More than 3 long years ago, I put down a $500 deposit with the intention of traveling to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup with the American Outlaws. The package, which included airfare, hotel, and transportation to and from all 3 USA Group Stage games, cost me $5400. I was on my own for tickets, food, and whatever miscellaneous purchases I would make. While the total trip ended up costing my around $7,500, the memories I came back with are priceless. This is my experience at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with the American Outlaws:
First off, if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know who the American Outlaws are, they’re an unofficial, non-profit US National Soccer Team supporter group established in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2007. Now boasting over 125 chapters across the United States, the American Outlaws have over 18,000 members and continues to grow each day. Membership is $25/year (plus $4 shipping) which includes a t-shirt, an American flag bandana (AO’s official game-day garb), and multiple perks including discounts and access to USMNT tickets and travel packages.
When AO first advertised the 2014 World Cup travel package to Brazil, we were told the price of the package would be between $4,400-5,400. Seeing that any other World Cup packages I researched would cost me $7,000 and up, it was a no-brainer to sign up with the American Outlaws and send them my down-payment. One of my good friends I’ve known since high school signed up with me, and as long as the USMNT qualified, we were on our way to Brazil.
After a slow start at the beginning of the HEX, I wasn’t very confident the Yanks would qualify. But the USMNT got their shit together and finished at the top of the group. The “we are going to Brazil” chant could be heard nationwide, and I couldn’t wait to get more details about the trip from AO and be on my way to the World Cup.
I wish I could say everything went off smoothly before (and during) the trip, but it seemed like a complete clusterfuck at times to put it lightly. After the Group Draw, I knew I was going to have to fork over the entire $5,400 to go on the trip. The USMNT had to travel more than any other team during the group stage, which meant we were going to have to travel more than any other National Team supporter group, which meant more money. After a Google Hangout Q&A session with TenDot, the travel agency the American Outlaws hired to organize the trip, we were told that we may have to pay an additional $400-$600 per person because of flight regulations in Brazil. Of course, almost everyone flipped their shit, only to receive a mob-diffusing email from AO stating that we would not be required to pay a dime more than the $5,400. Phew.
With 18,000+ members paying $25 a year, not to mention an American Outlaws Shop on their website and multiple sponsors, I assume AO has a healthy reserve to cover the additional costs the Manaus game ran them, but the organization obviously took a hit when it couldn’t charge their members additional money for the trip. To offset the loss, they held a silent auction for 1st class seats (which went for an additional $1,000 and up), pleaded for donations, and reached out for more sponsors to help send the American Outlaws to Brazil. However they managed to do it, they pulled it off, and we were set to go to Brazil on June 14th… or so we thought.
A week before the trip, we were told half of the group would be flying out a day earlier than expected on June 13th, and the other half would be flying out June 14th. Everyone would be coming back a day earlier than expected on June 27th, as opposed to June 28th as originally planned. To their credit, AO had advised everyone to fly in a day earlier, but this left everyone in Houston (where the trip flew in/out of) a day longer than expected at the end of the trip. I blame this fuck-up entirely on the travel agency, TenDot, and in no way, shape or form on AO. Half of us didn’t sweat it. The people on Plane 2 on the other hand were experiencing the first of many fuck-overs by TenDot.
My buddy and I were fortunate enough to get on Plane 1, which didn’t end up leaving Houston until early Saturday morning anyway. After a long day of boozing and watching the opening games of the World Cup at the Stadium City Bar and Grill, we found another bar in the airport to watch Game 6 of the Stanley Cup as we waited to board our flight. By the time we got on the plane we were wiped out. I pretty much passed out at 3AM and felt like I teleported to Natal as the landing gear hit the pavement.
Travel, waiting to board planes, and standing on lines took up 4 complete days out of the entire trip, and I’m not even exaggerating.
Round-trip flight to/from Chicago/Houston – 6 hours.
Round-trip flight to/from Houston/Natal – 18 hours
Round-trip bus to/from airports – 6 hours
Round-trip bus to/from Recife – 12 hours
Waiting in line at customs in Natal – 3 hours
Waiting in line to check in at airports – 12 hours
Waiting in line to check in at the hotel – 3 hours
Waiting to board planes – 28 hours
Waiting to board buses – 8 hours
Total time wasted traveling and waiting: 96 miserable hours
You can tack on approximately 12 more hours for Plane 2 people. Those poor, unfortunate souls. I can go on, and on, and on about how terrible of a job TenDot did planning everything out, and how much more convenient this trip would have been if I booked everything on my own, but I’ll save the TenDot bashing for a Yelp or TripAdvisor review. I’d like to talk more about what went right on this trip, and the things I will always remember.
36 seconds in. Red shirt. Cowboy hat. That’s ya boi Hook.
