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Jun 17, 2014

The United States are in like Clint

The ESPN World Cup crew discuss U.S. injuries and what Klinsmann will do if Jozy Altidore cannot play.

ESPN FC columnist David Hirshey and Roger Director, an Emmy-nominated writer/producer, are blogging about their misadventures in Salvador, Brazil, during the first round of the World Cup. Pray for them.

After four caipirinha-laced days of navigating the less-than-user-friendly transportation system of Salvador, we had finally figured out two vital maxims for the best viewing of the World Cup.

1. Take whatever time they say is required to get somewhere, multiply it by 10 and leave two hours before that. That way you can be sure to get there by the second half.

2. Learn these simple but vital phrases to use when the writhing mass of flesh in the fan zone squeezes so hard it threatens to stop your blood flow: "I am a friend of Pele's cousin, please let me through," and if that doesn't work, "This is a picture of me with Pele's cousin, I really have to pee."

Salvador's fan zone doesn't disappoint, though the crush of fans from all countries slows you down.
Salvador's fan zone doesn't disappoint, though the crush of fans from all countries slows you down.

Even better is when you are actually with Pele's cousin -- and we were. Our platoon leader, Wilson Egidio, a Brazilian who has coached in the U.S. for the last 20 years, knew all the angles, every shortcut and every possible way in and out. One wrong turn in this madness could result in us being un-tethered from him and falling to our doom like a couple of mountaineers swept off an icy cliff face because they hadn't paid attention to their guide. Our sherpa, Wilson, had cautioned us time and again in the essential safety measures we needed to take here, which boil down to: don't drink and walk.

And now our resolve -- and every other bond that held us together, including every bit of ingenuity we had (well, we had some, anyway) -- was put to the test.

A giant white truck, the size of one of those mega-machines you might see on the Discovery Network, abruptly began rolling toward us. It cleaved the mob and all of a sudden, we looked up and Wilson was nowhere to be seen.

On top of the truck a blond Brazilian version of Katy Perry was singing at the top of her lungs, but unfortunately, we couldn't hear a thing. The massive truck carried a skirt of giant speakers as it made its way through a tight alley and into the fan zone plaza. We were squeezed to near-death between the truck and the narrow alley's walls while the bass rumble cannonaded directly into our ears. The decibel level threatened to rupture everything from our eardrums down to our flip-flops. Nevertheless, we plunged ahead. We made it past that truck. We were deaf, but at least we were in the fan zone.

Thousands of fans were there to view the U.S.-Ghana game, and after braving total hearing loss and, finding a square meter of space among them, we realized we might not be alone rooting for Uncle Sam, but we were outnumbered like Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games."

As one Brazilian next to us, who gave his name as Juan-Pablo, put it: "The U.S. is a dog that Ghana will kick to the curb."

Watching the U.S. wrestle Ghana was made more nerve-wracking following Germany's comprehensive win that afternoon.
Watching the U.S. wrestle Ghana was made more nerve-wracking following Germany's comprehensive win that afternoon.

The one of us who was nicknamed "Woody" because he had been mistaken twice already that day for the superbly talented filmmaker and wit of historic achievement, Woody Allen, thought to capitalize on this mistaken identity by turning to the woman at his right, ready to promise her a big Hollywood career. It should be noted that she was dressed in a Brazilian jersey and very little else. When Woody asked her where her loyalties lay, she looked at him and somehow seemed able to make him for an American impostor. Maybe it was his red-white-and-blue fanny pack that gave him away, but he took the dismissive wave of her hand as a hint that she would not be twerking with him in celebration of any U.S. victory.

Finally, your other humble correspondent, The Mustachio-ed One (TMO) glimpsed what he was convinced was a possible ally. The guy was dressed in a Mesut Ozil Arsenal jersey. TMO was sporting his own Gunners crest, gave our friend the thumbs-up and approached, saying, "Good to see a fellow Gooner here." The German clearly had been celebrating his team's 4-0 romp over the Invisible Cristiano Ronaldo and his Nine Throne Bearers (minus Pepe, the notoriously dirty defender, who crumbled to bits under the weight of Ronaldo's ego and his own idiocy).

"Ja, Arsenal," the man slurred as the ref blew the whistle for kickoff. "nicht U.S."

Thirty seconds later, Clint Dempsey shut the fan zone up -- except for the pockets of screaming, jumping, fist-pumping Americans and those few who supported us from the rest of the world.

The next 80-odd minutes were emblematic of the entire day so far -- gut-wrenching, knuckle-gnawing agita.

GhanaGhana
United StatesUnited States
1
2
FT
Match 14
Game Details

Speaking of which, wasn't it bad enough that we had watched the merciless plundering of Portugal by Die Mannschaft run riot? It's not as if we can't appreciate the implacable and skillful style of the German juggernaut; rather, we prefer a more joyful and free-wheeling brand of soccer that every other team seems to play. OK, so we're not big fans of Germany.

And of course we happened to be sitting in a predominantly German section five rows up and near midfield. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her way to her box, the guys in front of us rose and faced her, bowing and calling out "Angie ... Angie ..." as if they had just spotted the savior of Western civilization.

The fans roared "Deutschland ... Deutschland!" after every goal. And between goals. We were stuck in the middle of 40,000 Deutschland-screaming Germans. Let's put it this way: It's not what we came to Brazil for.

The happy masses in Salvador who watched the U.S. steal victory from Ghana.
The happy masses in Salvador who watched the U.S. steal victory from Ghana.

The only one of us getting any satisfaction from the German onslaught was Wilson. He began yelling the same phrase at Ronaldo that he had hollered at Diego Costa, Spain's divisive Brazilian-born striker. Two words. The first is the player's name and the second can't be translated. But trust us, it's not nice.

"Yes, he is a very good player, but with Ronaldo it's always about him," Wilson said, explaining his distaste for the 2014 World Player of the Year. "He has to be the center of attention every second of his life."

As a final insult, we got wrapped in the German flag. It was right after Thomas Muller's last goal. With no warning, amid all the chanting of "Deutschland ... Deutschland," a gigantic black, white and red tarp was unfurled behind us and billowed over our heads. All went dark for a second. We had to claw and fight to extricate ourselves from the cloth deathtrap and breathe free air.

We thought the Dempsey goal put all that panic and pain behind us. But here we were, our guts roiling all over again as the Americans fought for their group-stage lives. It was anguish. But when, in the 86th minute, substitute defender John Brooks made the kind of leap for mankind that only Neil Armstrong ever did and headed in the winning goal, we hollered "USA!" louder than the speakers on that dumb white truck.

The fan zone emptied quickly after the game was over; only a few Americans lingered to revel in the moment. On the way out, we came upon our German friend. His face was redder than the Arsenal jersey he was wearing. We couldn't be sure whether he could hear us but he was at least half-sentient, clearly, because he was holding himself up against a pole.

We rushed over to give our friend a helping hand. But before we did, there was one message we had to deliver: "Ja, U.S., baby. Nicht Germany!"