The cost of following the U.S. in Brazil
RECIFE, Brazil -- In the harsh sunlight of the morning after -- as the mists around the Arena Pernambuco fade, and old face paint stains surfaces that are not faces and sheer delirium gives way to dehydration -- there can be no less enjoyable experience than accounting.
For the United States, this tallying can be starkly quantitative: In three games, for instance, this team collected fewer wins (one -- thanks, John Brooks) than busted noses (two -- thanks, Clint Dempsey and now Jermaine Jones). And it can be depressingly qualitative: The most impressive American performance, a 2-2 draw against a depleted Portuguese side, also doubled as the most agonizing by any measure.
But for the people who have survived the Group of Death along with these well-compensated players, trailing the chartered flights of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) from city to city, these calculations are even less forgiving.
Yesterday, in the submerged streets of Recife, you may have seen some of these travelers proceed barefoot, in waters up to their thighs, inviting at least one rat-borne disease -- leptospirosis -- that they have not been vaccinated against. (Many family members and friends of the players opted not to leave their hotels.) You may have seen them sleeping in Brazil's sleepless airports, where the flights run at all hours of the night, using only an American flag as a blanket. You may have seen them watch a game in pools of water, whether it be sweat (as in Manaus) or rain (as in Recife), while you were indoors, air-conditioned and well-fed, watching soccer's Hunger Games in high-definition.
It's all enough to raise a microeconomic question: What in the hell did all of this cost them?
I'd crossed paths with Alex Baumann at the airport in Manaus on Monday, at around 3 a.m., the morning after Portugal punched his cohort in their collective face. Baumann, a 29-year-old cardiovascular sonographer at Weston Diagnostics, is headed home today -- at long last -- to return to work in Orlando, Florida. But before he boarded his noon flight out of Natal, he agreed to share the ledger of his World Cup expedition through Group G.
The American Outlaws -- an unofficial U.S. men's national team supporters group with more than 20,000 members spread over more than 130 chapters -- brought some 500 people to Brazil, of which Baumann was one. (These are the humans you spotted chanting with Teddy Goalsevelt, USSF president Sunil Gulati and Will Ferrell.)
The group had chartered two planes of 250 people each from Houston to Natal (for the win against Ghana), then Natal to Manaus (for the draw with Portugal), then Manaus back to Natal. For the voyage from Natal to Recife (for the loss to Germany), and then Recife back to Natal, they booked bus rides. All of that, which also included a dozen nights spent in shared hotel rooms in Natal -- but not the game tickets or other expenses -- ran $5,400 per person.
But the journey didn't exactly go as planned.
First, Baumann's plane, out of Houston, wound up being smaller than anticipated, meaning that they had to stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to refuel, which resulted in a two-hour layover on top of that.
Next, before the Portugal game, the buses to the airport in Natal were delayed from 1:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. because it turned out that the drivers were still sleeping when they were scheduled to arrive. The plane to Manaus wouldn't take off until 11:30 a.m.
Then -- after the aforementioned collective face-punch in the jungle, on the way back to the airport that same night, with everybody 100-percent unshowered after sweating in almost 90 percent humidity -- their scheduled 1 a.m. flight was pushed back to 7 a.m. After checking in at 10 p.m., with no hotel rooms, Baumann's sect of Outlaws suddenly had, oh, nine hours to kill. Which is when I ran into them.
"After a few hours, as you saw, it looked like old war photos, with lifeless bodies lying throughout the airport," Baumann recalls. So he went to the top floor in an attempt to escape the noise of a nocturnally active terminal and rest -- he is professionally familiar with the rhythms of the heart, after all -- only to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. "My previously applied DEET," Baumann says, "was no match." At some point, he heard that a few people tried to bathroom-shower using hand soap.
But the nightmare wasn't over. At around 6:30 a.m., after lining up to board, his group was then informed that the flight crew still hadn't arrived, thereby bumping the estimated departure to 8 a.m. Come 10 a.m., they still didn't have a plane. Finally, after allegations that fuel hadn't been paid for, and fears from the airport that the American Outlaws were going to riot, resulting in increased security around them, all the paperwork was apparently in order. They boarded -- and the plane took off at 12:30 p.m.
Baumann had spent more than 14 hours in tiny Eduardo Gomes International Airport in the Amazon, where, at least when I passed through, a lone television was airing a dubbed-over episode of "Wizards of Waverly Place." Meanwhile, he'd learn, Plane One was back at their hotel by the time they boarded.
U.S. INTO THE ROUND OF 16
- Doug McIntyre: Battered, bruised, through
- Jeff Carlisle: U.S. grades
- Chris Jones: U.S. ride their luck
- Klinsmann: "Now we really get started"
- Will the perception of U.S. soccer change?
- Tactics Board: Organized U.S. restrict Germany
- Social media: Reaction to U.S. progress
So compared to all that, yesterday's buses, albeit through the massive congestion and floodwaters of Natal, was smooth sailing. "Most everyone slept the five hours," Baumann says. Given all the hacking and coughing from his fellow passengers on that Manaus-to-Natal flight, though, it did sound "like we all have the black lung."
Adding up all the legs of their Brazilian odyssey, Baumann calculates that he and some 250 others -- his Plane Two brethren -- ultimately spent between 44 and 48 hours in airports or waiting for transportation of some kind. Including the game tickets and other expenses (food, disinfectant and bar soap among them) -- not to mention the yellow fever and Hepatitis A immunizations beforehand -- the total cost will run him somewhere around a cool $8,000.
But Baumann, on behalf of his compatriots, does want to make two things clear on this morning after the Group of Death.
First: None of them blames the Outlaws or their co-founder, Korey Donahoo, who traveled with them on Plane Two. "Korey and those guys look like they're taking it harder than anyone," Baumann says. (Most of the outrage has been reserved for their travel agency.)
And second: Today, because their country played a game that will be recorded as a loss but felt like a win, a whole airport worth of people is smiling. Still.
"I've heard it over and over again," Baumann says. "'It was all worth it. We're through.'"