Gameday. Portugal. 'Merica.
10:00am. The alarm goes off and everyone jolts awake with purpose. T-minus eight hours to gametime.
The anticipation in our room was palpable. Dustin was quieter than normal, and I could tell he was getting focused and ready. We moved with a speed unlike our normal morning-selves.
We donned our jerseys, our bandanas, our warpaint and headed out the door.
We took a bus to a small square near the stadium called “Eldorado,” which Cayo had recommended. We met a trio of Brits on our bus ride who ended up folding into our party and had painted American flags on their cheeks by the time we were done with ‘em.
Eldorado Square is basically six bars facing one another with a square in the middle. There was already a strong contingency of Americans there when we arrived just after noon. Everyone was in a great mood and the party was starting to ramp up. Over the course of the next few hours, the square became overrun with Yanks, and it was glorious. The bar we had chosen had set up a speaker system and had started playing some American music. After 15 or so minutes of music, I walked up to the DJ to request some Beyoncé (just for you Keithy and Reils) at which point in time he told me in broken English that he didn’t have any, but he had an auxiliary cord that I could use to control the music.
I will readily admit what you are about to read might seem embellished, but this is a 100 percent true and accurate retelling of what happened next:
First off, little did this Brazilian DJ know I was now assuming control of the party henceforth as the American DJ / party leader. I controlled the entire mood of the party for the next three hours. I didn’t have the music I wanted on iTunes, so I had to use my international data plan to stream it from Spotify. I was chewing through data faster than I could drink cheap beer, but I kept telling myself America needed it. Our party needed my music more than I needed my data so I sacrificed it willingly on the altar of ‘Merica.
Dustin kept getting nervous about what song was going to come next. The party was steadily building, thanks in part to the music, and he was terrified I was going to swing and miss and kill the mood — I did not fail him. It was standard hip-hop or EDM stuff early on just to get people dancing and ready to party. Then it transitioned into a more gametime atmosphere as I went into “Welcome to the Jungle” (fittingly), “Thunderstruck,” “Eye of the Tiger,” “We Will Rock You,” etc. Then we went into the American songs, like “Born in the USA,” etc. Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” was also a smash hit among the attendees. People started realizing that I was the one controlling all the music and numerous people came up to tell me how much they loved my playlist. There was a dance-off between me and some Portugal fans (which I won naturally because Americans outnumbered Portuguese 20-1 at this square so the cheering went my direction by default). There were people in American costumes all over the place. I felt like I was at a redneck Fourth of July combined with Memorial Day pumped full of steroids and high on speed. The sheer love for America present within our merry band of fans was visually overwhelming. But, instead of it being comical or downright embarrassing, it was a sight to behold. I had never been to a USMNT game before and the amount of support here in Manaus made me proud to be part of the American Outlaws.
After the pump-up songs came the sung American soccer songs led mostly by Dustin with the hundreds of people in the square responding to his, John’s, Annie’s and my prompts. Then we went back into some pump-up jams before Dustin took control of the microphone to instruct everyone on our plans. We were going to start our march to the stadium at 4:30, and everyone just assumed Dustin was in command of the group and followed.
We started marching to the stadium with John, Annie, myself and Dustin at the vanguard of the entire column. There were hundreds of diehard American soccer fans following our lead all the way to the stadium. We prompted which songs to sing; we set the pace of the walk; we led the entire procession for the 25-minute walk from Eldorado to the stadium. It was like leading an army into battle Braveheart-style. We kept looking at one another to see if this was real life and simply had to shrug and keep on marching.
Once we got to the stadium, everyone scattered according to his or her seating arrangements, but it was a surreal afternoon. The four of us had led the entire USA pregame party from 1pm onward until the game. It could not have been a more fun afternoon and we hadn’t even gotten to the main event yet.
Once we got inside, the gravity of the situation finally hit me with full force — I was about to watch my favorite team in my favorite sporting event live. When the boys ran out onto the field, the cheers were deafening. My heart started beating faster and faster as I began to psyche myself out.
This was real. It was actually happening.
