I woke up Thursday to see a river washing down our street in Recife, Brazil.
Brown water washed in waves by tire-deep cars slowly fording the streets. Rain bucketing down while pedestrians in flip-flops cautiously made their way knee-deep over deluged sidewalks.
Normally, I might be concerned for my safety in such a situation. Will the power go out? Will our building flood? But I only had one question: Would a drenched pitch be better for the Yanks or the Germans at the Arena Pernambuco? Six hours to game time and my mind was on the match. THE match. Axis and Allies. David and Goliath.
We donned our red, white and blue and waded our way to the metro, which was altogether too quiet. I took up the role of cheerleader, starting with my standby: “Ole, ole, ole, ole, USA, USA.” The American fans joined in and, to my delight, so did some of the Brazilians. The Germans sat on their hands.
We switched trains, the crowd swelled, and I kept up my singing. “Oh when the Yanks. Go marching in. Oh when the Yanks go marching in. I want to be in that number. Oh when the Yanks go marching in.”
More Americans joined. But still no response from the Germans. The mighty Germans, who just 10 days ago had draped the stadium in Salvador with banners and had thundered out their chants, drowning out the Portuguese. They were eerily quiet.
On the way to the stadium, all of the ticket-seekers were Americans, desperate to get into the arena and cheer on the U.S. We passed by them, singing new songs we had learned: “We love you, we love you, we love you, and where you go we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we’ll follow, because we are the U.S., the U.S., the U.S., and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it, o-o-o-o-ooooooooo, o-o-o-o-ooooooooo.” Still nothing from the Germans. No chanting. No cheers. Nothing.
And then I realized there are more of us than them. More Americans sloshing through the apocalyptic rain for the privilege of watching Jurgen’s new boys than fans showing up to cheer on Die Mannschaft, a bona fide contender to lift the trophy.
So, when the seats were filled and we were among the die-hard supporters from the American Outlaws, I happily passed my song-leading to a fan dressed as Teddy Roosevelt, who was facing his fellow fans and conducting them in the call-and-response cheer that has become our new anthem.
A simple word.
“I believe …”
Feels like church.
“I believe that …”
A little bit louder now.
“I believe that we …”
Yes. We. The 11 guys on the pitch and the 20,000 people in the arena standing together.
“I believe that we will win.”
Everyone started jumping up and down, singing that line over and over. And at that moment, it was clear: WE OWN THIS ARENA!
I flash back to other moments I’ve had in big stadiums: flags waving around the Maracana during a Flamengo-Fluminense clasico. Ninety thousand fans for La Universidad de Chile jumping up and down and signing for the full 90 minutes. I remember wishing that it could be like that for American soccer fans. And now it was.
No, we didn’t win the game. And yes, the Germans got their chance to be loud when Mueller scored a dagger of a goal. And no, it wasn’t even that good of a game. You could see it on the faces of Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard that limping out of the Group of Death into the knockout round wasn’t good enough.
But for me, seeing our fans absolutely dominate a stadium a continent away, it was an unqualified win.
Matt Kelemen is the soccer-crazy brother of NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.