2014 FIFA World Cup

Independence Day by Ian Hameroff

You remember that Will Smith movie from a long time back? You know, the one where he punched an alien and uttered the witty line "Welcome to earth"?


Now, do you remember that scene when those pesky invading aliens floated their giant spacecraft over the US capitol, fired a powerful death ray of some sorts and destroyed the White House?


That's exactly how I felt after the USA lost that heartbreaking match against the Red Devils a few days ago.

If I carry this silly analogy forward, does that mean Tim Howard was playing a version of Will Smith's character, Captain Steven Hiller?

Granted, Timmy wasn't able to "blow up" the Belgium mothership at the end of the match nor did he have the chance to deliver any witty lines. He did, however, keep the USA alive in that unforgiving onslaught of Belgium shots at goals, saving a record 16 in all.

Now, who would be his Jeff Goldblum sidekick?

Would it be Geoff Cameron?

Geoff vs. Jeff: Separated at birth?

Geoff vs. Jeff: Separated at birth?


Okay, never mind.

To make a long story, short: I was really bummed by the exit the US made, especially when we had a few (albeit a small few) chances to score our own goals and we missed the opportunity.

Case in point, Wondo's missed "golden goal" attempt in stoppage time:

Not "Wondo-ful": Biggest miss in USMNT World Cup history?

Not "Wondo-ful": Biggest miss in USMNT World Cup history?

Well, at this point I'm over my mourning period as I need to get ready to support my ass off for my beloved (and MLS table toppers) Seattle Sounders FC, as they attempt to go for the domestic treble of U.S. Open Cup, Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup.

Oh, and thanks to my dual-soccer-citizenship, I have the honor and luxury of still having a horse in this race with Brazil.

Well, the horns are a blowing and (I'm sure) the streets will be alive over the next several hours as the city of São Paulo prepares for the big match in a few hours time.

Brasil flag all lit up!

Brasil flag all lit up!

Vai Brasil! And, GO USA (in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup)!

What Does 6,896 Miles Look Like? by Ian Hameroff

Yes, we are just hours away from our first (of many!) elimination round matches.

The start of the #USAvBEL match cannot come any sooner.

I am ready!

I believe!

One Nation. One Team.

And, I have lots of (remote) work to do today and the Argentina vs. Switzerland match to keep me distracted until the 17:00 (or 5:00 pm) local time kick-off of the USA bout.

So, to keep me focused (and before I dive into my next major work item), I thought I share the amount of flying we did to catch all three USA group stage matches these past two weeks.

As many of you have likely read, Team USA endured the worst travel schedule of any of the teams in the World Cup. From their base of operations in São Paulo to the three cities in the north, the USMNT tallied about 8,900 miles. Interestingly, our opponent for the match later today earned the honor of traveling the least amount for the group stage.

Maura and I came fairly close to equaling this long distance achievement (we did not have the "luxury" of flying back to São Paulo after each match, like the USMNT did), racking up nearly 6,900 air miles on our own journey through the first phase of the FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil.

Our travels during the Group Stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals

Our travels during the Group Stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals

I can actually feel the physical toll and impact of multi-legged journey to Natal, Manaus and Recife.

Here are our vital stats:

Leg 1
São Paulo to Brasilia - 540 miles
Brasilia to Natal - 1,099 miles

Leg 2
Natal to Manaus - 1,721 miles

Leg 3
Manaus to Brasilia - 1,208 miles
Brasilia to Recife - 1,027 miles

Leg 4
Recife to São Paulo - 1,301 miles

For a grand total of 6,896 miles!

We actually flew more air miles than Team Belgium did to get from their home nation to their camp in São Paulo state (approximately 6,000 miles).

Yeah, it was brutal, but so worth it!

And, I think we would have made the trip up north to Salvador for today's match if we both weren't swamped with work and just completely wiped.

Nevertheless, I'm hopeful our big investment will have more than a little impact on the team's performance later today...where we will make waffles out of them Belgium!


Soaker Bowl (Or, How I Learned to Survive Recife) by Ian Hameroff

Fret not, kind and loyal blog follower.

I have not succumb to an unexpected landslide or samba party.

I am still alive and well, and partaking in the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals here in Brazil.

Oddly, I'm now back at a location with very reliable Internet connectivity (yay São Paulo!), yet I have not used this bandwidth to post a single update. Flashback to just a few days prior--while we were on the road following the US Men's National Team around the group stage leg of the World Cup--and you would have found me trying to fashion a tinfoil rabbit ears aerial to get the equivalent of a 300 baud modem's worth of access to the "tubes".

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Abundance makes you care less, I guess.

Speaking of flashbacks, as I last shared our time in Recife was quite nuts. And, I'm not just referring to the drama we had upon our arrival.

After (re)securing our basic human need for shelter, we turned our attention to getting ready for the third and final match versus Die Mannschaft.

Recife made things way more challenging than the previous two locations. This was mostly due to the fact the stadium (Arena Pernambuco) is located about 20 km from our hotel in Boa Viagem (and pretty much all of Recife). Unlike Natal or Manaus, where the arenas were effectively in the middle of the city, Arena Pernambuco was in the middle of nowhere. It's not even located within the city of Recife, but instead a place called São Lourenço da Mata.

In the end, we didn't feel too troubled by this little quirk of this large host city. Maura had secured us two spots on a hotel shuttle van during the craziness of solving our hotel reservation woes. A side benefit of standing right next to the hotel staff for more than hour while they worked out how to get our reservation resurrected.

What did trouble us was the friggin' monsoon that slammed into this city in the northeast of Brazil.

"Epic" was used to describe the insane amount of rain that was falling overnight and all through the match on June 26th.

All night, the windows in our "semi-classy" hotel rattled from never-ending abuse and torment of wind and rain. It didn't make for a very restful sleep and it was compounded by the fact we needed to get up and at 'em early to ensure we made the shuttle van. They front desk changed our departure time to even earlier to account for the flooding and horrific road conditions this rainstorm was causing to areas in and around Recife.