After settling in at the mold-infested Parque da Costeira in Natal (ok ok, I promise, that was the last complaint), our first taste of Brazil was the US Soccer night-before the Ghana game party at the Arena Peppers pop-up venue in Ponta Negra near Natal, Brazil. Our cabbie almost dropped us off at some shady bar called Arena Peppers, but instead of getting out of the cab and having our organs sold on the black market, someone in the front seat pulled out some Google maps and got us to our destination. Party was bananas.
Thousands of USMNT supporters were there at this “RSVP only” party where all you had to do to get in was look and sound American. They were checking passports, but it didn’t really matter if you had one or not, and there was no list as previously advertised. Inside there were TVs set up to watch the games that were on (we got there around 6PM to watch the Argentina/Bosnia game) and in the back was a stage and beers for purchase. The Brazilian chick at the register almost shit herself when my friend and I each bought 10 beer tickets, but we were gonna be there all night (and it was our first night out in Brazil) so we were ready to go hard. Once the games were over the music got bumping and the party turned into an all-out bash that went on until the early morning. Not sure how I got home, and I thought I lost my camera (until I found it 3 days later stashed away in a pocket in my bag that I never use).
Hungover but amped to see the USMNT play Ghana, we got on a bus the next evening with 500 rowdy American Outlaws in tow and headed to the pre-game party in Natal. At this party I ran into a girl walking around with a feather who wanted me to give her my stars and stripes cowboy hat. As cool as she was, I wasn’t giving up my signature USA gear. Turns out, said feather chick was Temryss Lane from BeIN Sports. She was literally just chilling at the pre-game party like anyone else, and it wasn’t the last time I’d run into her. I saw her at just about every USA game and pre-party for the duration of the trip.
Temryss Lane wasn’t the only celebrity at the Natal party. I was chilling in the front bar with a few new friends when some dude hopped the gate and jumped up on the table next to me. Former USMNT defender Jimmy Conrad proceeded to pound beers, chug half a bottle of vodka, and lead a raucous crowd in several USA chants. Jimmy Conrad is a soccer legend, and evidently a partying legend as well. As for my seats at the game, I was supposed to sit in the upper-deck nosebleeds (Category 1 tickets, the most expensive, were bullshit), but my buddy and I snuck down to the 3rd row behind the players’ bench and sat in front of the players’ wives and families. We sat right in front of Kyle Beckerman’s wife and parents, and a couple of rows in front of Jermaine Jones’ wife and 5 kids. Security at these World Cup games was a joke.
The atmosphere for the game was electric. When Clint Dempsey scored a goal 1 minute into the game, I turned around and hugged Beckerman’s mom and high-fived his wife. We were all going nuts. We were on a high until Ghana would even the score, and it felt like we would lose until John Anthony Brooks’ header sealed the victory. With 3 points in the bag, the World Cup 2014 had started off with a huge bang.
If you watched the games, you probably recognize the guy on the left of that photo as “Teddy Goalsevelt”. To me, he’s just Mike from Chicago. A few days after the USA vs Ghana game, we shared a cab and sat together at the Japan vs Greece game in Natal. I’m sure I’ll run into him again at the next AO watch party.
Although the Japan vs Greece game ended in a 0-0 draw, I had an awesome time. Again we snuck down to about the 4th row by the 18 yard line, this time on the opposite side of the stadium. The place was about 95% Japanese fans, and these people were extremely passionate about football. Their chants would seemingly go on forever, and when they stopped a new one would start moments later. The Japanese all had plastic bags that they blew up and waved around during the game, only to use as garbage bags for their litter when the final whistle sounded. I’ve never met more happy, polite people in my life. It was truly an experience.
After the Japan vs Greece game, we were gearing up for the USA vs Portugal game in Manaus. The night before the match, were told buses to the airport were leaving the hotel at 2:00AM, although we stood outside for a few hours until about 4:30AM when they finally got there. Checking in and boarding was an ordeal, but we got to the rainforest eventually (11:00AM Manaus time, which is west of Natal and an hour earlier). After a bus tour of Manaus where they were obviously trying to kill time, we arrived at the pre-game party which was absolutely fucking terrible. If the Natal pre-game party was a 10 out of 10, this party was a 2. It was extremely hot outside, the live music was ear-ache inducing inside, so you had to pick your poison. The room was segregated down the middle between the common fans and the family/friends of players. While we had to wait on lines to get tickets, then lines to use those tickets for terrible food and overpriced beer, the family and friends of the USMNT were treated to champagne and waiter service at a sit-down meal. I felt like a second class citizen. Whoever decided it was a good idea to hold both parties at the same venue should go fuck themselves.
