Traveling to and from Manaus is, even in the best of times, a challenge. Manaus’ raison d'être is its usefulness as a port city in the middle of the Amazon jungle; it boomed in the early 20th century as a distribution point for a growing rubber industry and now has a population around two million. It’s very literally only accessible by plane or boat, there are no roads and the stadium was constructed at huge cost using only materials that could be delivered in either of the two aforementioned ways.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best of times. This was the World Cup, and so the travel was a nightmare. I’ll spare you the gory details, as I suspect travel horror stories are just as boring for the listener as fantasy sports stories and fishing tales. The basics, though: answering a 1:30 AM wakeup call for a 9 AM Natal-to-Manaus flight, getting to the airport at 9 PM for a 5 AM Manaus-to Natal departure. We were the lucky ones; the trip has been split into two planes, creatively named Plane 1 and Plane 2. I’m on Plane 1, the Plane 2 prisoners left at 12 PM and 2 PM respectively for the above planes. This means they spent roughly 24 hours waiting in airports. Cue the sad trombone.
Once arriving, we were taken on a Manaus city tour by bus. Our tour guide, Marlon, largely passed the time by sharing local Manausian jokes. The best one: “When you do wrong on Earth, where do you go? You go to hell. When you do wrong in hell, where do you go? You go to Manaus.”
Manaus splits time between the seasons of “undesirably hot” and “egg-cooking-on-concrete hot”. Luckily we were still in the former stage, yet it was still over 100 degrees and over 80 percent humidity during the pre-match party. The game, mercifully, was at night, because the temperature was raised by the more than 40,000 spectators at the match.
It’s really difficult to objectively describe a USMNT match as when attended with the American Outlaws. The problem is that every minute contains an emotion raised to the millionth power. Faith: The “I Believe That We Will Win” chant, one so powerful and catchy Brazilians have asked me multiple times to teach them the words. Competitiveness: Every time the Portugal fans tried to get a chant going, AO made their best effort to drown it out with one of their own (I’m not sure how effective it was on TV, but it was extremely powerful from within that end of the stadium). Elation: Both U.S. goals, one to get the draw for the US and one to get the win. Despair: Allowing the Portuguese to score the latest goal in regulation in World Cup history.
After that, we were bussed to the airport. At about 1 AM, I wandered around and found several hundred USMNT fans passed out, sleeping on the tile floors. The Amazon had exhausted us all.
Sports are great because they’re proxies of the human condition, compressed into two to three hour blocks. Yesterday’s match against Portugal was one of the greatest examples of that in US history, and the American Outlaws experience just magnified it even more. I’m so lucky to be here.
It’s all becoming a little bit routine, isn’t it?
Nearly every single time RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman steps onto the field for the U.S. Men’s National Team, he turns in a workmanlike, stable and – ultimately impressive – performance.
Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Portugal was no exception, with Beckerman starting and playing the full 90 against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. As always, Beckerman was solid tactically, positioning himself expertly and providing plenty of solid cover in front of the American backline. His four interceptions were second only to center back Matt Besler’s five and his two clearances were tied for fourth overall and tied for first among U.S. midfielders.
The defensive midfielder was also solid in possession, completing 53 of 58 passes, good for a 90 percent completion rate. Beckerman’s 53 successful passes were second on the team to fellow midfielder Michael Bradley and his 90 percent success rate was fourth on the squad on Sunday.
Most importantly, Beckerman gave the U.S. a victory in the critical “Midfield Battle for Hair Dominance” on Sunday, crushing Portugal’s mohawked midfielder Raul Meireles in the tackle and in the tresses.
As always, the Men In Blazers have more:
Beckerman and the U.S. will return to action on Thursday, taking on Germany at 10 a.m. MT with their Round of 16 hopes on the line.
One of our favorite parts of John Brooks’ game-winning goal for the U.S. last night was the celebration.
No, we’re not talking about Brooks’ celebration – though his weird, I don’t know what to do with myself so I’m just gonna go lie down over here thing was pretty good. We’re talking about Jurgen Klinsmann and Nick Rimando’s hug on the bench.