9:30 am we go; come hell or high water.

A few folks asked me (after they learned we survived the epic journey) if the media was overhyping the situation. As your humble "on the ground" reporter, I can confidently say, "NOOOOO WAY!"

Here's a little video of our time in the van (and not on a boat, mind you) trying to reach the stadium:


This is what we experienced for most of the trip through the metro portions of Recife. Once we hit "the open road", we only had to worry about other cars.

In the van heading to Arena Pernambuco

In the van heading to Arena Pernambuco

A trip that should have taken 45 minutes or so, ended up taking more than double that. At a few points during the ride these guys seated in front of us in the van considered bailing out and trying to catch a train to the stadium. They also believed the match started at 11 am, and not the actual start time of 1p.

On a sad note, we learned while having our post-match meal at Ponteio Grill that many family members of the USMNT were unable to reach the stadium in time to actually watch the game. All of the families happen to be at this very same churrascaria when we arrived and one of the waiters told us about this unfortunate side effect of the terrible storm. I also saw Jozy's brother again, but decided to leave him be considering all the trouble they had just faced earlier in the day.

Back to our van trip to the arena: we were once again lucky enough to see the USA team bus. This time, it was parked in front of the Golden Tulip Hotel in Boa Viagem waiting for the team to board. As we faced these horrible conditions and traffic en route, we started to worry if the teams themselves (who had not yet left for the stadium) would make it in time. Considering there was some chatter about FIFA potentially delaying the match, I'm really surprised they pulled off this game.

Upon arriving at Arena Pernambuco, our driver had to leave us about 1 km from the gates due to security and the need to find a parking spot he could stay for several hours.

Maura and I donned our ponchos (the very ones we searched high and low for in Natal and likely bought the last four in city) and made the hike through the rain, mud and street vendors selling ponchos, beer, water (for some reason) and odd versions of USA and Germany flags. The ponchos mostly did their job, but let's be honest, we were still getting soaked thanks to the intensity of the rain fall. As we rounded the last turn before entering the stadium parking lot, we witnessed the arrival of the USA team bus. I guess they had a lot of help from their police escort to clear a path (at least through the traffic) to make it to the stadium.

Waterlogged and ready to root inside Arena Pernambuco

Waterlogged and ready to root inside Arena Pernambuco

With the rain still falling, and the crowds growing, we cleared security and the gates to happily learn that our seats were 100% covered. Thank the lord!

A few pre-match "double cheeseburgers" (A/K/A meat cooked until hockey puck state) and beers (and a nice chat with some dudes who just made it in from Texas to see this match), we prepared for the 1 pm kickoff.

Arena Pernambuco in all of its glory

Arena Pernambuco in all of its glory

Arena Pernambuco was my least favorite of the three stadiums. Maybe it was the rain or mud caked between my toes, but the place lacked a lot of the character our previous two venues offered. Our seats were similar to the match in Manaus, just a little more centered and a few more rows back. Many of the same characters from the American Outlaws kept us USA supporters singing up a storm (pun not intended). My personal fav was the dude all dressed up as Teddy Roosevelt as a Rough Rider.

The USMNT starters warmed up right by the corner flag close to our seats and I think we did our small part pumping them up with our signing and chanting "I BELIEVE WE WILL WIN!"

Following the team warm ups, which did appear to happen much later than the previous two outings, this solitary FIFA commissioner walked the pitch to see if it was truly ready for 90 minutes of futebol.

FIFA match commissioner surveys the state of the pitch to see if it's green lit for kick-off

FIFA match commissioner surveys the state of the pitch to see if it's green lit for kick-off

Needless to say, he approved the conditions and we had us some football!

It was a fun match, albeit bittersweet that we advanced after the loss.

Look, I'm not complaining.

I would have loved to kept the 0-0 draw to the conclusion of the game. Just wasn't in the cards. Our shooting boots lacked the finishing necessary to do our own damage.

Still a great way to end the group stage by escaping the "GROUP OF DEATH!"

And, we escaped the floods and returned to our hotel in Boa Viagem with little trouble. The rain did finally subside towards the end of the game and amazingly the drainage system cleared most of the streets of Recife by the time we arrived.

The next day was the yang to the Thursday's horrific weather yin. It was sunny and bright, and we used our last day in the city to do a little bit of sightseeing. This included a tour of the nearby historic city of Olinda. This 477 year old city still maintains much of the look and feel of its historic roots...which consists mostly of churches and places that became churches.

One super neat tourist spot we stopped by was the Caixa D'Aqua. It serves a dual purpose of being a water tower for the historic city and 360 degree viewing platform of the beach, churches and surrounding areas (of more churches).

Olinda from Caixa D'Agua

Olinda from Caixa D'Agua

Before heading off to the airport, we took another stroll along Boa Viagem beach.

As you may have read, the northeast of Brazil (Recife in particular) has a lot of sharks in the waters. Therefore, it was none too surprising to see this clear set of warnings about "how not to be eaten by a shark" displayed about ever 100 meters or so:

Shark Warnings in Recife

Shark Warnings in Recife

Maura asked me if I wanted to walk on the sidewalk or the beach. After reading through all of these warnings I elected to stay off the beach. Call me crazy, but I am still alive, ain't I?

We completed our picture perfect post-match day with a smooth trip over to the airport and then back to our base of operations in São Paulo.

We may be out of match tickets, but we are staying put in Brazil through most of what's left of the elimination phase of the tournament. This included watching the nail biting Brazil vs. Chile match, that could have completely broken the spirit of the Brazilian people had neither Júlio César or the crossbar stopped multiple Chilean goals.

As with the opening match, the streets in and around Vila Madalena were filled with revelers celebrating another step closer to returning the FIFA World Cup trophy to Brazil (or it was just a really excuse to go drink in the streets).

