BY KURT WEBER
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.
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.