While we marched to the game from the Natal pre-game party, we had to hop back on the buses in Manaus. They dropped us off close to the stadium where we went in and got better deals on beers than at the pre-game party. I’m not a cheap person, and the booze everywhere was reasonable, but one of my main gripes about the trip was the blatant cash-grab by US Soccer who threw all these parties. They charged R$10 (about 5 USD) for 12 oz beers at all their parties, while local bars charged half that (R$5) and beers at the stadium were 20 oz for the same price (my bad for complaining again, sorry I got off track).
I’ve never experienced the mixture of heat and humidity that I did in Manaus (95 degrees with 91% humidity). 2 minutes into the game everyone was drenched in sweat. For the first time in World Cup history, the players took a water break in the first half of the game (this would happen again in later games in the tournament). This time, we sat in the USA supporters section (our actual Category 3 awesome seats) in the corner behind the goal. Portugal scored a 1st half goal right in front of us on a botched clearance, and I thought the wheels were going to fall off, but the USA came storming back in the 2nd half. This was the game where “Teddy Goalsevelt” was born, as the cameras caught his reaction to Jermaine Jones’ game-tying cracker early in the 2nd half.
The place went utterly and completely apeshit when Clint Dempsey chested in a goal midway through the 2nd half, and with the USMNT holding onto the lead through regulation I thought for sure we had 3 more points and were on to the Round of 16.
I shit you not, 20 seconds before Cristiano Ronaldo would cross the ball to Varela for the tying goal in the 90+5th minute, the guy in front of me turned around and said “we got this boys, we’re on to the next round”. I tapped him on the shoulder and said “you had to say it, didn’t you”. The dude just got up and left without saying anything.
When that goal was scored, it felt like the plug was pulled on a once electric crowd. Portugal fans celebrated immediately after the goal, but were reserved as they exited the stadium. They knew they got away with a draw by the skin of their teeth, and were sitting at the bottom of the group with Ghana. We made our way back to the bus, and got to the airport at 8:00PM. We didn’t fly out until 5:00AM the next morning, and I practically slept the entire next day due to complete and utter exhaustion. Plus, I had to rest up for Uruguay vs Italy (aka the Suarez bite game) in a couple of days.
If I failed to mention it earlier, we stayed in Natal for the duration of the trip (when we weren’t sleeping on airport floors, that is). USA/Ghana, Japan/Greece, and Italy/Uruguay were all in Natal during our stay. Mexico’s opening game vs Cameroon was also there, albeit on Friday June 13 before we arrived.
We had a free day before the Italy vs Uruguay game and decided to go into town to watch the Brazil vs Cameroon game. Seeing that Cameroon was at the bottom of the group, we figured we could go to a shopping center 20 minutes before kickoff and grab a seat at one of the restaurants to watch the game. Wrong. This was a shopping mall we had been to earlier in the trip where there were plenty of seats and places to watch the World Cup action. For the Brazil game, it seemed the whole entire town was there. There wasn’t a seat in the house, and the entire mall was standing room only. It was insane. Brazil won 4-1, and people were throwing their babies in the air after every goal. Just look at the shock and awe on my face:
Leading up to the game, Italy vs Uruguay was the hottest ticket in town as the winner would move on to the round of 16 while the loser would go home. The struggle for these tickets was real. Just check out this post from the bulletin board in our hotel:
The Italy vs Uruguay game was early (1:00PM), the first non-evening game in Natal we’d been to. We went to get a cab at 11:00AM at our hotel only to find a line about 150 people deep. Instead of waiting on the line and potentially missing part of the game, we hoofed it about 2 miles up the road where a random Brazilian in a dune buggy offered to take us to the game for R$160, approximately 3x what a cab would cost. We got him down to R$120 and it was easily the best money we spent in Brazil. The ride to the game was like an adventure, and splitting the fare 4 ways made it light on the wallet. We got to the stadium where people were absolutely fiending for tickets, offering to buy them for 4x face value. I never batted an eye, though. The chances of me ever seeing a game of that magnitude in the World Cup again are slim to none.
The fanbase for this game was a little less lopsided than the Japan vs Greece game. I’d say it was approximately 60% Uruguay fans to 40% Italy fans. Every game in Brazil was attended by locals sporting Brazil jerseys, but they usually rooted for one team or the other. I was in one of the upper sections in the corner behind the goal this time, which is usually quiet, except for the guy behind me who wouldn’t stop shouting obscenities in Spanish the entire game.
After Italy had a man sent off for possibly the worst red card I’ve ever seen (literally no foul on the play), the game was all Uruguay, and the refs obviously favored them. I mean, Girogio Chiellini had fucking teeth marks in his back and Luis Suarez didn’t receive a card. The Uruguay goal was inevitable, and it came on a Suarez corner kick. The place went insane, and Italy had failed to make it out of the group. If I was back in the states, I would have avoided eating pizza for a few days as the Italians mourned.