Celebrations in the streets throughout Vila Madalena

Celebrations in the streets throughout Vila Madalena

With the group stage now complete, it's back to remote working from our base of operations. It was fun experiencing all of this road tripping, but I'm glad to be back to our little slice of "civilization".

I'll certainly need to do some meeting shuffling to ensure I can watch our next USA match against Belgium for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Luckily, the Brazil vs. Colombia match is on July 4th. It'll be a holiday in two countries that day.

Let's just hope it's one both nations will want to celebrate!

Boy, What a Difference a Month Makes! by Ian Hameroff

No journey or adventure is ever without its drama or headache. I can safely say our final leg of this tour of USA group stage matches has checked all these boxes in less than 24 hours in Recife. 

Where to start?

Our flights met with a little drama, as we left Manaus behind schedule due to a late arriving passenger for this flight to Brasilia. Normally, leaving 20 minutes after the scheduled departure shouldn't create too much heartburn, but when you have less than 60 minutes to make your connection, you count every second. With nearly half our flight filled with red, white and blue clad USA supporters heading to Recife, we had a little bit of comfort knowing we weren't the only ones with this tight squeeze. 

When we finally landed at Brasilia, waited (once again) to exit the plane to take a bus to the terminal to hightail it to our next gate, the only thing that truly worried me was whether or not our bags would make the connection. 

Upon our arrival to the rainy climate of Recife, we found ourselves welcomed with a free Caipirinha (courtesy of Pitu) and both of our suitcases spinning on the baggage carrousel. Wipe that sweet from the brow and take a nice deep breath. 

Not. So. Fast.

Our hotel was close to the airport in the famed Boa Viagem beach neighborhood of Recife. So, we expected a quick taxi trip, fast check-in and then off to a late meal. 


Not. So. Fast.

The taxi line took about 40 minutes to snake around to an available cab. Maura commented how this reminded her of Las Vegas: exit the terminal to meet the jarring weather conditions and wait in a long line taxi queue. 

Our cab driver did make it a quick trip. Almost too quick. 

He drove around Mach 3 and decided all red lights were simply suggestions. At least he beeped his horn as he sped through every intersection. Mighty nice of him, eh?

Speed Racer got us to our latest temporary home on this tour around 11p local time. 

Remember I mentioned some drama?

Guess what we learned when we tried to check-in?

Our prepaid hotel reservation, which was made over a month ago via a Brazilian travel agency, had one small error in its details. It was made for May 24th thru the 27th, instead of June. 


We've just arrived to a city that literally had zero available hotel rooms due to this little event they call the "FIFA World Cup" to discover our room was booked for a month ago and not that night. 


Maura immediately started to drive an intense negotiation in Portuguese with the hotel staff, and I wrestled with the (once more horrific) hotel Wi-Fi in a mad dash to find another hotel room somewhere in Brazil. 

We were able to pay for a new room to have shelter for the night (a real bummer considering we appeared to be throwing away a bunch of money for the prepaid original reservation) and continued our panicked search for anything over crappy hotel hamburgers at 1 am.

I must admit, I never felt so powerless. I wasn't able to complete a web search or a make phone call to get any help in the ways I've always solved problems in the past. And, at this late/early hour we couldn't connect with our Brazilian travel agent. He was offline until 1pm. We just wasted energy trying to find a plan B at 2 am, but with the weight of our situation--having only one night in this hotel due to the fact all rooms were booked in this place--we couldn't think of anything else to do.

Oh, did I mention that the hotel's computers also crashed when we first arrived? We didn't even have a working room key nor could the staff do any search to see if they had a spare room for the other two nights. 

Good grief.

We slept for about 3 hours and arose as the walking dead around 7 am to begin the second wave. We conscripted anyone and everyone, and I made a number of Airbnb inquires. 

Our travel agent reached us early having read our plead over email and (surprisingly for a Brazil business) owned up to his massive mistake. 

He said he'd work with the hotel (who still didn't have a working system until nearly 10 am) to get us sorted. Meanwhile, I lined up an option more than hour away via Airbnb over the crappy Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby while Maura stood post at the reception making sure everyone was working on a solution.

It took about 90 minutes, but I'm happy to report we are staying put and the hotel is honoring our original prepaid reservation. 

Holy crap. 

Deep breath. 

After all of this insanity, we took a nice walk along the Boa Viagem beach, ate some lunch and crashed for a long afternoon nap.

I really hope all of this pain and anxiety was our small part and price to pay to help our boys secure the result necessary against Germany to advance. If not, I think I might bill the German National Team for our pain and suffering. 

Good grief.

The 95th Minute by Ian Hameroff

Fun facts about Manaus, Brazil:

  • Manaus is hot
  • Manaus is incredibly humid
  • The USAvPOR match was amazing and heartbreaking at the same time
  • Manaus is SOOOOOO hot and humid

Bonus fun fact: I don't believe people actually support Portugal. They only appear to support Cristiano Ronaldo, and Portugal only when they score. At least, that's what I experienced at last night's match at Arena Amazonia.

We started our day like most on this trip. Some food, a little group stage match watching on the T.V. (yesterday was Belgium-Russia), some planning on how the heck to get to and from the match, and then (ultimately) leaving for the stadium.

Our journey to Arena Amazonia couldn't be any easier. We caught a ride with a family member of our hosts here in Manaus. He dropped us off just a few blocks from the stadium about 3 hours before first kick.

Arena Amazonia a short, hot and humid walk away

Arena Amazonia a short, hot and humid walk away

While the American Outlaws pre-match-pre-func was about 7 km away, we appeared to stumble upon our own supporters HQ at a watering hole near where we arrived. Thanks to Maura, we scored a table and some ice cold bottles of Skol (the beer) to help take the edge off of the heat and the wait. We had a nice little surprise when a couple from Orcas Island, WA took advantage of the open two chairs at our table to relax and cool down themselves before marching to the match. We've met so many people from the greater Seattle area all the way down here in Brazil. Even more evidence that Seattle is truly Soccer City USA!

