Raving In Rio - Broadcaster Matt Johnson's trip to Brazil for the World Cup (UPDATE: 07/06)

Sounders radio broadcaster Matt Johnson is on the ground in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. He brings the story of his journey to SoundersFC.com in this blog. Share in his experience and enjoy!

POST UPDATE: 07/02

Well, I’m home now and I’ll soon be followed by the US National Team…

What an effort. What heart, determination, and fight. But I might also have to concede that the better team probably won.

I couldn’t agree with Kasey Keller more when he said during the postgame show that he felt awful for Tim Howard…a performance like that deserved to be attached with a win. I agree.

Everyone saw the match so I don’t need to express my views one bit…but I will say that I’m really looking forward to seeing this team move forward from this. Let’s see just how far they can go.

But the World Cup isn’t over for you and me. Yes, it’s massively disappointing, but here come some match ups that can’t be ignored. The field is down to eight teams. Five traditional soccer powers, two are somewhat of a surprise in Columbia and Costa Rica and one, Belgium, is everyone’s “dark horse.” By the way, is a team a dark horse if everyone is picking them as that? Okay, never mind.

But my point is this, don’t leave the TV set. Don’t stop watching. Don’t give up on the World Cup. Yes, our team is out but the fun is really just beginning…maybe that’s what’s so difficult about losing is that we want to be involved…we want to be a part of it. We want an invitation to the party but it wasn’t to be.

As for my trip? It’s done and over and I’m bummed about that. My sixth World Cup might have been my favorite. The only negative on the whole experience (and I’m digging to find one) was how long it took to travel to the venues…From inside each city it was at least 90 minutes to get to the stadiums let alone to your seats…but once you were there it was heaven. There was one road in and one road out. But as I wrote in an earlier blog, if you have time and patience, Brazil is a place for you. Everything seems to go at a different pace.

The stadiums were brand new and sparkling clean. The Brazilians were great hosts. The weather, outside of the occasional shower and humidity too high for this Seattle resident, was really quite nice.

Watching the US-Belgium match from a Seattle pub I was thinking to myself that once again I had cut my trip short by just a couple days…This was my longest World Cup adventure as I spent 2.5 weeks in Brazil but I came home wanting more. Always wanting more.

Sao Paulo, Salvador, Fortaleza, Natal, Recife, and back down to Rio.

With all the flights I took I think I’m over my fear of flying…From Seattle to Brazil and back I made 11 flights total. But again, it was worth it.

There are cities that I’d go and visit again and maybe a couple that wouldn’t interest me…but that’s traveling isn’t it?

But I have the memories.

Robin van Persie’s goal vs. Spain might have been the best goal I’ve ever seen in person. What is forgotten was the left back who played that long ball to him. I will now follow Daley Blind’s career for that pass and his performance throughout the tournament.

High fiving Jozy Altidore’s Mom after John Brooks’ late goal vs. Ghana. That goal started the whole ride and that night partying with other Americans in Brazil late into the night will never leave me.

Bonding with Costa Rican fans after their unlikely run in their group...I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that the ticket lottery gave us two games involving Costa Rica…But again, I was wrong. It was a highlight being around their fans at the stadiums and the hotels. Witnessing their pure joy as their team was making such waves through the first round will stay with me forever

Finally, the many laughs with my travel companions—my brother Allen, and two great friends Doug and Adam. To share lifelong memories with people close to you is invaluable.

Thank you so much for following along and being with me during my journey. I really appreciate those who contacted me as I was moving from city to city.

For Sounders fans we now turn our full attention to a season that is really brewing with excitement…I can’t wait for this weekend’s match in Vancouver and our two matches next week vs. Portland. What a great way to get over a World Cup hangover.

Now, don’t just say that you’re going to Russia in 2018…do it, plan it, and make it happen.

I’ll see you there

POST UPDATE: 06/23

Last night was desperation, elation, and heartache all wrapped up in a match that ended in a 2-2 tie.

My friend Adam and I watched the US match with 15 thousand others in the Rio fan fest…I’ll skip the details on how the organizers tried to stuff everyone in one entrance and had them leave in the same—or maybe I won’t—it was very similar to how we have been getting to all the stadiums. In Brazil you need time and patience. If you have both of those you are in great shape.

Once we got into the fan fest the experience was amazing. The screen was massive, there were concessions everywhere, and everyone was friendly.

Everyone from Brazil were cheering for Portugal for obvious reasons…they are sort of like cousins. But the contingent of American fans was amazing. I think that if we would have held off Portugal, Rio would have been alive until early in the morning.

