Sports - Pro

Jun 29, 2014 10:00 AM by Posted by Greg Smith

An extreme case of soccer fever

The only road from the hotels and beaches of Recife's Boa Viagem to the Arena Pernambuco was under a foot of water the morning USA faced Germany. Locals spoke in hushed tones of having to postpone the game because of lashing rains and flash floods, but American fans were having none of it.

They left early for the mid-day kick-off, packing buses, piling into cars and bundling en masse aboard the city's metro. They cheered and chanted the whole way, a long way. Some wore red, white and blue bikinis, others dressed as former presidents back from the dead to support the Stars and Stripes at the FIFA World CupTM in Brazil.

By kick-off time, the stands were full and the spirit of the soaked supporters was hardly even dampened. "Even on a day like this, in the driving wind and rain of Recife, Brazil, we had a full stadium cheering for us," Michael Bradley, midfielder and veteran of three FIFA World Cups, told FIFA.com after a narrow loss to Germany put them through to the knockout stages. "Those who've come here give us such a tremendous push. And the ones back home paying attention, they're making us feel incredible."

Huge travelling party
American residents purchased more than 200,000 match tickets and they've travelled to Brazil in huge numbers to support Jurgen Klinsmann's men. The team have a gruelling travel schedule, logging nearly 14,000 air miles between Natal in the north, Manaus in the Amazon basin, Recife, and back to their base camp in Sao Paulo. But no matter where they've played, USA fans have been in the stands massed in huge banks. It will be no different on Tuesday in Salvador when they meet Belgium in the Round of 16.

TV figures have been through the roof back home. The buzz around this youthful and effervescent American team is infectious. "Amazing is the word for what's going on back home. We're seeing images of it. Friends are sending us videos and we're seeing it all on social media," said Tim Howard, the American goalkeeper who's putting in heroic performances in Brazil. "All the bars are packed and people are missing work and all that kind of crazy stuff."

The USA is a country where the world's game has had trouble finding a foothold. Baseball, gridiron and basketball traditionally hold sway. But many see the 2014 finals here in Brazil as a turning point. From New York City to LA, through three time zones, American fans are turning their attention to the global party in numbers previously unimaginable. More than 25 million television viewers tuned in for the 2-2 draw with Portugal, a bigger audience than the baseball World Series or NBA championship.

Americans are slipping away from work. Bosses are turning a blind eye and lunch breaks are being extended. The Wall Street stock exchange report slowed trading during the match against Germany. All because Americans are suddenly mad about the world's game, the vast majority just enjoying the world's biggest festival.

Executive approval
President Barack Obama was photographed watching the USA-Germany game aboard Air Force One and was said to gasp when the States went close to equalising in the closing moments. "We could not be prouder of them. They are defying the odds and earned a lot of believers in the process," the president remarked.

"People that never paid any attention to soccer are all of a sudden into it and wearing USA jerseys," said midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who is getting his first taste of the FIFA World Cup at age 32. "We're seeing it all happen in real time and it's crazy. It's a great time in America for soccer and we just want to keep it going for as long as we can."

DaMarcus Beasley is the most experienced player in the team. Playing in his fourth FIFA World Cup, the speedy wide-man is in a perfect position to judge this new level of enthusiasm. "We've outnumbered any other fans of the teams we've played against," he said. "They've travelled from long distances to watch us play. It's only going to get better if we keep doing what we're doing."

 

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