10 out of 10, dudes. Robin van Persie and Louis van Gaal could learn a couple of things from you two.
RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar had our favorite quote about the celebration.
— Heath Waddingham (@RSLTotalMLS) June 17, 2014
Nick had a really nice follow-up tweet, too. Just really well done all around. Bravo.
— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) June 17, 2014
RSL and USMNT goalkeeper and Southern California native Nick Rimando got a little bit of love from one of the biggest stars in baseball on Friday, as LA Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig donned The Wall of the Wasatch’s U.S. shirt for a TwitPic.
— yasielpuig (@YasielPuig) June 13, 2014
A Cuban defector, Puig is killing it for the Dodgers this year, sitting near the top of MLB in several major statistical categories. We won’t question his judgment too much – he is one of the most electric players in baseball – but he might want to take that Rimando shirt a size up. Smedium’s totally played out.
Rimando, RSL teammate Kyle Beckerman and the rest of the U.S. squad will begin their World Cup on Monday, taking on Ghana in a critical Group G match at 4:00 p.m. MT on ESPN. Check out our #RSLBrazil section for front-to-back coverage of that match as well as the rest of the World Cup.
Think RSL players are feeling the World Cup?
Watch the Claret-and-Cobalt's Colombian forward Olmes Garcia and Colombian-American midfielder Sebastian Velasquez celebrate their country's second goal in today's Group C match against Greece. Video courtesy of RSL Ecuadorian forward Joao Plata's Instagram account.
Garcia, Velasquez, Plata and the rest of the RSL squad will be in action tonight, taking on the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks in U.S. Open Cup play at 6 p.m. MT at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. Watch a live stream of the match right here on RealSaltLake.com.
Bone up on the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with the first video in this year's Soccer Smarts with Professor Leo World Cup series.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert got in on the World Cup prognosticating this week, providing some insight for The Shin Guardian’s fantastically thorough U.S.-Ghana preview.
Here’s Wingert on how the U.S. should look to start the game against the Black Stars:
“I would say the US has to stay disciplined. Our chances will come if we stay patient and defend well–similar to the game against Nigeria. If we get involved in a track meet early and don’t defend with numbers, I think we’ll get exposed.”
And here’s the RSL left back on what to watch when the U.S. is defending set pieces:
“In the game against Nigeria the US looked to have a few guys playing zone defense on Nigeria’s corner kicks. Personally, I’m not a big fan of playing zone when defending set pieces. It allows the attackers to get a free run at the ball since nobody is responsible for impeding these runs. If you have a great ball-winner in the air (maybe like an Omar Gonzalez) then it might be smart to leave him free and let him hunt the ball. All the other attackers should be accounted for with individual defenders in my opinion.”
Be sure to check out The Shin Guardian’s entire preview here. Read it, you’ll learn something.
Really cool illustration work by Devin Dulany for Howler magazine's online piece on RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman and USMNT teammate Jermaine Jones.
Entitled "Our Dreaded Midfield" and written by Mike McCall, the piece details how - after years of being viewed as fighting for one spot in the starting lineup - Beckerman and Jones just might team up together in Jurgen Klinsmann's XI in Brazil.
It's a really nice read; certainly worth the time for all you Beckerman fans out there. Here's the money quote, given by Klinsmann after he started both Beckerman and Jones in the midfield in the U.S.'s 2-1 win over Nigeria on Saturday:
“I saw a lot of work that they did, tremendous cleaning up all over the place,” Klinsmann said in his post-match press conference. “We know Kyle, and that’s his specialty, to protect his teammates and run endless miles for the team. Jermaine in that half position has more freedom to go forward so he can kind of switch back and forth with Michael Bradley, and he knows that there’s someone behind him there, so ‘If I lose the ball in my run, Kyle is going to clean up for me.’ It worked out really well.”
U.S. Soccer has released another series of videos, this time providing short highlight clips of for every player on the U.S. World Cup roster. With the big event kicking off tomorrow, get even more hyped by checking out some of Beckerman and Rimando’s best plays for the USMNT. You can find all 23 videos here.