Monday, June 30, 2014

My First World Cup Soccer Match

By: Katie Foglia

Group photo of Carl Fonticella, Kevin Noonan, Katie Foglia and Dr. Ashley Furrow
taken before the U.S. vs. Ghana match in Natal, Brazil.
São Paulo – I’ve always been a dreamer. Feet on the ground, head in the clouds. So, it’s only natural that I’ve had thoughts about this moment for most of my life. Expectations of what it would look and smell and sound and taste like, and how it would make me feel.
But, now that’s it’s over, it seems like a snapshot. One still frame from 22 years worth of memories, each one better than the last. It flashes for a few seconds, and then it’s gone.
It seems simple to replay it in your head, going over each step slowly and remembering more and more as the days go by. Walking off of the bus, meandering through the crowd with sweaty fingers clutching the ticket and always keeping one eye on the destination. Eyes darting to every moving object, trying to see everything in fear that if you blink, it will all be over.
After years of thinking about it, watching it, playing it and even writing about it, I was finally walking inside a World Cup stadium. Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, to be exact. I was going to watch the USMNT play Ghana, the team that knocked them out of the Round of 16 four years ago.
I watched it. Four years ago, I was 18 and had just graduated from high school. Now, I’m 22 years old and just graduated from college. Four years is such an insignificant amount of time in the long run, but for now, it is noteworthy.  
One of the many things I found in the boxes of my belongings after moving back home after graduation was my travel journal. It’s seen better days. Ink marks on the cover, napkins and papers with names of songs and addresses of cafes tucked inside random pages and of course, my serious (read: hilarious) comments and recounts of my adventures in Costa Rica, Mexico, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
It was interesting for me to read about my thoughts on the previous trips with family, friends and strangers, living life and learning how to survive in new surroundings (all skills that would come in handy in Brazil).
But one page of my journal stood out among the rest. It was the second page of the book, blue smudged ink, dated June 10, 2014. It was a list of things I want to do and places I want to see in my lifetime. The first thing on the list: “Go to a World Cup soccer game.”
Reading that line a few days before departing for São Paulo sent chills down my spine. I’ve written in that book a lot since, yes, but for some reason I have not read that front page since I wrote it almost exactly four years ago.
These things don’t just happen. I’m a strong believer in will power, hard work, humility and luck. My being an intern for the U.S. Soccer Federation in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup was a combination of all of those things.
Walking into the World Cup stadium and sitting in the blue seats next to the friends and family of the players felt incredible. I’ve never been more proud to wear red, white and blue than I was on that day. The Scripps contingent, Dr. Ashley Furrow, Kevin Noonan, Carl Fonticella and I all were in awe of the inside of the stadium.
Panoramic view of Estado das Dunas.
We took a few pictures together and could not believe we were actually there. It seems like just yesterday that we were all sitting in conference chairs in Athens, Ohio, talking about how excited we were to go to a game.
As the kickoff time approached, I began to get antsy. I was looking around and hearing all of the “U.S.A.” and “I believe that we will win” chants and my confidence level began to boost.
After the guys marched out in a single fine line, we sang (read: screamed) the National Anthem and then it was officially game time. I’ve never jumped up and down, yelled and high-fived strangers more in my life than when captain Clint Dempsey scored his sensational goal less than a minute into the game. Our section erupted in a roar and beer and belongings went flying into the air.
Eventually, the cheering stopped and the crowd settled. There was a lot of time left. The whole game changed from there. Dempsey scoring so quickly was not the plan. Now what do we do? Now how are we suppose to feel? Is it too soon to get excited about the possibility of actually winning this game?
I got so swept up in my questions, but continued to try and pause and look around to soak it all in. The stadium looked so new, and the different shades of the blue plastic seats really popped out. There was a good mix of U.S., Ghana and Brazil fans in the crowd. Yes, at all of the games, Brazil fans come, wear their yellow jerseys and mix into the crowds.
When Ghana scored, the West African fans screamed and erupted in cheers that filled the stadium. The section we were in fell quiet. I began to remember how hot it was and how I had been sweating most of the day. The air felt warm and the scent of beer floated through the stadium. Again, my mind began to wonder.
The water I bought felt warm on my lips, but quenched my thirst. I could feel my jaw clenching and fingers tightening. The nerves in the U.S. crowd were palpable. The game was tied, 1-1, with four minutes left. But, then, John Brooks headed the ball into the net and gave the U.S. team the lead it needed. 
Once again, we all jumped up and went crazy in the crowd. We all knew that we just had to hold that lead for four more minutes, and it would all be over. Finally, the whistle blew and the win was official. The victory tasted sweet, especially since Ghana had knocked the USMNT out of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. This time the U.S. came out on top.
It all happened so fast and I was sad to walk out of the stadium. Even though all I have is the memory, I will always remember sharing that moment with Ashley, Carl and Kevin, and I will never forget how being at the game and cheering on the U.S. made me feel.
Photo of the group celebrating after the U.S. beat Ghana. 
The moment might be over, but I will always have the memory. I wrote down all of my thoughts, feelings and emotions after the game in my tattered travel journal. Just another new page with random thoughts scribbled onto the pages in ink. 
One day I will look back and be able to read my thoughts on what it was like to go to my first World Cup soccer game, and I will remember that the seats in the stadium were different shades of blue, the smell of beer surrounded us, the taste of salty sweat on my dry lips and the refreshing warm water. And, of course, I will always remember how it made me feel excited, proud, nervous, happy, sad, scared and most of all grateful.

Not everyone who writes down in their journal that they would like to go to a World Cup soccer match gets to actually go. I know I am one of the lucky ones. But I also know that I will continue to keep dreaming and make sure that this won’t be my first and only World Cup soccer experience. I will be back. It might not be in 2018, but I will be back.

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