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June 18, 2014 at 12:59 AM

Nervy night in Natal ends in jubilation for U.S.

BY KURT WEBER

U.S. fans show their colors at the Ghana match. (Photo by Anna Le)

U.S. fans show their colors at the Ghana match. (Photo by Anna Le)

Our hotel lobby is jammed with Americans in full regalia, bedecked in stars and stripes spandex.  Three hours to game time – and we become nervous that our taxi won’t reach the stadium, five miles from our hotel near the beach, in time.  We jump in a shuttle van with other Americans, and set off early.  The energy in the van is both nervous and excited.

If I could have loosened up with some wind sprints, acting as if my own aging legs were ready should Coach Klinsmann need me, I would have.  Instead, we are stuck in traffic, tight in a small van, staring at the red brake lights ahead.

We have an extra pair of tickets to the game to sell as well – our friends couldn’t make the trip to Natal, as planned.  Our efforts on Craigslist and StubHub have proven fruitless.  I sense the $175 face value for our tickets may be wasted.

We hustle out of the shuttle, and land at a nearby outdoor bar and restaurant with several hundred USA fans.  The chants of “USA! USA! USA!” now permeate the air like crickets in a Midwest summer evening.  The laws of Brazil are a bit more lax compared to the US – outdoor beverages are allowed in the streets.  After an hour of holding my extra tickets in the air, I have no takers.

We start our remaining 15 minute walk to the stadium, but are interrupted by a large parade of Ghana fans. Unlike the “USA!” chant, and the “We believe we will win!”, the Ghana fans are actually drumming and singing and dancing with rhythmic vibes – making our own cheers sound simplistic.

At the very last moment, just short of the gates to the stadium, I finally get an offer for our premium tickets – $50/ticket.  That’s after having turned down multiple offers of $15-25.  We take our losses and enter the stadium.

The Natal stadium is brand-new – and striking both in the architecture and efficiency of the stadium.  There doesn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house.  The stadium is regal in the evening lights – and the grass is prepped and ready for an amazing game.

Sounders fans Abby Wiebusch and Megan Cecchini cheer for the U.S. against Ghana. (Photo by Anna Le)

Sounders fans Abby Wiebusch, left, and Megan Cecchini cheer for the U.S. against Ghana. (Photo by Anna Le)

Within the first minute of the game, we feel rain – not from the weather, but raining beer from the fans’ celebration of Clint Dempsey’s ESPY-worthy goal against Ghana.  The remainder of the half, we feel nervous anxiety – only followed by a visible fall in energy when Ghana scores their goal late in the second half.

However, John Brooks’ goal in the 86th minute is met with jubilation unmatched in my experiences – rivaling Seahawks victories over the 49ers, and the Mariners playoff victory with Edgar Martinez’s memorable game-winning hit against the Yankees. Five minutes of injury time – and nail-biting, and the fans can finally truly celebrate without stress in the back of our minds.

After the game, the streets of Natal are alive with excitement – and the bars are packed.  The sun sets at 5:30 p.m. here, and it’s been dark for hours – and the revelry continues late into the night.  The U.S. has won an incredibly important first round game in the World Cup – and the fun is just beginning.

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