Ferris State University women's soccer head coach Andy McCaslin is in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. During his stay, he'll periodically share his thoughts and experiences on the competition, the culture and more. His most recent blog below was submitted late Sunday night after the USA's thrilling 2-2 tie with Portugal.
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It's been a few days, but I wanted to update you all on some of the happenings here in Brazil. We got into the American's first game location of Natal not really knowing what to expect, but found the sizeable beach town already flooded with Americans. Natal is a booming beach city in the North East of the country and has beautiful white sand beaches and is known for their famous sand dunes.
Ponta Negra is the main beach area and was a long calm area. On the beach we found vendors with everything from carved coconuts looking like monkey heads to Neymar jerseys, Brazil's most famous player on this team. There were also food vendors and tourist companies selling dune buggy rides and snorkeling trips to other attractions around the area.
There is a tremendous amount of national pride with the locals. The vendors all seemed to have either a yellow Brazil jersey, or their local soccer club shirt, or something with Brazil emblazoned on the front. On the beach you could always find a game of soccer. I hopped in and played for a bit, then we all stopped and jumped in the South Atlantic to cool off. Games were open to anyone who wanted to play. Some more serious games than others, but they all seemed to be played with passion and a love for the game.
The US played to a 2-1 win against Ghana. They got off to a great start scoring 30 seconds in and finding a late winner. The stadium was really well constructed and had great sight lines. The environment for the game was great. There were so many fans from all over, but the Americans, Ghanaians and Brazilians were in full force. Everyone was extremely friendly and happy. The World Cup is a big festival and even though the Ghanaians weren't happy with the result, there wasn't tension or anger coming out after the game, just respect and it was shared from both sides.
Soccer is so much a part of the culture. Every restaurant had a television or many tv's hung for patrons to watch games. A lot of the vendors along the beach had them plugged into extension cords running to their booths. We were in Natal when Brazil played Mexico for a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stages of the tournament and the entire beach area shut down as locals and visitors alike were trying to find a place to watch the match. The game ended in a draw so both teams scored an important point to advance.
After a few more days in Natal, we flew into Amazonia to Manaus for the second US match. Manaus has an entirely different feel than Natal. It too like Natal is a port city, but on the Rio Negro river before the meeting of the waters that form the Amazon River. It feels rustic, but there is beautiful architecture and neat little neighborhoods at every turn.
Many think that FIFA hosting games in Manaus was a mistake because of the distance from all of the other sites, the heat and travel demands, however the local state government of Amazonia is really trying to promote the area through inviting tourism. They've set up huge viewing areas separate from the FIFA Fan Fests that all of the host cities have. The viewing area in Manaus is in the city center at the foot of the opera house, the Teatro de Amazon. Two huge screens and a large stage with hundreds of chairs were set up to watch every game of the tournament. Between games and at halftime, emcees would come out and promote the shows that they were hosting and coming up. It was a great place to gather and eat and watch the games. Manaus was proud to host games, and they were promoting the whole tournament the way it should be. It felt like it should watching out in the open sharing the game with everyone who will watch.
The stadium itself was great again. Easy to access and another festival like environment. The rumor was that very few Americans would make the trip, but there were as many in Manaus as Natal. There was a large security presence keeping people feeling safe and there in case anything were to happen.
In the game the US went down early off of a bad mistake by a center back, but one of the things about the group is that they don't quit and came back to go ahead 2-1, only to give up a late equalizer to the Portuguese. With the draw, the US sits in second in their group with 4 points (3 for the win against Ghana and 1 from the draw). Germany, the next US opponent, also has 4, but has a better goal differential. It was frustrating tonight to give up such a late equalizer as the full 6 points from two games would have automatically put the Americans through to the knockout round and the final game against the Germans would have only been for seeding. But now it's more important as there are scenarios that the US could possibly not advance.
I'm headed into the Amazon for a few days, but I'll report back and talk a bit about the security details and the cuisine, and definitely some of the creatures we find deep in the jungle. Anything else you'd like to hear about, please let me know via twitter @coachmccaslin.
We'll catch you soon!