in quickly and just hung out on the large, wide concourse.

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  • As most Americans came in our gate, we were reunited with and met many old friends.

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  • There were huge numbers of American, many in great costumes–many were better but this was my favorite.
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  • In addition to Bud, they also sold Brahma beer.  Yeah, it’s owned by Bud but it least is not Bud.  We all drank that.  Beers and cokes came in plastic souvenir cups that notated USA vs Ghana.  Pretty cool, though I didn’t keep any.
  • My seat was in the end zone, 10 rows up, to the right of  the goal, many of my friends were nearby and others squeezed in.

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  • Not once did anyone check my ticket not did I hear of that happening to anyone else.
  • This is good news as for the other two matches, I’m supposed to be in the upper deck–if this laissez-faire approach to ushering continues, I see me having no problem getting close and low.
  • I was happy to see our line-up unchanged from the Nigeria, sendoff match.
  • I love the few minutes from just before the walkout to the start of the match.  There is a feeling of possibilities, it’s all there in front of us, waiting to happen.
  • Belting out the Star-Spangled Banner with thousands of American’s is a moving experience.  It sounded as good as I’ve ever heard us.
  • Soccer can shock.  34 seconds in and we have a goal.  Bedlam in our sections.  A perfect start, surely a match to enjoy.
  • Or not, we didn’t really press our advantage and they didn’t fall apart.
  • Soccer is a game of pain.  And we all felt it when Jozy pulled up, certainly his cup over.  As he chased the long pass, I looked behind me to the large scoreboard which was showing the TV feed, to see if he had room, as he was running to the goal away from me.  I saw enough to know it was bad.  Our emotions sunk.
  • For as large as our contingent was, we were sadly not in good voice.  Despite the efforts of a good many, and though a few chants caught on and were loud, we were quite for long stretches.
  • Soccer is a game of torture.  And this was that.  Ghana had most of the ball.  The action was in right in front of us, but we survived the half.
  • I was not thrilled that Brooks replaced Besler who had been holding his leg late in the half.  Would have really liked to have had Goodson in there.
  • The torture continued and grew in the second half as they relentlessly attacked the goal away from us.  A goal seemingly certain, but they either seemed to blow it or one of our defenders or Tim Howard was able to stop the shot.  My stomach  ached.  None of it was fun.
  • Of course their goal came.  I feared they would add another.  I thought of How Ecuador had led most of the match only to lose to two late goals.  How devastating.
  • Soccer can amaze. A corner for us.  I checked to see if all our defenders had come up.  They had, though Brooks was well back, perhaps 10 yards outside the 18.  I thought to myself, “If you’re going to come up, then COME UP!”
  • And come up did he!  Unleash Heavan!  As our section went crazy in a mass of noise and color, I turned around.  There behind me were two friends, a married couple.  They were simply holding one another, gazing into eyes with a joy and love that was so pure it was only match by the young Brooks’ celebration.
  • Soccer can warm the heart. The way he celebrated make my eyes water whenever I think of it.  So young, so unexpected–he can’t have even thought he would make the team, much less play, and a central defender scoring a goal?  In the World Cup?  To win the match?  For me, this celebration rivals any the passionate Italians have ever put up–including Spain in 1982.
  • No, we didn’t play well.  Yes Ghana probably deserved better but that’s soccer (and we took our chances).  And though we lost one and possibly two important players, did not play well; all we talked about on our two hour drive back to Pipa was that we had three points.  And points are more valuable than limes in Brazil.
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A Moment in a Life

Life is good and sometimes it’s great and then there are those rare days that are simply unforgettable.  Your wedding, the birth of your child, a moment of professional accomplishment.  But who am I kidding, those of us who are either lucky or cursed to have some passionate obsession, particularly with a sport and a team, have our own points in time when our world becomes a big crazy ball of unbridled joy.

