Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pure Footballing Magic



Maybe I wouldn't have slept the night before USA v Belgium anyway, horrible hostel guests or not. Even so, I got up in time to have breakfast and laze around for several hours before the game. By now, I had my game face down pat.



I'd heard some vague rumblings of a meeting in Pelourinho. It seemed like a logical spot, so several hours before the game, I caught a bus in that direction. The Terreiro de Jesus was full of red, white, and blue, but there were plenty of Belgium fans as well, faces painted red and going all out with devil's horns and pitchforks.


Props to this guy for his Thiago Silva jersey. I wanted a Marcelo or David Luiz, but never found a knock-off.


I was sitting around with a Caipirinha in hand, listening to rather than watching Argentina v Switzerland on the tiny TV at a nearby stand, when my curiosity was piqued by drums, getting louder and louder. I went over to investigate and discovered the American Outlaw march kicking off. At first, people were just milling around, laughing, chanting, and snapping pictures. Slowly, we started to move.



We left the Terreiro de Jesus and headed down the street by the Church of the Third Order of Saint Francis. This is when it started getting really cool for me, realizing that here we were, a horde of American soccer fans, marching in Brazil. I Believe That We Will Win and Oh When the Yanks and USA, USA, USA rang out through the cobblestone streets. We had arrived. It was a magic moment - in a foreign country, the part of me that is a fan of this beautiful game felt at home in a way I never had before.





As we got to the narrow street that ran along the side of the church (steep streets tend to be named "Ladeira" - this was one), a bunch of Belgium fans joined us from the other direction. I was nervous for about two seconds, before remembering - these were Belgians, whom I'd yet to see be anything other than good-natured and happy to be there.



As we began to head up another Ladeira, one that I had turned away from a few days before as the neighborhood was decidedly not touristy, locals lined the street, selling drinks, filming the spectacle on their phones, or just cheering us on. Several had US flags or joined in on our chants. I saw one family in which the grandmother had an American flag taped to her parasol, the teenage granddaughter had Belgian colors on her cheeks, and her younger sister wore a Brazil jersey.


Saw this kid and his parents at all the games. He will remember this his entire life, I'm sure!

Owning the "Gringo" and Teddy Goalsevelt.

This Brazilian family was too cute.

And this one!


As we got closer to the stadium, the set-up became a little confusing. While North Gate 2 had direct access from Pelourinho, North Gate 1 was somewhere, vaguely, over... there. I followed the crowd, now down to a trickle, through city streets and up onto an overpass.



Since a lot of the American Outlaws and other US fans had headed home after the group stage, there wasn't really a defined fan section as there had been for the other games. I decided to sit in my actual seat this time (it was pretty good, in the 11th row). Sitting in my section ended up being a mini-reunion of sorts. I saw the guys from Tennessee and California that I'd sat next to in Natal, and the Oregonian couple I'd met in Manaus. 



I also met a couple of guys from New York, who were just as incredulous as I was that this guy thought he could get $20K for tickets in a section where a lot of people *already* had tickets through the finals. It was a mixed group - though there were plenty of American fans, there were just enough locals and impartials to make standing a no-go. One Brazilian couple a few rows back complained loudly whenever all the Americans in front of them jumped to their feet during an exciting play.

The game itself was testy. We'd never quite recovered from the loss of Jozy Altidore, and Klinsmann's defensive tactics for this game didn't help. Tim Howard was a beast and got plenty of TIM-MIE HOW-ARDs yelled after him. (Had no idea he'd had just as many saves as he managed till after the game - a historic number.)

In extra time, Belgium finally managed to put in one, and then another, in quick succession. It had been coming all night - they'd been quite unlucky to not get a goal earlier.  With nothing to lose, Klinsmann finally made the offensive substitution so many of us had been waiting for all night. His choice was Julian Green, a German-American kid whose inclusion over the likes of Landon Donovan had been discussed in numerous articles and sports blogs before the tournament.

And Julian, barely 19, scored on his first touch in a World Cup. We were jubilant, on our feet celebrating. The Brazilian couple cried out, "Sit down!" for the eighty-seventh time that game. I turned around and shouted (in a good-natured tone), "If I wanted to sit down, I would have stayed at home!" People laughed. The couple didn't complain after that, LOL, and we stayed on our feet.

Our lone, late goal wasn't quite enough, but in the end, it was hard to be disappointed. We'd done no worse than in recent tournaments, had made it farther than many of the recent and traditional soccer powers (looking at you, Spain, Italy, and England), and had gone out with a positive nod to the future of our program. And the world had noticed...



And though I'd been to my final game, I still had more of South America to visit...

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