Supporters at Bar Near Arena Amazonia

Supporters at Bar Near Arena Amazonia

With the sun still strong and keeping things super hot, we stayed at this place (which charged R$1 to use the bathroom, R$10 for a small basket of french fries and R$10 for a huge plate of mixed meats) until about two hours before the start of the match.

Around 4p, we walked (through the still super hot temperatures) to the gates and our seats. Our luck in timing continues, as seconds after getting our tickets scanned and our persons checked for metal objects, Team USA arrived at the stadium (they must be waiting for us to enter, because we can't be that lucky).

Team USA Arrives at Arena Amazonia

Team USA Arrives at Arena Amazonia

Or, maybe it's a just a little Disney magic. Perhaps they have a Team USA bus drive through every 10 minutes, so we all think our timing is amazing and we get all sorts of pumped up for the match.

Just saying.

Moving on: Arena Amazonia is a stunning venue. Being brand new and blessed with great (albeit it friggin' HOT and HUMID) weather goes a long way to making this place feel special. My father-in-law and I chatted a bunch about the future of this stadium in a city that doesn't have a top-tier team or enough of a need for a 40,000+ seat arena to sustain the high costs of maintaining the site. I think it would be an absolute crime to let this place be turned into rubble after experiencing a match from some great seats.

Walking into the most beautiful of the new World Cup stadiums - Arena Amazonia

Walking into the most beautiful of the new World Cup stadiums - Arena Amazonia

As with my past blog posts, I won't attempt to recap the match. Nonetheless, our seats were AWESOME and on the USA team's side. We had the whole team warming up right in front of us and defended the net on our end in the first half. Three of the four goals took place 30 yards from our section. I very much enjoyed watching two of the three of those aforementioned goals.

I'm ready to support "The Yanks" from our U.S.A. supporters' section in Arena Amazonia

I'm ready to support "The Yanks" from our U.S.A. supporters' section in Arena Amazonia

The viewing angles were fantastic and we really felt like we couldn't be any closer to the action (granted, we were in row L, so I guess we could have been closer).

Pano of Arena Amazonia

Pano of Arena Amazonia

The thrills and (yet again) emotional roller coster witnessed during the match made the costs of getting to the game all the more worth it. The heartbreaking nature of Portugal's game tying in the 95th minute did take a little bit away from moment, but I did go into the match feeling like it would be a draw. Dempsey's go ahead goal in the 81st completely blew my mind with possibilities and shattered my predicted result. I would have been more than happy to be wrong (this time).

Some other fun observations from the game:

  • Ronaldo had a so/so game and every time he failed to do something magical, the USA fans started to chant "MESSI. MESSI. MESSI." I guess this taunt was all about who is "really" the best footballer in the world in 2013
  • It is impossible to actually tell how much time is left in the match since this only clock is on the smallish stadium jumbotrons.  In Natal, we were sat right underneath the one in our section, so we couldn't see anything. While our seats in Manaus offered direct views to both of the screens in the arena, it was still too small.
  • Towards the end of the match, the stadium erupted into a song sang with tremendous pride by the Brazilians - "Eu sou Brasileiro com muito orgulho com muito amor" (I am a Brazilian with a lot of pride and a lot of love).

After the final whistle and after everyone let out a collective sigh in disbelieve of the resulting draw instead of a win, we left the stadium for our own version of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" trying to get back to our residence in Ponta Negra.

First, we were led to believe FIFA would be providing buses back to the Fan Fest in Ponta Negra. You only needed to show your match ticket to get a ride.


We walked for about 20 minutes and couldn't find either the buses or anyone who knew anything about these "advertised" buses.

Next, we boarded a city bus heading towards the airport (and points around Ponta Negra), paid our R$2.75 per person and hung on for dear life as this sucker snaked through cars, roads and traffic laws.

We're on the Onibus post-match trying to return to our Manaus base of operations

We're on the Onibus post-match trying to return to our Manaus base of operations

Not feeling confident that this bus would actually stop anywhere near where we needed in the large neighborhood of Ponta Negra, we hopped off at the airport and grabbed a taxi back to our host's home.

We "freshened up" slightly and headed out for a late evening pizza at a place called Splash Pizza (odd name for a pizza place).

Not surprising, there were some differences in the preparation and style of pizza in Brazil vs. the USA. For example, the table includes a very different set of condiments in place of the traditional grated cheese and (maybe) red pepper flakes. Instead, they offered olive oil (which they have that everywhere in Brazil), ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and chili sauce. Yup.

The pizza was good and hit the spot after my workout at the match screaming, chanting and jumping around. But, my night was made when I discovered this neat tabletop tool: a little device that allows you to easily open a packet of ketchup or chili sauce without having to risk life and limb tearing the packet open.

A neat tabletop tool!

A neat tabletop tool!

I think we should important this to the USA!

Today, we head over to our friends pub and night club to watch the Brazil-Cameroon match. Just like the USA, Brazil needs to close things out this afternoon with at least a draw (a win would be way better) to advance to the round of 16. No heartbreakers, okay?

Vai Brasil!

Game Day (and I Still Believe)! by Ian Hameroff

#IBelieveThatWeWillWin has been running through my head, non-stop, since yesterday afternoon.

Maybe it was the result of the Germany-Ghana match. What a stunner, eh?

I was pulling for a big, soul crushing win for Die Mannschaft at the onset of the match. I felt it best to eliminate our pals from Ghana, to make...er...improve our hope for knockout stage glory. I've come to realize that the draw makes things even more freaking interesting for today's bout against CR7 and the Hairdos. If we can pull off the win, we'll own the top spot and qualify for the round of 16.

Holy shit!

Two matches in, and we could be heading to the elimination round.


Deep breath.

Lets not get in front of ourselves.

