Soccer….Family Style

Oh, to be an American Soccer Fan
June 25, 2010, 1:36 am
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Still on my Blackberry with no wifi, but I must share how amazing the last 30 hours have been. I have been following US Soccer since 1993 when US played Germany in Chicago. I’ve been to every World Cup since 1994. I’m used to being the joke of the Cup, losing in some cases, winning lucky in others.

But last night, the US wrapped up the first round undefeated and on top of the group. I expected us to make the Round of 16, so it’s taken a while for the awesome wonder of it all to hit me.

It started to become clear to me today watching YouTube videos of the victory and celebration. It really was such a great night!

Then we went to breakfast, and South Africans were high fiving us and congratulating us. Later, at the mall back in Joburg, you would have thought we were celebrities for how excited people were to talk to us.

But it wasn’t until I got to the Zoo Lake Bowling Club to watch the game tonight that I realized how big this really is. I met an Italian, and I was talking to him about the crazy world it is where Italy and France go home, and the US advance to top of their group.
He stopped me and starting speaking at length about the US, our players, and how much he respects our coach. Italians respect our coach? I teared up a little.

A little later, a fan from Argentina grabbed my hand and said “Congratulations, the US is really a great team.” South Africans wanted photos with us all night, and everyone commented on how much heart the US has. Then, I watched the YouTube video of fan reactions around the world.

My husband and I have talked often about what it would take for soccer to get big in America. I thought it would be in 2022 when (maybe) the US gets to host the World Cup again. Now that I’m here with so many American who came all the way to South Africa for their first Cup, I see that we’ve come so much farther than I ever dreamt possible in the four years since Germany. It’s a great time to love soccer in the USA.

Don’t Get Lost in South Africa
June 21, 2010, 10:00 am
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You can get into trouble pretty quickly in South Africa. We somehow got off the road we were supposed to be on, and even when we stiopped for directions, we got misinformation, although in the guy we asked’s defense, he looked pretty shocked that a car full of white people was in his part of rural Africa, let alone asking him for directions.

By the time we stopped and asked again it was sundown and we were at least ninety minutes off course. We had a few moments of panic. as we tried to find someone to ask for help. We found a police station, but it was behind barbed wire and looked very closed up for Saturday evening. We drove a little further and found a gas station and decided to stop and ask for directions at our own risk.

It turned into a lesson in South African helpfulness. The gas station attendant was in appropriately dirty clothes with very crooked or missing teeth, and he spoke what initially seemed to be simple, heavily accented English. It looked dubious at best that we would get reliable directions from this guy, but we were out of other options. We showed him where we were trying to get and started working through the communication of where we were and where we were trying to get. It was at that moment that he did one of the most reassuring things he could have done: he pulled out a Blackberry.

I’m not sure I can describe to you how out of place a Blackberry looked at the roadside gas station with pumps I haven’t seen since the 1970’s and this man that looked more back country than techie. It was definitely a defining this is Africa moment for me, and a lesson in not only willingness to help but also how technologically advanced South Africans are, even in little Baltimore, South Africa.

We got ourselves some old school turn by turn directions, the kind you write on a piece of paper, bought some gas and headed off into the night. Driving in South African countryside is not really something I recommend you do, since it’s pitch black dark with no lights and very few places along the way that you could ask for help if you ran into trouble. We got to see an amazing porcupine getting back on the road, and arrived not too long after the rest of our group, but it was dicey there for a while.

Post Game
June 19, 2010, 7:07 am
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Ellis Park, like most stadiums, isn’t in the greatest neighborhood in Johannesburg, but what we’ve found is that security concerns were greatly overplayed. In reality, big city street sense is all you’ll need: travel in groups, protect your belongings, pay attention to your surroundings.

We did the Park and Walk lot and walked back to our car after dark with a group of about 12. We took our time and stopped to support a local school’s cookout fundraiser and someone’s front yard BBQ. We tried South African sausage and Bunny Chow (basically a bread bowl filled with curried meat and veggies).