When the Cristiano crossed that ball and Varela slammed it home it deflated a crowd that was ready and expecting to explode.

This was such a different match than last week vs. Ghana. Up early vs. the first opponents the US withstood massive pressure before conceding. We all know the outcome after Brooks’ late winner. Last night a mistake by Geoff Cameron allowed Nani an early and somewhat cheap goal…but finish he did.

But the reaction when Jones finished superbly in the 64th minute…it felt that the US was coming with something but when the ball it the back of the net the fan fest EXPLODED. Again, strangers high fiving, giving hugs, and believing it could happen.

I can tell you that it was magnified by 50 when Clint Dempsey brought the ball into the net in the 81st.

It was hold on time…I bit my nails and kind of bounced around while I watched…I honestly thought we would hold on for the three points and be qualified for the next round.

But through the disappointment the US are still in pretty good shape. I’m sure you know all of the scenarios at this point so I won’t bore you…but you’re not going to miss Thursday are you?

In Brazil, like today, when the national team is playing it becomes a national holiday. No, really! Banks are closed, mail is not delivered…NOTHING! That is what we should be doing in our country, until at least noon…Let your boss know that I will write you up an excuse.

I am headed to go watch Brazil now…Holiday in RIO!

POST UPDATE: 06/18

Well, that’s what it’s all about!

It really is. That’s why you travel around the world. To watch your team fight, work, and be rewarded late in a match.

We are here in Natal getting ready for another set of games. It is a slow start to the day after we had an amazing time right outside the stadium where the US beat Ghana from a late winner by 20-year-old John Brooks.

Wasn’t it amazing? Did you get goose bumps when happened?

The flow of the game was such that we felt a tying goal coming by Ghana…but after numerous chances maybe it wasn’t to be. Then they struck and the letdown rung throughout the stadium. US fans made up about half the stadium and it got pretty quiet after the tying goal.

But when John Brooks got on the end of Graham Zusi’s corner kick it was absolute bedlam…I happened to be sitting next to Jozy Altidore’s mom during the match (very sad when he was injured). When we went ahead we high fived each other she shook me so hard I thought was going to fall.

After the referee blew the final whistle the celebration began. Now it was our turn not to leave the stadium…so we didn’t. Smiles, more high fives, hugs—it was all there. The party spilled out into the streets and stayed right there until well past midnight. When we got back to our hotel there were many US supporters all around the complex sharing their experience and listening to ours.

We stayed up quite late because it didn’t seem like much fun to go to bed…we didn’t want it to end.

Back to Jozy’s Mom…I felt so horrible for her as she watched intently when her son was loaded up onto the stretcher…I started to think about what was going through her head. I couldn’t imagine. Her she is, so proud of her boy, coming into the World Cup with a bit more confidence after scoring two goals against Nigeria, and then goes down on the pitch after an injury to his leg.

She leaned into me and asked, “Was it his hamstring?”

I said, “I believe so. That’s what he reached for.”

Then she said something so simple, but made me really think about the rest of his World Cup and his entire family that supports him, “I hope it didn’t completely go.”

How many of his matches has she seen? She and her husband were crushed, but obviously were still supporting the US as they marched on.

Again, it was an amazing evening…we are getting very spoiled with the matches that we’ve attended. Spain-Holland, Costa Rica-Uruguay, and now the US-Ghana…all great matches.

Today, we will watch all three. With Brazil playing, the country will once again stop and watch their heroes take on Mexico in Fortaleza.

Our next match to attend is Italy-Costa Rica, which looks like a great match up between two teams that both won their openers...that will be Friday in Recife’.

Enjoy the next few days as the very important second match for each team raises the pressure and the intensity.
We’re not even a week in.

POST UPDATE: 06/13

After a crazy couple days of travel with some unexpected twists and turns, we found ourselves in a beautiful hotel in Salvador, Brazil. Let’s just say that our plans that we made in Seattle didn’t quite translate to the Sao Paulo airport…nevertheless, we once again were reminded that you have to be a bit flexible and most of all patient on these trips.

Salvador is a gorgeous, yet windy city on the eastern coast of Brazil. If you’ve been to Hawaii you’ve been to Salvador. Having a nice conversation outside one minute and pouring down rain the next…the staff here did their very best to entertain, but honestly everyone was just waiting for the first game to begin.

When it did, the gentleman next to me said, “The World Cup has begun.”

I promised I wouldn’t write about the games because you all watched…but, c’mon, that wasn’t a penalty that Fred picked up…so soft I thought. But Brazil went out to win and our hotel with all those that watched were very happy. The local television post game show lasted three or four hours breaking down every possible moment of the match.