The German win was a little bittersweet in Brazil, however. With Klose's game tying goal, he tied a very personal record for Brazilians, Ronaldo's (the Brazilian one, not the haircut) record 15 World Cup goals tally. Granted, Klose is like 90 years old and has been in one more Copa do Mundo than Ronaldo. It still stings.

Another reason for my glee and confidence may be the "neat" moment at a Manaus restaurant yesterday evening for dinner. Seated at the table next to ours was famed Brazilian footballer Pedrinho.

Well, I just learned about him yesterday, but all of the people at the place were coming to get his autograph and not mine. Therefore, he is way more famous than I am in Brazil. The nerve!

Perhaps it is just because the game is just a few hours away.

That's most certainly it. Time to gear up and lace up my red, white and blue boots.


Meeting of Waters by Ian Hameroff

Man, it feels like an eternity until our boys in the Stars and Stripes take center pitch to do battle with Cristiano Ronaldo (and the other 10 guys who will not have as nice of a hairdo) here in Manaus. Six days between matches is a blessing and a curse. Yes, this gives our Yanks time to get (mostly) healthy and Jürgen a chance to watch film on both our sides first group stage game.

The downside?

The adrenaline rush has fully worn off from the stunning victory against Ghana. I feel a little bit empty, but the upside is I get to recuperate my poor voice after screaming it off in Natal.

We've done our best to fill the time in Manaus.

It's an amazing place almost literally in the middle of nowhere.

As I learned (again) today from a tour guide during our voyage on the Rio Negro, the only "safe" way in and out is by airplane or a long boat trip down the Amazon. They do have a couple of highways, but these only go so far and offer little in terms of...well...road. For example, BR-319 is only paved for 100 km (or 62 miles) of the 857 km. The rest of it is just dirt and chaos. If your shocks survive the journey, you've only made it to Port Velho.

I digress.

Since arriving here on Wednesday, we've kicked back and watched a lot of group stage matches from the comfort of our hosts amazing home near Ponta Negra beach.


Just realized this is the second Ponta Negra we've stayed in on this trip. The other was in Natal.

Our couch potato'ing was mostly due to the monsoon-like rain we experienced yesterday. Seems like Brazil really wants us to remember our Pacific Northwest roots.

We did steal away yesterday to visit the famous Teatro Amazonas, the city's opera house. It's a pretty neat joint, featuring lots of art and fruits of the Amazon "rubber boom" in the late 1800s.

I took a LOT of pictures of the place, including this one of the theater's painted ceiling:

Teatro Ceiling

See. This guy cares about more than just futebol. Photography is another passion.

Perhaps one of the best benefits of our rainy day visit to the teatro, was seeing this dude playing his accordion as a member of a three-piece band situated just outside of the entrance.

Brasileiro Accordionist

It's the little things in life that make you smile.

Yesterday was just a warm up for what we embarked on today: a trip down the Rio Negro to the Encontro das Águas (or "Meeting of Waters"). This amazing phenomena is where the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões combined to form what you and I know as the Amazon River. Due to the nature and chemistry of these two rivers, a fascinating effect is witness. Instead of attempting to describe it in words, here's another picture:

Encontro das Águas

Wow, right?

It was really neat to see this first-hand, even after seeing countless photos across all the tourist sites and agencies in the city. The full day boat tour also included a trip through the flooded forest by smaller craft. This is where you see things like the famous giant lily pads and during the rainy season (like this time of year) experience what a forest looks like when submerged in 15 feet of water.

In the Flooded Forest

We are back to our Manaus base of operations and enjoying some more group stage matches. Man, Switzerland had their bell rung by the French. Dang!

It's Like Christmas in June in Natal (A Recap) by Ian Hameroff

I will be the first to admit, that it's kind of sad that after spending the last several days without a reliable Internets connection, I'm now overdosing on the 'Tubes from the departures area of the São Gonçalo do Amarante–Governador Aluízio Alves International Airport (a/k/a the "New Natal Airport"). That hasn't taken anything away from our first fantastic stop on this tour of the USMNT group stage matches.

The positive side effect of my Internet jones?

I can FINALLY share some of the backlog of images and experiences capture from my trusty Nokia Lumia 925.

Where to start.

Well, remember I mentioned all that rain in Natal?

The morning of the USA vs. Ghana match started to show signs of clearing up (or at least not raining). We took advantage of this break in the chuva to take our own pre-match stroll on the Ponta Negra beach just outside of our hotel.

Ponta Negra Beach in Natal

Ponta Negra Beach in Natal

Along our walk, we watched folks play a little beach soccer, get runs in, and show off lots of USMNT gear. I chatted quickly with a pair from the mid-west of the USA, where I said with confidence we'd win 2-1 and capture the three points. They weren't as convinced and just hoped for a solid draw. I wasn't the only one believing a 2-1 victory was in our future. A very popular shirt sold in the stores around Natal gives you the ability make your own predictions. Kind of cheap and silly, but both the one hanging in the store across from the beach and on a Brazilian spectator seated in front of us at the stadium featured the same prediction.

My prediction matched the t-shirt

My prediction matched the t-shirt

After the walk, we quickly showered up and donned our USA gear to meet with our driver (and our two new American supporter friends) to head off to our first stop: the U.S. Soccer Pre-Match Party at "Peppers Arena".

And, we waited.

Waited some more.

Okay, after a little more than "15 minutes" (or 45 minutes when you convert Natal time to the regular one you and I know so well) our awesome driver arrived and took us to the party.

At the USSF Pre-Match Party

At the USSF Pre-Match Party

I already shared some of the highlights of the party, so let's just skip ahead to the craziness at the American Outlaws gathering near the stadium.

Arena das Dunas in the Distance

Arena das Dunas in the Distance

Our driver left us at a Petrobras station on the opposite side of Av. Senador Salgado Filho and we made the hike over the pedestrian bridge to Rodizio de Pizzas to meet up with safely a "zillion" AO members already in a full lather of chatting, flag waving and other heart pumping pre-game prep. (NOTE: The photo above is from near Shopping Natal. We were MUCH closer to the stadium when dropped off).