I have to think you’re missing out if you do the “completely safe” South Africa. The locals are so happy we are here and they want us to come back. They make a convincing argument to make a return trip.

The girls, minus Prairie
June 19, 2010, 6:52 am
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Tanya, Kaela and Christina at the USMNT vs. Solvenia Tailgate

These guys rocked it at the games last night! Great fans!
June 19, 2010, 6:43 am
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Several Firsts, but not the Important One
June 19, 2010, 4:35 am
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I’ll have a full length post when I can get wifi, but I have to share a few quick thoughts from my Blackberry (thanks Verizon!)

First, last night’s match was fantastic. It’s the first time in my 24 caps that I remember being at a World Cup game with a pro US crowd. The South African students opposite our section where excited, dancing and cheering through the match (even when Americans couldn’t).

The video of me that was broadcast showed me making the “I love you” sign wasn’t for the USMNT (although I do) It was for the South African students opposite us in the corner. They have been the most supportive hosts I’ve seen at a Cup.

Second, this was the first time I’ve seen practically a whole side of American fans. Is it possible that we’ve finally reached the moment when soccer is more than a boutique sport in the US? Judging by the number of first timers at this cup, I’d say it’s entirely possible.

However, we haven’t reached the time when the US clears the first round without controversy. I’ll post my thoughts on referees as part of the game when I get to wifi, but in short, it’s a shame when a referee impacts the outcome of a game, it’s criminal when he may affect the outcome of a tournament. Hopefully, justice will be served and the US will advance in spite of the referee from last night.

That’s all until later…we’re off to 3 days safari!

ENG vs. ALG afterparty
June 18, 2010, 10:05 am
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I could barely watch the England vs. Algeria game. I was emotionally exhausted after the US nail biter, and I couldn’t believe the game would end tied. I started talking to a few locals at the bar. I became so engrossed in the conversation that I was a little startled when I heard the whistle blow to end the game. In disbelief, I read the 0-0 score line and it began to dawn on me that nearly impossible had happend! England had allowed Algeria to pass with a tie, leaving the playing field miraculously wide open for the Americans going into game 3. As this revelation spread through the very pro-US crowd, you could feel the energy in the room start to crackle. The energy level was skyrocketing and when the DJ turned off the TV sound and shouted “Are you ready to wave your flag?” the place erupted in an electric snap of excitement. He cranked up the “Waving Flag” song that had become the unofficial anthem of the World Cup and people started dancing on tables and waving flags, scarves, and whatever else they could find to dance along with. Even Prairie had gotten into the atmosphere and started dancing on top of one of the beer kegs.The party continues in South Africa. Next up: Safari!

South Africa is ready to party!
June 16, 2010, 12:47 pm
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South Africa Wine Country
June 16, 2010, 6:47 am
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Our compressed wine country tour started at Dornier Winery in Stellenbosch. They had a beautiful terrace looking out over the mountain and a choice of 5 wines for 30 Rand (about $4). It was a completely pleasant experience.

After that, we headed back to Stellenrust Winery, which hadn’t opened when we arrived at 930 (10 AM start). The ambiance wasn’t quite as awe inspiring, but the wines were fantastic. We bought a case and a half between the four of us of Simplicity, the rose, and the 1st white on the *free* tasting. At around $4 a bottle, I wish we had more space in the luggage or more time here to drink.

The vineyard owner came over and shared some of his private reserve sparkling wine with us. He was delicious, the wine was delicious…all in all it was a fantastic experience. It’s where the SATC girls would go if they had a clue how to spend money sensibly.

My only edit would be to start at Stellenrust then have lunch at Dornier. If you’re in Cape Town, it’s worth the trip. If you aren’t in Cape Town, why aren’t you?

Cape Town Wine Country
June 16, 2010, 2:19 am
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We finally got a decent morning of weather and we are headed up to wine country bright and early (it’s after noon in the States). It’s great to get out of the city and remember that we really are in Africa, and not just another international city.

The mountains are wrapped in mist and the farms have ostriches and other non-pig and cow animals. There are amazing trees that are clearly African. It is really beautiful, and we haven’t even started drinking.

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