There is some quote I’ve seen on facebook or perhaps its a commercial about living for those moments that take your breath away.  Last night not only took my breath, it sucked it into a mass of sensory overload.  Noise of thousands, each pushing their vocal chords to the limit though adding nothing of any consequence or at least anything comprehendable to the din.  The three colors of Old Glory and motion, oh my the motion.  As if we were thrown onto a giant parachute and tossed without mercy.  There was pressure and perhaps even some pain–someone was grabbing my neck, squeezing it.  Suddenly I’m wet and my nose tells me I am soaked with beer that was the only thing that rained on this night. Except for tears and there were more than a few tears.

I have had this moment before.  Twelve years ago in South Korea.  And that moment is as fresh and wonderful to me as last night will surely be decades from now.

Soccer is an interesting thing.  Last night was only one match, the first, in a tournament we have scant hope of winning.  So why the emotion?  Why will this day be marked among my finest?  Surly it has something to do with patriotism or is it nationalism?  I would think the distance, time, cost, and energy spent just to arrive here, has created inside us a pool of raw emotion and hope and expectancy and yearning that is not unlike molten lava that awaits a release and when that is able to erupt, the results are spectacular.  And being with good friends and strangers, but strangers who are wearing the same colors as you and who are not afraid to grab you and squeeze you as if you were family.  To celebrate, to release among fellow fans is what we supporters yearn for.  Last night was with countrymen for countrymen and it was all that we could have hoped.

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Arrivals

I am no longer living alone–three of my friends/apartment mates arrived late last night. They had a rough day of travel that saw a missed connection set them back over five hours. To make matters worse, when we trudged through the pouring rain, just after midnight, we found the electricity off on our block.

As the weary travelers pulled out cell-phone flashlights, the first thing they saw of their new home was a scorpion! I’ve never seen on running free like that and had to wonder if he’d been in my place the whole time or if he was also seeking refuge from the rain.

I’m sitting in a cafe at 9:30 eating some sort of banana pastry and drinking some of the strongest, thickest coffee I can imagine. I guess they didn’t understand me when I asked for leche. My friends are still in bed so I’m alone with my thoughts from the past couple of days.

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When it rains here, it doesn’t play around. Whatever it was that Mexico had during their match, we had it here yesterday. Hard rain, all day.

Have we been transported to 1982 Spain? This is wonderful soccer being played, a joy to watch. Goals galore.

Costa Rica! Wow! I do recall saying they would have something to say in this group and they have. Funny, I had to leave at halftime of that match and Uruguay was up 1-0. Back in my apartment, I heard a huge cheer go up over the city. I assumed Uruguay had gone up 2-0. While walking back to the bar, I came across two guys wearing they sky blue jersey and watching the match. The TV was on a replay so it wasn’t showing the score. I was about to confirm with them it was 2-0, when live play resumed and the 1-2 score popped up! I quickly walked away, glad I had hesitated before asking them.

It looks lie the Van Persie–Van Gaal relationship will work better than the Van Persie–Moyse one.

I was surprised Japan didn’t finish off Ivory Coast, but man, what a difference Drogba makes.

Previously I mentioned that some 17 of my friends have rented a large house, about a 20 minute walk from the center of Pipa. Yesterday I visited them. All I can say is that if this place were transported to the Hollywood Hills, celebrities would fight for the chance to spend millions on it. It is spactular. A large infinity pool sits on the edge of a steep hill, overlooking Pipa and the ocean beyond. The place has no walls, only huge sliding glass doors which are perpetually open.

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It comes with not one, but two cooks who made us an amazing breakfast (fried cheese, fresh fruit, eggs, tapioca rolls, and a few different fruit juices, which they squeezed themselves. I had the lime–crisp and tart.) For lunch there was spaghetti in a homemade Bolognese sauce. On the roof of the place,we played soccer-foursquare.

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Their place it immense, expensive, and a good ways from the bustling center of Pipa. My place is tiny, cheap (@$25 a night), but just of the Main Street, in the heart of the action. Mine also has ants, a smell of mildew, no air conditioning, and three beds (one a pullout couch) for six of us.

I ate dinner last night at Golfinho’s, which has sort of become my home as it is the only place (other than that huge palace on the hill) that has wifi. I ordered a dish that my Word Lens app translated to “Ribs of Ox” but was basically spare ribs. They were served with rice, beans, salsa, and french fries and were more than I could eat.