Words cannot describe, so here's a video I shot of one of my most favorite USMNT chants:

Our little band of supporters stayed for about 20 (real) minutes before we headed off to the stadium. Our March to the Match was fun and good natured. I had a small surprise when we bumped (almost literally) into former US International and MLSer Jimmy Conrad who was filming for KICKTV just outside of the Arena das Dunas.

Getting through security and having our ticket punched was a heck of lot easier than I'd expected. Not that I was expecting chaos and bedlam, but again this is a place where they haven't finished either the airport or the roads around the stadium.

Ian and Maura at Arena das Dunas

Ian and Maura at Arena das Dunas

But. Once we got to our seats, it really hit home that we were AT A WORLD CUP MATCH AND WATCHING THE US MENS NATIONAL TEAM!!!!!!!!!

We even entered just as the USA team bus arrived to the stadium and we cheered them all the way into the venue.

Arena das Dunas is rocking during USAvGHA

Arena das Dunas is rocking during USAvGHA

The evening was amazing and we still have at least two more of these matches to attend. Holy cow, this was an amazing experience which had its highs (like Deuce's goal) and lows (Jozy's injury), and it did take us more than an hour to get back to the hotel. Some of this was due to Vice President Joe Biden's motorcade shutting down the roads. He and his 35 vehicles (and 2,000 gunners) passed by us as we waited at that very same Petrobras for our driver to navigate us through all this chaos and back to Ponta Negra.

Maura and I grabbed a super late dinner at a nearby hotel as the nightcap to our day full of adventure and thrills. We wanted to rest up a little bit, because the we had to go see the World's Largest Cashew Tree before we headed off to Manaus for round two.

Oh, we did see the tree and it's huge.

Maior cajueiro do mundo

Maior cajueiro do mundo

I Believed We Would Win! by Ian Hameroff

Sadly, the poor Internets has made my attempt to provide a full multi-media recap of our past two days impossible.

Man, I have pictures, videos and more that I'm super anxious to post to show you how awesome (and trying at times) the Natal stop on this World Cup journey has been. 

Where to begin?

After we (with our two new friends from the States) spent hours at Shopping Natal waiting for the stores to open and searching for some foul weather gear, the rain did let up in time for the pre-match festivities and the game itself. Funny how that works. We did find the last four rain ponchos in the city, which is why the rain stopped. 

Thanks to Maura's negotiation skills, we had a driver to take us to the U.S. Soccer pre-match party at "Peppers Arena" (a makeshift and temporary venue sandwiched between car dealerships), to Arena das Dunas for the game and then back to our hotel after an anticipated victory. 

The pre-match party was cool. We had screens everywhere to witness the German thrashing of CR7's Portugal, "enjoyed" some pricey cans of Budweiser beer and a Brazilian version of bad American pizza. Just after the end of the GERvPOR match, family members of the Yanks arrived to have their own pre-match meal and fun before boarding their buses for the stadium. We got to chat with a few of them, including Jozy's older brother (who is a nearly a twin with that same signature smile) and Fabian Johnson's sibling. We saw a quick game of "kick the ball and run around" being played by the future USMNT players made up of the offspring of Dempsey, Jones, Bradley and others. The cherry on top of this awesome sundae was free U.S. Soccer scarves handed out just as we left ourselves. A nice souvenir. 

Our driver took us over to the stadium area where we met up with about a "million" American Outlaws (the famed USA supporters group). I wish I could upload the video of the packed open air pizzeria and the none stop chants. I'll fix that once we get some good wireless again!

We did our own "march to the match", walking the mile from the AO pre-func to our seats in the Arena das Dunas. People were cheering and chanting the whole way and lots of good natured taunting between fans of all the teams, not just the USA and Ghana. 

I won't recap the game, but I will say what an emotional roller coaster of the Emerald City's own Clint Dempsey scoring the opening goal in 32 seconds, followed by the injuries to he and Jozy. Then the nail biting of watching the USA getting pounded by the Ghanian attack with so little possession of their own, the late goal by Ghana and then John Brooks stunning game winning header in the closing minutes that took place in the goal closest to our seats. 


That's all I can say. 

And, the rain returned just as we exited as victors. Funny, eh?

Today is our last full day in Natal, and the rain is back. We'll catch a few quick sights before finding a dry location to watch the Brazil-Mexico match. 

Oh, and I need to rest my voice as I think I lost it somewhere in Section 220 last night. Let me know if you find it!

It's Always Sunny In Natal... by Ian Hameroff

...except when we have the World Cup in town. 

Early morning departure from Congonhas airport en route to Natal

Early morning departure from Congonhas airport en route to Natal

After a long day of travel from São Paulo (via Brasilia), we arrived at the brand spanking new Natal airport...only to spend the next hour getting our rental car. I honestly believe securing our home mortgage was easier and less time consuming than what it took to get this stinkin' Renault. 

Next step: drive to our hotel...through the pouring rain and a GPS free of any of the new built roads. When in Rome...er...the North East of Brazil. 

Sadly, this beautiful beach town is experiencing some of the worst rain in long time. As this ProSoccerTalk article notes, the over 36 hours of rain is really taking its toll on the city and the pitch.

The "not so" blue skies over Natal wouldn't dampen our World Cup spirits

The "not so" blue skies over Natal wouldn't dampen our World Cup spirits

At least we found some cool bars along the beach to watch a few matches, enjoy some local grub and beers, and marvel in the crazy surfers trying to take advantage of the huge waves.

Today, we're sheltering at a Natal shopping mall to get some reliable Wi-Fi, some new foul weather gear and hang with a couple of new friends (USA supporters, of course!) we made at the hotel. 

While the weather conditions haven't lived up to expectations for our first stop, the friendliness of the supporters from all the other teams has been amazing. We met a dude who flew in from Ghana while boarding our connection in Brasilia. We both felt the pressure and importance for our respective nations to beat the other in the match here tomorrow, but left each other with a warm smile and good luck handshake. 