This morning the hotel was a buzz as all the Chilean fans got ready to go the airport to fly to Cuiaba and watch their country play Australia. The Dutch guests got ready to head out to downtown Salvador for their match vs. Spain…this is the match that I was lucky enough to attend. The Dutch travel as well as any country so our hotel was absolutely packed with both supporters.

I’ll chat with you after the Spain-Holland match and have some great footage from outside the stadium…both groups are so colorful and we’ll be there to take it all in.

UPDATE: 6/12

Upon arrival in Sao Paulo after nearly 20 hours of flying, we were greeted in the airport by a friendly piece of Seattle as we happened upon a Starbucks in the terminal! Based in our lovely home city, the coffee company appears to be everywhere now. My brother and I obviously stopped for a quick cup to reenergize us as our adventure was about to begin.

It’s going to be a long, fun, journey…one that I’m familiar with given that this is my sixth tournament…but still great to see a recognizable bit of home so far away from it. USA! USA! USA!

ORIGINAL POST: 6/11

BRAZIL 2014

The World Cup is here!

Everyone is preparing for it in their own way…the argument will be out there once again, won’t it? Will you be involved in that same conversation of whether the World Cup help propel soccer to a new level here in the states?

Well, that doesn’t pertain to you and me does it? We soak as much soccer up as possible. You probably have a favorite team in Europe. You might have a favorite country to watch besides the USA. I know I do.

For me and millions of others, this tournament marks a time where we get to be enveloped by one of if not our favorite sports. We don’t ask questions about the sport’s popularity. We don’t wonder (especially in Seattle) if the World Cup will help sell tickets to our local team. We might wonder if MLS will take another step forward on the national platform, but those conversations will probably come at the end of it all…once we have taken a deep breath.

But for you and me it’s really a time to celebrate, sit back, and soak in what is about to happen for the next six weeks.
What will happen?

We don’t know, that’s the kicker. Who will get knocked out of their group that you never expected? Who will advance and wear that Cinderella slipper that just makes you scratch your head. The anticipation is unbelievable…and now it’s here. Three games a day (for the most part) and we won’t be able to take our eyes off it.

When did it hit you? This past month? This past week? Watching the U.S. play their warm up games?

Well, it hit me this Tuesday as I was sitting in the Dallas airport having lunch with my brother as we waited for our plane to board to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Three different groups of fans gathered. It was not planned as you could tell that they did not know each other…there was a group of Dutch folks, Mexicans, and Brazilians. They gathered together and formed circles. For me as an outsider, they only had one thing in common—the color of their shirts. We watched as they exchanged stories, shared their excitement, and all of them had something very obvious in common…they all had smiles on their faces.

They were headed to Brazil from Dallas and so was I.

This is my sixth World Cup, and for five of them I’ve been lucky enough to go with my brother.

This tradition started in 1994 after just a week in Pasadena, California. We were lucky enough to see both the semi-final and final matches at the Rose Bowl…Brazil came away with the trophy after beating Italy on penalty kicks. On the flight home the next day my brother simply leaned over and said, “Why don’t we do this every four years?” And that was it!
We were off to France in ‘98, followed by Korea, Germany, South Africa (my brother couldn’t make that trip) and now Brazil.

It was the very interesting trip to South Africa when I decided that I wanted to stay longer than the usual 10-14 days.

Because of the lack of a subway system and major train lines in South Africa, it was tough to get around. Thus, we came home with plenty of energy, and with the USA’s dramatic play late in the group stage we felt that we were really missing out as we headed home and the team was headed to play Ghana.

With the transportation not an issue in France, Korea, and Germany, you could get from one end of the country to the next on an overnight train and get to your next game with no issue at all. In those three countries we would go see a game every day, then see the other two at a pub, public viewing or our hotel. In Germany alone we saw 11 games in 11 days…yes exhausted, but on the biggest high ever. We were at the World Cup!

With the South African experience behind us we decided that three full weeks was the right time to spend in Brazil. We will start in Salvador and get to Spain-Holland…USA-Ghana comes next.

Four cities, five flights and hopefully a U.S. run.

Enjoy the journey with me…I’ll be posting pictures, videos, and blogs from Brazil until the end of the month. This is not about me and my experiences—this is the world cup, a celebration we all share.

This is the moment that happens for about a month every four years where you and I are in heaven! We get to watch world class players do things that we only dream about. Our jaws will drop, we’ll get goose bumps racing up and down our arms, and we’ll watch as some huge favorite will go home early and a longshot we haven’t even thought about will catch us all by surprise.

Here we go…

Get to the pub, take longer lunches, and get your DVRs ready.

The World Cup is here!

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