It is Fathers Day–so have a great one, all you fathers. I miss my wife and kids. That is always a price of traveling without them. I am looking forward to tournaments five or six years into the future when my son will be old enough to make these treks with me.

Have I mentioned I have my suitcase!?!? Yes, Brock, one of the guys staying in the huge place, went to the airport to pickup his family and while there, enquired at the lost luggage desk and voila! I am fresh and ready for this day and tomorrow’s big match.

Well, it looks like the sun is trying to fight through the clouds, it is not raining now so I’m going to go on a bit of a walkabout.

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My Credentials as a Fan

If you’re taking time to read my blog, you may want to know a bit about me and my fandom.  Then again, you may not, but as most blogs serve to boost the ego of said blogger, and this is certainly one of those cases, I’m going to share my US Soccer Fan CV with you.

I am a fan of US Soccer.  While that in no way defines me, it is a good chunk of me.  I attended my first US match in 1992, a thrilling 3-1 win over Ireland.  It was raining and the atmosphere was outstanding.  Actually I saw a Ft Lauderdale Strikers vs Team USA match in the 80’s, but I am told that doesn’t really count.  I have 43 Caps (not counting Olympics, 3; Women’s matches, a decent number; and scrimmages, a couple) and, yes, my friends and I do call them Caps.  We even have a spreadsheet keeping track of all of them and I am nerdy enough to admit that I think that’s pretty cool.  I was at all of the US matches at the World Cups in Korea and Germany as well as the 2003 Confederations Cup in France.  I have also been to every US vs Mexico home qualifier since 1997 (5 in all, including all 4 Dos a Cero’s in Columbus.)  Oh, and I attended the Olympic qualifying matches in Hershey PA leading up to the 2000 Sydney Games.

In the late 90’s and early 00’s, I did a bit of journalism, mostly as an unpaid hobby, for the love of it.  I helped a good friend of mine, Mark Bushman, with his TV show, This Week in Soccer. I was featured on John Dyson’s radio show, The Soccer Show. I also wrote for a few different sites and publications, namely Jimmy LaRue’s On the Sidelines, Andy Mead’s Emerald City Gazette, as well as for Sam’s Army’s website.  At the time I lived in Northern Virginia and attended, with a press pass, nearly all DC United matches and most US matches anywhere in the area.

I wrote the book, 23 Days in Korea:  An American at the World Cup, in which I chronicled my amazing trip to that Cup.  It was there, in Korea, where I met a number of fellow US fans who have become great friends of mine.  My time in Brazil will be spent with many of them.  I am grateful for their friendship, they are like another family to me.  Though I don’t see them very often, we share many memories and hope for more to come.  I am proud of my book, at the time I wrote it I said that doing so was the hardest thing I had ever done.  Looking back at it, there are parts I regret–parts where my writing is awful, there are also some horrible typos, and for some unknown reason, I completely left out a good friend.  However, there are parts of it I really love and when I look back, I am surprised that I wrote certain things, turned some cool phrases.  I am honored when people tell me they have read it.  Once, on a train in France, a guy seated across the aisle from my wife and I stared at me for a few minutes, then reached into his bag and pulled out my book!  Just before the 2006 Cup in Germany, someone I had never met got in touch with me and said he had an extra ticket for an England match and because of the book he wanted me to take me with him (of course I took him up on it!)

I recently was able to scratch an item off the old bucket list as Maxim Magazine featured me in an article about US Fans and the American Outlaws.  In the story the paid me an unbelievable compliment, one that I may have some difficulty living up to.

At the end of the day though, my being a fan isn’t about me, it’s about the team.  I love supporting them during a match.  I honestly believe that in soccer, such a physically demanding sport, that the fans can lift the players.  They do make extra runs and go into tackles harder when they have the support of their fans.  The way I see it, if they are out there busting their ass, it’s the least I can do to stand and sing/shout the whole time.

So that’s what I’m hoping to do in Brazil, lend my voice to that of my countrymen.  To give our all, to leave the stadium as exhausted as the players.  One team, one goal.  And now for me, and hopefully you, one blog.

World Cup 2006 John's Pics 288

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