We also hung out with lots of Mexico, Aussies, and even a few local supporters while watching the matches yesterday. Everyone is truly enjoying the games and there is no evidence of issues or politics. While FIFA has its well publicized problems, what these games do for the fans of the World's Game is super positive. 

Time to go buy a better poncho!

The Day After Opening Day by Ian Hameroff

Wow. What a rush it was to experience the kick off of the world's game's biggest event--the FIFA World Cup Finals--in the very city that the opening match took place!

Yesterday was a day filled with anticipation by all involved, especially the fans and teams from Brazil and Croatia. A late morning walk along Avenida Paulo VI (known locally as Sumaré) provided a great view into the pre-match build up of excitement and host nation pride in their Seleção.

This guy was out quite early, armed with Brazil flags and a number of vuvuzela like horns (even though vuvuzelas have been banned for the 2014 tournament).

A Seleção Fan

As the day continued, more flags, horns, firecrackers and fans made their way to the streets. At least 1 out of every 10 cars had some form of the Bandeira do Brasil. It even got challenging to conduct meetings from my remote location, as both the noise from the streets and the flakey Internet connectivity made for some interesting conditions on my Lync calls.

Things hit a crescendo shortly after the mediocre opening ceremonies which took place about 2 hours before the kickoff. No offense to Pitbull or J.Lo, or the lovely representations of the wide cultural diversity from across the beautiful land of Brazil, but folks were more interested in seeing some football! (Queue the association football and non-racist version of Hank Williams, "Are You Ready for Some Football?!?")

We watched the match from the comfort of our São Paulo base of operation, complete with a healthy spread of treats and tasty caipirinhas. The match got off to an inauspicious start thanks to Marcelo's horrid own goal in the 11th minute. I'd be lying if I said spirits weren't low, bordering on worried until Brazil's jewel Neymar netted an equalizer 18 minutes later. I don't need to recap the match's storyline, which included some questionable calls that leaned mostly in the host nation's favor. Instead, here's a peek at what happened in the streets near our viewing party after Brazil's 3-1 victory.

About 15 minutes following the final whistle and a little bit of clean-up, we headed out to experience the celebrations along the bar area of Vila Madalena (a nearby neighborhood). The police had cordoned off several blocks to allow for outdoor viewing of the match and consumption of adult beverages. The party continued until late in the evening.

Everyone was good natured and while it was no small task to navigate through all the masses of humanity gathered, we didn't feel unsafe for one minute. We were even able to score a table at Bar Genésio where we ate some Brazilian pizza and chopp (Brazilian draft beer).

Bar Genesio late evening after Match #1

Bar Genesio late evening after Match #1

After our late snack, we headed back out into the sea of celebrating humanity to make our way back home. The experience was fantastic and has served as a great personal kick off for our own World Cup adventures.

Celebrating Brazil's victory in the streets of Vila Madalena

Celebrating Brazil's victory in the streets of Vila Madalena

Bright and early tomorrow morning, we head out to Natal to start the process of following the USA in the Group Stage. Stay tuned!

World Cup Security and Staging for the "copas das Copas" by Ian Hameroff

Last night before we headed out for a late dinner at a tasty local restaurant, the evening news broadcast showing on the living room T.V. was interrupted for a televised address from Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. Thanks to the closed captions, my rudimentary Portuguese and help from my in-laws, it was clear this speech aired the evening two days prior to the opening ceremonies was meant to rally the nation to support the Copa do Mundo with the same passion and gusto Brasileiros have supported their Seleção to a record five World Cup wins over the tournament's 85 year history.

As you've may have noted from the coverage of the ramp up to the World Cup, the host nation has suffered both protests and strikes, raising issue with the level of investment made in building stadiums over investment in the needs of the citizens. Dilma's speech was aimed solely at addressing this criticism and as this post to ProSoccerTalk sums up nicely, "urged [citizens] to support the World Cup."

While I have no designs on commenting on who's right or wrong here, this NBC News Infographic did catch my attention. Sourced from the government's own facts and figures, it details the amount of money being spent on just the security for the 31 visiting national teams and the expected 3.7 million tourists coming to witness the games first-hand (like me).

Infographic: Security for 2014 Brazil World Cup

Infographic: Security for 2014 Brazil World Cup

As a "citizen-in-law" to Brazil, I do hope the growing divide between the rich and poor sees improvement over these coming years. As an outside-ish observer, you hope with both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio bringing the world's attention to Brazil, this will motivate the government to take the right action. Just like Justice Louis Brandeis has been credited to have said, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."

Our short discussion on this topic over dinner last night (which included linguiça, bolinho de carne seca com arroz, and carne seca), my wife did comment that the level of excitement was much lower than she's experience with past World Cups. That the streets, while adorn with Brazilian flags, are not as decorated as she expected. Maybe once the games get started, and memories of Brazil's successes in the World Cup warm-up during the 2013 Confederation Cup are rekindled, enthusiasm will be at expected levels in São Paulo and across the nation.

I'll keep you posted, especially as we travel to other host cities.

In the meantime, I think it's time to dip into the leftovers from last night's feast before my Seattle time zone meetings get started for the day.

UPDATE: Just finished watching this "funny as all hell" yet also sad commentary by the "funny as all hell" John Oliver and thought it somewhat apropos to this post:


A Slow News Day by Ian Hameroff

Heading to Brazil for the World Cup Finals isn't all Brazucas, caxirolas and caipirinhas. We've also had a few other items on the agenda ahead of the opening match on Thursday.

The nerve, right?

Since arriving, we've spent some time getting acclimated, logging time with family and I've been working remotely.

Boy, do I have new found respect for folks who work remotely.

After spending 8 hours on Monday--4 times zones ahead of everyone else--participating in an offsite over Lync, I can truly appreciate the impact of a good remote meeting experience. Fortunately, Lync performed like a champ and my colleagues up north were kind to my situation.

