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Letter from Brazil: Fans living the American Dream ahead of last-16 showdown

As they say in their chant, the US support believe that they will win.

US fans are amongst the biggest travelling support in Brazil.
US fans are amongst the biggest travelling support in Brazil.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

MIKEY STAFFORD reports from Recife

THE MANY, MANY United States fans here in Brazil are being treated as some sort of homogenous blob when really they are as diverse as the supporters of any nation.

There are the hardcore “American Outlaw” types who stand outside the team hotel chanting with Will Ferrell and organise tailgate-style parties before the matches, there are the young families enquiring as to the easiest way to the stadium, the MLS fans who insist Omar Gonzalez of the LA Galaxy and not Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron should start in the centre of defence against Belgium tomorrow, and then there are the statisticians.

These are the guys who will avidly read Bloomberg articles and studies by number-crunchers fivethirtyeight before avidly debating the samples and methodology used by both to arrive at their estimate of Jurgen Klinsmann’s side’s percentage chance of beating Belgium.

They describe defensive midfielders as “playing in the DCM” and they are, you suspect, sometimes treated by other US fans as baseball sabermetrics nerds who are just moonlighting before the MLB play-offs.

However many tribes exist the one thing that is clear is that there are lots of Americans here in Brazil — somewhere in the region of 200,000 — and they prove that the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) have already achieved something very special.
Marc Wilmots’ multi-racial Group H winners might be the only thing holding the tiny Belgian nation together but the USMNT have taught the world’s third largest country to stop worrying and love the football.

Tonight in Salvador they have the chance to reach the last eight of the World Cup for the first time in 12 years, but more significant is the fact that people, lots of people, care.
President Barack Obama cares, as was evidenced by the photo released of him watching the USA-Germany game on Air Force One.

The excellent Men in Blazers have been documenting the impact this World Cup is having and it seems soccer has reached deepest, darkest Texas.

In Chicago, a viewing party for tonight’s game had to be moved from Grant Park to the 61,500-capacity Soldier Field because of the level of demand. Things of this scale and significance were not reported before the United States’ last World Cup quarter-final, a 1-0 defeat to Germany in Ulsan in 2002.

Sure, you still have far-right, reactionary columnists like Ann Coulter arguing that this rise of soccer is a sign of a nation’s moral decline and growth of influence of immigrant culture but Coulter has had lots to say about Christians, Jews, Democrats and Liberals in the past and none of it should be taken with anything less than a bucket of salt.

The tail-gaters, soccer moms and dads and MLS die-hards will all row in behind the statisticians however if they argued that, in Belgium, the USMNT have been drawn against the group winners that they have the best chance of beating.

World Cup Instagram Source: AP/Press Association Images

The Red Devils were solid if unexciting in plotting a 100% route through an average group, scoring just four goals and conceding one. There are doubts over the fitness of captain and defensive rock Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku looks a less effective leading man than the injured Christian Benteke and their expensive and vaunted midfield of Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard has not exactly set the world alight this far against Russia, South Korea and Algeria.

In contrast the USMNT has escaped from the Group of Death at the expense of Ghana and Portugal, scoring as many goals (four) as they have conceded and, unlike their opponents, Klinsmann’s team of MLS stars and European journeymen have looked more than the sum of their parts.

However Klinsmann’s native Germany toyed with the United States in their last game in Recife, making the five-man midfield look very ponderous and incapable of retaining possession against quality opposition. The loss of Joze Altidore to injury has not only robbed them of their preferred out ball but has, by forcing Clint Dempsey into the striker’s role, also deprived the US of their best creative force.

Belgium are not on the same level as Germany but they are a cut above the USMNT. There are 320 million football fans who will be very disappointed to hear the Europeans have a 65-70% chance of prevailing this evening.

Teams:

The official lineup sheet for USA-Belgium b

A post shared by FOX Soccer (@foxsoccer) on

Source: fox_soccer/Instagram

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Mikey Stafford

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