As far as what happened in the game, I’m sure if you’re reading this you already know. I’m not going to go through what every moment was like from within the game because it would take forever and you can watch it for yourself. There is one thing I do want to discuss though:
As someone who has been to countless sporting events, I can definitively say there is no moment in sport sweeter than your team scoring a goal in the World Cup. They’re incredibly difficult to come by and they can take 10 minutes to set up or can come on a lucky (or unlucky) bounce in a matter of seconds. Nothing can deflate you more than when your team gives one up; nothing will replace that with elation faster than when you score one. And, the celebration is unlike anything else.
For most goals that are scored, there is a build up as you start to realize your team might put one in the net. Far more times than not, you end up disappointed, but when that anticipation builds and is answered with a goal? Sheer pandemonium.
If you’re in the stadium when your team scores a goal, especially if it’s significant to the situation, be prepared for pain. This isn’t American football where everyone high fives and commences to watching the game again. This is a full contact sport unto itself. You will be drenched in beer, water or whatever else the people around have in their cups when the goal happens — doesn’t matter what it is, it’s going to get launched up into the air or sprayed downward as the cups are knocked out of everyone’s hands. Then comes the aggressive hugging and jumping. Random people will just hold your head to their chests for extended periods of time. Your friends will outright jump on you. It’s like a rugby scrum except everyone loves everyone else. You can’t hear what the hell is happening and you sort of black out for a minute or two from unadulterated elation. When you hug other people, it’s not done with love; you’re trying to squeeze the life out of them because you’re so happy. Your sunglasses will go flying and will very likely break. Your clothes will become stained with face paint from random strangers.
It is raucous. It is rowdy. It is bliss.
Our seats were right behind the goal that we were shooting on in the second half, so when we scored the tying goal and the go ahead goal, it was right in front of us. The only specific moment I want to mention is funny mostly for anyone who has watched a sporting event with me. One of our friends from the pregame party was standing with us even though his seat was on the other side of the stadium. We just packed everyone we knew into our section with us because no one was going to be sitting down at any point in the game anyway. Right before a corner kick, I turned to our new friend and said, “I have a feeling… switch places with me.” The corner kick was crap but then Jermaine Jones BURIED a shot in the net from the top of the box. It was an absolute thing of beauty. My new friend looked at me as if I was a voodoo sorcerer. For a couple of seconds his face hardly registered anything other than complete shock and awe; then he remembered we just scored and The Celebration was on.
The game ended on the most devastating and deflating 30 seconds of my sports fandom. I know it wasn’t a loss, but the stadium was building toward a fever pitch as our victory and passage into the knockout round seemed assured. We had outplayed Portugal all night, and we had earned this victory. Everyone was watching the clock, counting down the seconds until the melee. This was going to be a night of legends.
And then, in the words of my father, that “self satisfied little fuck” Christiano Ronaldo ruined everything. He ruined the game, and he ruined our night. Instead of jubilation there was utter disbelief. Instead of a party to talk about for the rest of my life, we were deflated, sad and went home early. The four of us had poured every single ounce of our heart and soul into this game. From orchestrating the pregame, to leading the procession to the stadium, to leading the cheers within the largest pro-American section, Dustin, John, Annie and I had given everything we had in sacrifice to the futbol Gods and Christiano fucking Ronaldo stole our victory. We had lost our voices and our bodies hurt from The Celebration. We had been sweating for 12 hours in the oppressive jungle heat, just sweating buckets into our clothes. But it hadn’t mattered until Christiano screwed everything up. It was 30 seconds away from being an honest-to-God Moby Dick slaying, unicorn riding over a rainbow to find a pot of gold kind of perfect day. Every single thing about the day had been perfect and in 30 miserable seconds, the last quarter of the day was now worthless. I have never been so emotionally drained in my life. To be on the edge of perfection and have it crashing down with 30 seconds to go in the game was heartbreaking. I know I take sports too seriously, but this was a feeling I have never experienced before. It was like the play where Arkansas lost the Sugar Bowl in the last seconds of the game in 2010 multiplied by 25.
Futbol is a cruel mistress, and we had to experience that with full on, tsunami-scale force. If we lose to Germany and Ghana or Portugal advances in our place, it will go down as the worst 30 seconds of my sporting life. If we draw or beat Germany and move through onto the group stage, it might not end up mattering (other than our seeding, but whatever). I’m on a plane to Recife right now and in two days, World War III will decide our 2014 World Cup lives.
I don’t know if my mind or body can handle it. I cannot wait.