Today has been more of the same, sans the marathon meeting. At least my "remote home office" view is a bit more interesting than the normal Microsoft parking lot outside my office on the Redmond campus.



As you can see, the weather is very Pacific Northwest like to make sure I don't get too home sick or distracted by local atmosphere. At least the forecast for Thursday shows sunshine and a good chance of WCF (World Cup Fever).

To keep with the whole "World Cup theme" in the absence of something more exciting to share from my own first-hand experience, here's my bracket for the Finals:

2014 FIFA World Cup Bracket - Vai Brasil!

2014 FIFA World Cup Bracket - Vai Brasil!

Some bold predictions, I suspect you'll say. Yup, I have the USA snag the two spot in the "Group of Death!" and meet our cold war pals Russia in the Round of 16. And, I guess I'm being a homer picking Brazil to prevail over the defending champs in the final match.

What the hell, right?

It's WCF time and I've got me some...on a slow news day.

Back to work.

We Made It! by Ian Hameroff

Well, we did it!

São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport

São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport

It only took about 24 hours of travel hustle and bustle, but we made it to São Paulo!

Our journey wasn't all airline food and air turbulence, we also had the opportunity to watch the tail end of the USA vs. Nigeria match from the airline lounge during our layover, and even checked in on the Sounders slugfest with the Chicago Fire before we had to switch off our electronics to depart on the 10 hour slog down to GRU.

Sadly, the longest part of the 24 hours may have been the nearly one hour spent on the tarmac waiting for somebody to let us park at a gate after we landed.

As with other visits to Brazil, we gathered our seemingly hundreds of suitcases (okay, it was just 5 checked bags this time), made a quick pit stop at the duty free before being welcomed by our patiently awaiting family in the arrivals area. Bags were loaded into cars and we headed to the city for some brunch and a power nap.

Luckily on the drive from the airport, I was able to grab a quick picture of some dude dressed up as Spider-Man who "worked" an intersection in the city.

São Paulo Spider-Man

São Paulo Spider-Man

He immediately stepped out into the roadway when the traffic light turned red, waved a whole bunch at the stopped cars and (I guess) waited for a small cash donation. Not surprising, his "Spidey-sense" failed him, as no one appeared interested in playing along.

Anyhow, the city of São Paulo is in full World Cup fever mode.

It was interesting to see the newly installed bi-lingual road signs complete with the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals look and feel. And, you could clearly see that there was way more security on the stretch of road just outside of the airport. Maura believes that this was mostly due to the fact that one of the teams is staying near the airport to train at a nearby facility. According to the "Internets", that might be Team Iran.

The streets in and around our base of operations in São Paulo were fully decorated with TONS of Brazilian gear.

World Cup Fever starts to show its colors in the streets of São Paulo

World Cup Fever starts to show its colors in the streets of São Paulo

I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg, as I cannot wait to experience the WCF (a/k/a "World Cup Fever") on Thursday when the host nation kicks this sucker off with the opening match against Croatia here in São Paulo.

Between now and then, I've got to unpack, put in a few full days in the (remote) office and get my USA and Brazil gear readied for the next 30+ days of the world's game.

In the meantime, it's time to crush this jet lag and get some rest before I...ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz

Where in the world...er Brazil...are you going? by Ian Hameroff

Map of 2014 FIFA World Cup Host Cities (Source: FIFA)

Map of 2014 FIFA World Cup Host Cities (Source: FIFA)

Thanks to a recent Tweet from the "fine folks" at FIFA, I can share with you a "colorful map" of the host cities for the World Cup. I've marked up the key places we'll be visiting during our time in Brazil.

From our base of operations in São Paulo, we'll be traveling up to the Amazon and the north east of Brazil to support "The Yanks" as they do battle against Ghana, Portugal and Germany in three of the twelve host cities for the tournament: Natal, Manaus and Recife.

Even though it's technically winter (well, actually winter), these places are expected to be hot and humid. What else would one expect when traveling to the word's largest rain forest and beach cities close to the equator!

We've got lots of shorts and sun block to keep us as comfortable as possible. We'll keep you posted.

Boa viagem para o Brasil! by Ian Hameroff

It's truly hard to believe it, but the day has finally arrived!

After marking our calendars years in advanced.

After planning and securing travel arrangements.

After early morning attempts to grab tickets via the mad dash lottery.

After cramming everything possible into a handful of suitcases.

After finally getting match tickets for the U.S. Men's National Team's group stage campaign.

After weeks of hard work to get things buttoned up at the office.

After cramming even more stuff into suitcases.

After selecting just the right gear to represent the U.S.A. and Brasil.

And, after trying to teach Maura all of the American Outlaws chants.

After all of that, we are finally heading to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals!

The "Stars and Stripes" and "Seleção Brasileira" shirts are ready for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals

The "Stars and Stripes" and "Seleção Brasileira" shirts are ready for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals

We are off on a crazy, once in a life adventure to witness the world's game on its biggest stage. To share with my wife and her family the national passion and pride that comes with hosting the finals on their own soil for the first time in 64 years. To have the opportunity to watch what I've only witnessed on T.V., a World Cup match, in person. To (hopefully) support the Yanks through to the knockout stage and to celebrate with millions of Brasileiros as their (our) Seleção, their Canarinhos open the 30 days of football championship battles to win the prize of joining the small fraternity of eight nations that have won the coveted trophy in this nearly 85 years old tournament.

The long and the short of it: it's going to be f-ing amazing!

I hope to share the experience through pictures and blog posts, and I do hope you'll tag along. Maybe you'll even lose your voice screaming at the T.V. like I plan to at a match, after our own Seattle Sounders FC Clint "Captain American" Dempsey puts one between the pipes for a game winning goal. (NOTE: I'd be happy if any of the 23 USMNT have this opportunity...I'm not picky).

Wish us luck and boa viagem!