Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Natal, as you may have heard, is Portuguese for Christmas. Last night, when the US played Ghana, it sure as hell felt like a holiday.

A great, great night. 

We started the day at a US Soccer Fan Party, where we sat on 
weird furniture, drank heavily, and watched Germany beat the tar out of Portugal. 

(A quick word about Portugal, and Pepe:

My first soccer tournament that I was fully into, as opposed to watching bits of with semi-detached interest, was Euro 2000. That Portugal team, led by Luis Figo, was fantastic. But then, at the end of the second period of extra time in the semi-final against France, defender Abel Xavier conceded a penalty for a breathtakingly obvious handball. Zidane calmly converted, and Portugal were out. 

Despite the incredible transparency of the foul, the Portuguese players were outraged, surrounding the referee with great portent of violence, and leading to two red cards. It was a shameful scene, one that they would repeat almost identically in 2002 when South Korea crashed them out of that tournament.

In the years since, suffice to say that it has become very clear that these were not isolated incidents. Portugal is team exceedingly susceptible to self-destruction. Pepe, meanwhile, is a player whose game is largely based on drawing reactions out of opponents. Yesterday he tried to get one out of Muller, and was duly punished. As far as Pepe, Last of the Old-School Dirtbags, is concerned, a red card in the first half of the first match of the World Cup is nothing less than a fitting tribute. Good riddance.)

At the party, we made friends with a couple from Houston, who lured us by giving out USA temporary tattoos. Though this is also a move employed by child molesters, we trusted them, and made fast friends of these fans of Houston Dynamo.

(There was a guy in an FC Dallas shirt nearby that our Houstonian friend could only barely stop himself from mocking. Internecine squabbles across Texan/MLS lines are truly adorable.)

We took a picture with the US Ambassador to Brazil, who will apparently be at all the US Supporter parties. Of course, I left my card reader at home, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

To the game itself. We were in the upper right corner of your screen, just goal side of the corner tunnel, maybe 15 rows up. Solid view. 

US fans were loud and constant. As soon as one chant died, another started up. Perhaps we were fueled by the shockingly early Dempsey goal, but I doubt it. 

Dempsey goal, of course, led to considerable hugging with strangers. Weirdly, the four seats to our right were empty, so we had plenty of room to pace and go crazy like old people. 

What a goal. Top-drawer stuff.

Altidore injury was and is a massive, massive bummer. We don't get the same video feed as those at home of course, but we did see Jurgen solemnly mutter a curse to himself under his breath. I guess I was touched that it was "Shit." instead of "Scheisse."

Later, the Dempsey injury worried us too, worried us all terribly. When he got up under his own power, the cheer was palpable and real. 

Had very little sense of who was playing well or badly. Geoff Cameron stood out for me as a guy who was stepping up, in a consistently last-ditch way. Definitely felt like Bradley was out-of-synch. 

Besler sub at halftime was a surprise. I hadn't noticed him being hurt, though people around us apparently had. 
Immediately feared Brooks was an exploitable weak link. 

When I went to the USA-Italy game in Kaiserslautern in 2006, I was consistently impressed and surprised by the volume of the US fans. There was never a point where we weren't louder than the Italians. Last night, even sitting next to a tunnel, it felt like we were even louder, that the crowd knew even more what was expected of them. The energy throughout the second half was fantastic.

When Ghana scored, however- THAT was a NOISE. All the neutrals in the stadium exulted, and it was an immediate and impressive roar.

It didn't last, of course.

John Brooks. John fucking Brooks.

There is a fine ESPN Documentary series on the US team that debuted this year. A behind-the-scenes, meet-the-players kind of thing. In Brooks' segment, he shows us the tattoos he has on each elbow. One elbow, he tells us, is a tattoo of Germany with a star on Berlin, the city where he grew up. The other elbow is a tattoo of Illinois, with a star on Chicago, the city of his birth.

He pronounces the first syllable of Chicago with a hard "ch," as in "cheek." Far worse, even to a Chicagoan like myself, is that he pronounces the silent "s" at the end of Illinois.

And this is the guy who scores the goal that saves the US, the first goal scored by a sub in the entire 84-year World Cup history of the United State.

It felt unreal. Like it wasn't happening, even though it was from a corner and right in front of us. We really truly could not believe it, especially coming so soon after the Ghana goal. 

At final whistle I lifted girlfriend by the crotch with my neck and sat her on my shoulders. She apparently failed to take a picture while she was up there, so I dumped her. JK, we're fine. 

Everyone was joyous, but stunned. John Fucking Brooks.

This was my fourth #USMNT match, and my first win. It was my girlfriend's first-ever soccer game, period. I don't know how to tell her that they're not all like this. 

As opposed to Germany 2006, once the match was over you were NOT allowed to walk back into the stadium and buy more beer, which was the joyous discovery after the Italy game. Disappointing. 

Quickly, and unexpectedly, found a van heading back to our neighborhood that had two seats left. Sat next to an old Mexican-American guy, wearing a Mexico jersey and USA tracksuit top, who was drunk and happy as hell. Told me about his time in the Marines, how he saw his time in the Marines as the US providing him the opportunity to make something of himself. It was very sentimental, but he also still made jarhead jokes. He was a happy, happy man.

Soccer, man. Fucking soccer. Merry Christmas. God bless us, every one.

- Brendan Hunt

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