The day after the Italy vs Uruguay game was pretty much my last free-day in Natal. We went hard the night of the game though, going directly into Ponta Negra where we’d sit down at a bar to watch the later games and demolish 32 caipirinhas and multiple beers between 4 of us before going out for the night. I felt like death the next morning, but I sucked it up to hop on a dune buggy tour at 8:00AM. TenDot was charging $600 USD (approximately R$1200) per dune buggy, but we booked directly through locals for R$400. A 300% markup is excessive, isn’t it? Please view this image of the dune buggy and a caipirinha to distract you from my complaining yet again:
Our departure for the USA vs Germany game in Recife was in the early morning following our dune buggy day, so I went back to the room at the hotel to sleep a bit before our 5 hour bus ride, which took at least 6 hours in the torrential downpour that would not stop. We left at 1:30 AM thanks to some American Outlaws taking things into their own hands and organizing the buses the day before. We left on time, and got to the pre-game party in Recife at 8:00AM where breakfast came in the form of Brahma tallboys (the first party to offer decent sized beers) and cold hamburgers. This party was our last chance to go hard in Brazil, but after days of taking my liver for granted I personally had to take it easy. I had maybe 4 beers before the game and 1 at the stadium. I couldn’t even bring myself to buy one off of the 8-year-old selling them on the way to the game.
The one thing I will remember most about Brazil is that there are absolutely no rules in this country. People do whatever they want and the police don’t harass anyone if what they’re doing is against the law. Cars speed and drift in and out of lanes, little kids drink and sell beer on the side of the road, and the bars and clubs are packed with 14-year-old girls getting hit on by creepy dudes. I was warned about the high crime rate in the country and told not to bring/wear anything flashy, but to be honest I didn’t encounter one dangerous situation or hear about anyone getting robbed. Most people were their own enemies, drunkenly leaving their shit in cabs or losing them while partying (almost myself included, thank God I found my camera).
Sorry for getting sidetracked yet again, back to game-day, bitches! (Oh wait, only people on the trip will get that). While the march to the stadium in Natal was well-organized (and completely epic), there was no announcement of the march to the stadium in Manaus as we all kinda trickled out of the pre-game party bar in small groups. There were chants, but not as strong as the rain was dampening both our spirits and our clothes. Ponchos were all the rage, but by the 2nd half there was a group in the supporter section chanting “ponchos off! ponchos off!” until everyone in their area gave in and decided to get soaked in the torrential downpour. While we all did our best to go nuts and chant for the USMNT, I don’t think many of us could honestly say that we believed that we would win as the Germans controlled most of the play and ultimately beat us 1-0. Ghana and Portugal were playing at the same time, though, and shortly after the whistle blew in Recife we got confirmation that Cristiano Ronaldo had ousted Ghana in a 2-1 game and we were on to the next round. USA fans were jumping up and down in the rain and chanting as the team acknowledged us in the supporter section. Jurgen Klinsmann came over pumping his fists in the air triumphantly as the USMNT were on to the Round of 16.
After reluctantly leaving the stadium, we made our way back to the bus. I brought a change of clothes in anticipation of being soaked, but the rest of the group wasn’t quite as savvy. We sat in the bus for a couple of hours before our 6 hour bus ride back to Natal where we listened to a chorus of coughing and sneezing in between the celebrating and occasional chant. Eventually everyone on the bus fell asleep, at least for a little bit, as our trip was pretty much over. We snagged some breakfast in the morning and loaded up the buses again at 10:00AM for the Natal airport, ending the official American Outlaws World Cup 2014 trip.
While it may seem like I bitched and moaned a lot about this trip (and I admit that I did), the 5 games that I went to were beyond incredible. I met so many friendly, incredible people from all over the United States (and the world) that I never would have met had I not made the trip to Brazil.
The American Outlaws are an incredible organization. They’ve managed to bring together thousands of USMNT fans, and have been instrumental in increasing football’s popularity in the United States. Their members lead the chants that the whole world now sings. You couldn’t go anywhere in Brazil with USA gear on without having the locals start chanting “I believe that we will win”. There’s no way I would have ever made the trip to the 2014 World Cup if it weren’t for the American Outlaws, and I am forever grateful for that. I encourage any and all US Soccer fans to find their local chapter and join, and if you don’t have a local chapter to start your own.
While AO may have bitten off more than they could chew in bringing 500 people to Brazil, they worked tirelessly to make everyone happy and did everything they could to make things better for the people on the package. Any negative aspects of this trip I place squarely on the shoulders of the travel agency they hired (I don’t even want to mention their name again they pissed me off so much), and I hope if there’s an AO trip to Russia in 2018 that they choose another agency with experience in coordinating large group travel.
If you see me at another World Cup, I’ll likely book on my own with a small group of friends, but I’ll be keeping in touch with my new AO friends and make sure to meet up at the games (and for the pre-game parties).
One Nation. One Team. The USA may be out of the World Cup after the loss to Belgium, but the future looks bright.